In a brief filed before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Franklin County Sheriff has taken an eerily Orwellian position that he is immune from judicial oversight and cannot be held liable for his actions – even those explicitly violating state law.
As our viewers are aware, on May 20, 2016, the Commonwealth Court issued a monumental decision in John Doe, et al., v. Franklin County, et al., 1634 C.D. 2015 regarding the confidentiality of license to carry firearms (LTCF) applicant information, wherein, among other things, it held that the disclosure of LTCF applicant information through the use of un-enveloped postcards was a breach of the confidentiality provision found in 18 Pa.C.S. 6111(i).
As a result, Franklin County, former Franklin County Sheriff Dane Anthony, and the other defendants, appealed the decision to the PA Supreme Court, where they asked the Court to grant review of the entire Commonwealth Court’s decision, including as to whether the use of un-enveloped postcards constituted a public disclosure. On December 21, 2016, the PA Supreme Court generally denied their request to review the decision; however, it agreed to consider “[w]hether the General Assembly intended to abrogate high public official immunity when it enacted 18 Pa. C.S. §6111(i)” in relation to Defendant former Franklin Co Sheriff Dane Anthony.
On January 30, 2017, the Defendants filed their brief contending that former Sheriff Dane Anthony is entitled to high public official immunity and that sheriffs “should not be burdened with monstrous litigation and damage exposure about possible incidental viewing of a postcard years ago.” More disconcerting, they argue that the Commonwealth Court’s decision “threatens to gut absolute immunity for public officials into no real protection at all.” (Of course, as discussed below, they seem to ignore the fact that high public official immunity was seemingly abolished by the PA Supreme Court in the 1970’s and even if it wasn’t, it is unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution). However, it is their main argument that is absolutely Orwellian:
statements or acts of high public officials which are made in the course of and within the scope of their official powers or duties give them complete immunity from legal redress. (emphasis added)
It would seem that this position goes directly contrary to the oath declared, pursuant to Article VI, Section 3, by all Sheriffs in Pennsylvania, especially in light of Article 1, Section 11. The oath set-forth in Article VI declares:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.
Contrary to the oath, the Sheriff’s position is directly in conflict with Article 1, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which declares that “[s]uits may be brought against the Commonwealth in such manner, in such courts and in such cases as the Legislature may by law direct,” since high public official immunity is common law (e.g. judicially created) and has never been enacted by the General Assembly. (For those reviewing the docket, as Franklin County, et al., failed to timely submit their reproduced record, they were required to petition the Court to allow them to untimely file their reproduced record, which the Court granted).
Surprisingly, the PA Sheriff’s Association filed an Amicus Curiae brief contending that sheriffs in Pennsylvania should be entitled to high public official immunity and immune from judicial review.
In response, on February 2, 2017, we filed our brief explaining that (1) high public official immunity was seemingly abolished by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision Ayala v. Phila. Bd. of Pub. Educ., where it abolished governmental immunity; (2) high public official immunity is inapplicable to 18 Pa.C.S. 6111; and (3) high public official immunity is unconstitutional.
Yesterday, the Defendants filed their reply brief , which appears to be designed to merely confuse the Justices into believing they actually have an argument.
The Court will now decide whether to hold oral argument on the matter or merely issue a decision based on the briefs. We’ll keep you apprised of further action in this matter.
If you or someone you know has had their confidential license to carry firearms applicant information disclosed, contact us today to discuss today to discuss YOUR rights. Dedicated to the protection of your Second Amendment and Article 1, Section 21 rights, we are YOUR PA Firearms Lawyers.