Thursday, August 11, 2011

admin. law - hearsay

Sule v. Philadelphia Parking Authority - Cmwlth. Court - August 11, 2011

The court reversed the imposition of a fine on a cab driver who was alleged to have violated an admin. executive order prohibiting cab drivers from refusing to accept or discouraging the use of credit cards by customers. The case arose when a customer complained about the cab driver allegedly discouraging her from using a credit card to pay for her fare. The Parking Authority's only evidence was hearsay -- the customer's written complaint, and an investigator's statement of what the customer told him -- to which the cab driver did not object.

The court's discussion included the following:

As a general rule, the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence are not applicable to hearings conducted before Commonwealth agencies. 2 Pa. C.S. §505. Nevertheless, it is well-settled that hearsay evidence, properly objected to, is not competent evidence to support a determination of an agency. Chapman v. UCBR, 20 A.3d 603, 610, n.8 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011). Under the so-called Walker rule, however, if hearsay evidence is admitted without objection, it will be given its natural probative effect and may support a finding by the agency, if it is corroborated by any competent evidence in the record. Walker v. UCBR, 367 A.2d 366, 370 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1976) (emphasis added). One example of "competent evidence" that would corroborate hearsay evidence are admissions of a party. Chapman, 20 A.3d at 610, n.8; see also PA. R.E. 803(25).

The cab driver did not admit the allegations of wrongdoing. Furthermore, the Authority could not use its investigator's hearsay testimony about what customer said to him to corroborate the customer's written statement. Hearsay cannot corroborate hearsay. See J.K. v. Department of Public Welfare, 721 A.2d 1127, 1133 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998)(noting substantial evidence did not exist because there was no non-hearsay evidence to corroborate hearsay testimony); Walker, 367 A.2d at 370 (requiring hearsay to be corroborated by competent evidence in the record). If the Authority wished to base its case solely upon the customer's written statement and her account of the incident, then it should have either arranged for her to be present at the hearing or to testify by phone. In short, the Hearing Officer erred by basing his factual findings solely upon the customer’s uncorroborated, out-of-court statement.