Supreme Court of PA Reaffirms the Broad Scope of the Commonwealth Court’s Declaratory Judgment Jurisdiction in Challenges to Agency Interpretations of Statutes


Many Pennsylvania Lawyers only encounter the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in its appellate guise, but the court enjoys an unusual hybrid nature, having both appellate and original jurisdiction. The court’s original jurisdiction encompasses cases in which the state government is a party, though such cases can also arrive at the court as appeals from state agency decisions. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently issued a significant decision in a case that touched on both kinds of jurisdiction and, in doing so, it broadly interpreted the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction to hear cases under the Declaratory Judgments Act, 42 Pa. C.S. §§ 7531-7541, when litigants seek to challenge a state agency’s interpretation of a statute.

The Recent Decision -

In Commonwealth, Office of the Governor v. Donohue, No. 10 MAP 2013 (Aug. 18, 2014), the Supreme Court rejected the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records’ interpretation of the time frame in the Right-to-Know Law for an agency to respond to written requests for documents. Although the statute provided that the time for responding to a request “shall not exceed five business days from the date the written request is received by the open-records officer for an agency,” the OOR had interpreted the statute to require a response within five business days of when any employee of an agency received the written request.

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