Tuesday, October 20, 2009

mootness - case or controversy

Harris, et al. v. Rendell, et al. - Cmwlth. Court -


This case has to do with the parole board, but there is interesting language in it about mootness, case/controversy. Interesting and important in itself. Some of it may also have relevance to the standing question in foreclosure cases.

Under the mootness doctrine, "an actual case or controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed." Pub.Defender's Office of Venango County v. Venango County Court of Common Pleas, 586 Pa. 317, 325, 893 A.2d 1275, 1279 (2006) [quoting Pap's A.M. v. City of Erie, 571 Pa. 375, 389, 812 A.2d 591, 599-600 (2002)]. The existence of a case or controversy requires "a real and not a hypothetical legal controversy and one that affects another in a concrete manner so as to provide a factual predicate for reasoned adjudication …." City of Philadelphia v. SEPTA, 937 A.2d 1176, 1179 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007).
As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained: The cases presenting mootness problems involve litigants who clearly had standing to sue at the outset of the litigation. The problems arise from events occurring after the lawsuit has gotten under way—changes in the facts or in the law—which allegedly deprive the litigant of the necessary stake in the outcome. Pap's A.M., 571 Pa. at 389, 812 A.2d at 599-600 (2002) [quoting In re Cain, 527 Pa. 260, 263, 590 A.2d 291, 292 (1991)].

It is well settled that the courts "do not render decisions in the abstract or offer purely advisory opinions." Pittsburgh Palisades Park, LLC v. Commonwealth, 585 Pa. 196, 203, 888 A.2d 655, 659 (2005). Judicial intervention "is appropriate only where the underlying controversy is real and concrete, rather than abstract." City of Philadelphia v. Commonwealth, 575 Pa. 542, 559, 838 A.2d 566, 577 (2003)....

Under the exceptions to the mootness doctrine, the court may consider technically moot issues "where the conduct complained of is capable of repetition yet likely to evade review, where the case involves issues important to the public interest or where a party will suffer some detriment without the court's decision." Sierra Club v. Pa. Public Utility Comm'n, 702 A.2d 1131, 1134 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997), aff'd, 557 Pa. 11, 731 A.2d 133 (1999). It is within the court's "discretion to decide substantial questions, otherwise moot, that are capable of repetition unless settled." In re Bishop, 717 A.2d 1114, 1116 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998).

[There are] cases in which the courts decided to review technically moot issues. See, e.g., Jersey Shore Area Sch. Dist. v. Jersey Shore Educ. Ass'n, 519 Pa. 398, 548 A.2d 1202 (1988) (the legality of teachers' strike was one of important public interest and capable of repetition yet apt to evade review); Colonial Gardens Nursing Home, Inc. v. Bachman, 473 Pa. 56, 373 A.2d 748 (1977) (the trial court's issuance of preliminary injunction would escape appellate review because the effect of the injunction would terminate before review); Lutz v. Tanglwood Lakes Cmty. Ass'n, 866 A.2d 471 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005), appeal granted in part, 583 Pa. 508, 880 A.2d 502 (2005) (the issue concerning dismissal of a nonprofit corporation's directors was of great public importance to the governance of nonprofit corporations and likely to reoccur because directors' terms would likely expire before final resolution of any legal challenge to their removal); Coady v. Pa. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 804 A.2d 121 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002) (the constitutionality of the 1996 amendment to the Parole Act, as applied to inmates who had been convicted prior to the amendment, was a matter of great public importance; the court noted the federal district court's earlier ruling that the amendment, as applied, violated the ex post facto clause).

[T]he great public importance exception to the mootness doctrine "is generally confined to a narrow category of cases." Bottomer v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 580 Pa. 114, 120, 859 A.2d 1282, 1285 (2004). As our Supreme Court stated in Wortex Mills, Inc. v. Textile Workers Union of America, 369 Pa. 359, 370, 85 A.2d 851, 857 (1952): It is only in very rare cases where exceptional circumstances exist or where matters or questions of great public importance are involved, that this court ever decides moot questions or erects guideposts for future conduct or actions. … [The issues] will not be anticipated but will be dealt with only as they are appropriately raised upon a record before us.

A controlling factor in determining whether the moot questions may be appropriately reviewed under the great public importance exception is whether "the legislature obviously recognized the significance of [such] questions." In re Gross, 476 Pa. at 215, 382 A.2d at 123. If the statute "deals squarely with the issues," the case does not fall within the great public importance exception.