January 13, 2020
The Supreme Court has adopted changes to the Rules of Appellate Procedure that will limit the scope of Chapter 15, and the use of a “petition for review” as an initiating document, to traditional administrative agency appeals, certain other enumerated appeals from similar adjudications (such as those involving administrative matters decided by boards within the Unified Judicial System), and original jurisdiction actions against the Commonwealth. The changes become effective August 1, 2020. The reorganization relocates from Chapter 15 various types of existing “petitions for review” that do not fit within the original scope of Chapter 15 and repositions them either in Chapter 13 (where they will be “petitions for permission to appeal”) or in a new Chapter 16 (where they will be a new type of initiating document, “petitions for specialized review”). The amendments to Chapters 13 and 15 and the addition of Chapter 16 will take some getting used to, and they necessitate a number of conforming changes to rules in other chapters, all of which appear daunting at first look. With a few exceptions, however, the reorganization makes no substantive changes.
When the Rules of Appellate Procedure were adopted in 1976, Chapter 15 was intended to provide the procedure for obtaining judicial review of action or inaction of a “government unit” not otherwise available through a notice of appeal under Chapter 9, a petition for allowance of appeal under Chapter 11, or a petition for permission to appeal under Chapter 13. Since then, most of the appellate court filings that utilize Chapter 15 have been traditional administrative agency appeals that with few exceptions are filed in the Commonwealth Court. In addition, Chapter 15 governs original jurisdiction actions when an appellate court (again, typically the Commonwealth Court) has jurisdiction. Both categories of matters fit well into Chapter 15, although there have been some amendments to clarify the distinctions between original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction petitions for review.
The statutory definition of “government unit” is broad enough, however, to encompass “courts” and not just administrative agencies. Over the years, a Chapter 15 “petition for review” has come to be the means by which a variety of other types of orders arising in civil, criminal, or Orphans’ Court practice are reviewed. For example, under current practice, Chapter 15 includes “petitions for review” of orders under Pa.R.A.P. 341(c), 1311(Note), and 1573 that seek discretionary review of trial court or other government unit orders, regardless of the parties involved or the court in which the petition for review is filed. Those petitions for review present only the question whether an appellate court will permit an appeal from an interlocutory order that is not appealable of right and has not been certified by the trial court. Procedurally, such petitions for review are more similar to Chapter 13 petitions for permission to appeal than Chapter 15 petitions for review. Under the new rules, these requests for permission to appeal will be processed under Chapter 13 rather than as “petitions for review” under Chapter 15.
Similarly, under current practice, Chapter 15 applies to appellate review of bail orders under Pa.R.A.P. 1762, special prosecution orders under Pa.R.A.P. 3331, and out-of-home-placement of minors orders under Pa.R.A.P. 1770, all of which use specialized procedures that differ from the procedures that apply to traditional administrative agency appeals. Under the new rules, these requests for appellate review will be processed under new Chapter 16 as “petitions for specialized review,” rather than as “petitions for review” under Chapter 15.
In creating Chapter 16, the Supreme Court made clear its intent to maintain the focus in Chapter 15 to administrative agency and related judicial system appeals and original jurisdiction actions against the Commonwealth, by shifting the “residuary” function (i.e., the chapter in which new initiating documents that do not otherwise arise under Chapters 9, 11, 13 or 15) from Chapter 15 into Chapter 16, as explained in the Note to Pa. R.A.P. 1501:
This chapter [Chapter 15] applies to appeals of administrative agency action, original jurisdiction actions cognizable in an appellate court in the nature of actions in equity, replevin, mandamus or quo warranto or for declaratory judgment, or upon writs of certiorari or prohibition, and appeals of other actions as enumerated in [Pa. R.A.P. 1501] paragraph (a). The document that initiates the case under Chapter 15 is called a petition for review. Judicial review of all other government unit actions or inactions not otherwise permitted under Chapters 9, 11, 13, or 15 is available under Chapter 16; the document that initiates the case under Chapter 16 is called a petition for specialized review. The “residuary” initiating document function previously assigned to Chapter 15 is now assigned to Chapter 16.
As a general principle, the proposed reorganization of Chapter 15 does not alter existing rules or procedures, but rather renames and repositions them. However, the new rules include some noteworthy changes. For example:
- Under current practice, the standard of review for a Pa.R.A.P. 341(c) petition for review is “abuse of discretion,” whereas the standard of review for a Pa.R.A.P. 1311(Note) petition for review is “so egregious as to justify prerogative appellate correction of the exercise of discretion.” In transferring these initiating documents to Chapter 13 as petitions for permission to appeal, the Supreme Court has adopted a common standard of review for both that meshes the two: “abuse of the trial court’s or other government unit’s discretion that is so egregious as to justify prerogative appellate correction.” See Pa.R.A.P. 1312(a)(5).
- Under current practice the time periods for action by the trial court or other government unit under Pa.R.A.P. 341 and Pa.R.A.P. 1311 differ, but they will be the same now under the new rules. Pa.R.A.P. 341(c) currently allows the trial court or other government unit only 30 days from the date of entry of its original order to act on an application for a determination of finality. In contrast, Pa.R.A.P. 1311 counts the time for action by the trial court or other government unit from the date of the filing of the application, which, if the application were filed on the 30th day, would give a trial court or other government unit up to 60 days from the entry of the order to act under Pa.R.A.P. 1311. Conversely, if an application were filed under Pa.R.A.P. 341(c) on the 30th day, the trial court or other government unit would have to act that day. In transferring these initiating documents to Chapter 13 as petitions for permission to appeal, the Court has provided that the trial court or other government unit will have 30 days from the date of filing the application to amend under both Pa.R.A.P. 341(c)(2) and 1311.
- Under current practice appeals from the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board are captioned to show that disinterested government unit in the case caption in parentheses. The Court has amended Pa.R.A.P. 1513(a) to extend that practice to petitions for review from all disinterested agencies.
Understanding the guiding principles of the reorganization will help the bench and bar assimilate and adapt to the many rule amendments; outside of Chapters 13, 15 and 16, most changes are derivative of the changes in 13, 15 and 16. That said, the mechanics of practice will be different for many types of filings once the amendments go into effect on August 1.
About the Author:
Kevin McKeon, partner at Hawke, McKeon & Sniscak, LLP, represents a diverse array of clients before Pennsylvania state agencies, and state and federal appellate courts. A co-author of West’s Pennsylvania Appellate Practice and immediate past chair of the Pennsylvania Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee, Kevin uses his comprehensive knowledge of Pennsylvania appellate procedural rules to guide clients through complex appellate proceedings.