In Lesh v. Erie International., No. 962 WDA 2017 (PA Superior Court), Plaintiff, a customer service agent for Piedmont Airlines, sued Erie International in a negligence action after she slipped and fell on ice near a jet way at Erie International Airport. After completion of discovery, Erie International prevailed on summary judgment after the trial court determined that Erie International was entitled to immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Subsequently, Lesh filed a timely notice of appeal arguing that Erie International was erroneously granted immunity.
In the opinion accompanying its decision to transfer the appeal to the PA Commonwealth Court, the PA Superior Court articulated the standard for appellate jurisdiction regarding issues of governmental immunity in Pennsylvania. The Superior Court noted that it had general jurisdiction over appeals that were not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or the Commonwealth Court. To that end, the Superior Court also noted that the Commonwealth Court had exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving immunity waivers and actions against local parties. Furthermore, the Superior Court cited case law concluding that the state legislature intended for the Commonwealth Court to maintain jurisdiction over appeals involving tort claims against a Commonwealth or local agency.
Despite the legislature’s intent that the Commonwealth Court exercise jurisdiction over the aforementioned appeals, the Superior Court explained that it could nevertheless retain jurisdiction if it determined that it was in the best interest of the parties and judicial economy. Here, the Superior Court noted that, while the most expedient path would be to retain the case, other factors such as the legislative intent, the lack of oral arguments requiring expenditure of judicial resources, and the Commonwealth Court’s expertise in interpretation and application of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act supported their conclusion to transfer the matter to the Commonwealth Court. This case offers a helpful primer not only highlighting potential issues regarding governmental immunity against local agency employers in Pennsylvania, but also the likely analysis a court may conduct when determining appellate jurisdiction of such cases. Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.