Wednesday, April 13, 2011

admin. law - statutory construction - no deference to agency expertise

In Re: Petition for Formation of Independent School District - Cmwlth. Court - April 13, 2011 Courts will defer to an agency’s expertise where the agency evaluates and resolves conflicts in the evidence, particularly where the evidence is technical in nature. Yi v. State Board of Veterinary Medicine, 960 A.2d 864, 870 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008). However, “the meaning of [a] statute is a question of law for the court.” Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Pennsylvania Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association, 866 A.2d 465, 467 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005). Courts can defer to an agency’s interpretation of the statute where that statute is ambiguous or relates to a complex subject, such as a technical tax question. Tool Sales & Service Co., Inc. v. Board of Finance and Revenue, 536 Pa. 10, 22, 637 A.2d 607, 613 (1993). Otherwise, the agency’s interpretation “carries little weight,” especially where it is wrong. Office of Administration v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 591 Pa. 176, 190 n.11, 916 A.2d 541, 549 n.11 (2007). The Secretary’s “expertise” is irrelevant to the statutory construction issue.