Bridges v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., PICS Case No. 13-3379 (C.P. Philadelphia Nov. 7, 2013) Ceisler, J. (7 pages).

COURTS OF COMMON PLEAS

The Legal Intelligencer

LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW

Pensions and Other Retirement Benefits • Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act • Tax Evasion

Bridges v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., PICS Case No. 13-3379 (C.P. Philadelphia Nov. 7, 2013) Ceisler, J. (7 pages).

Public Housing Authority (PHA) failed to present substantial evidence that employee's crime of tax evasion was related to his public employment by PHA.

Bridges pled guilty in federal court to tax evasion for failure to report a $30,000 bonus. In the plea, Bridges also acknowledged that he violated certain ethics statutes during his dealings with West while employed at PHA, including the secret negotiation for and acceptance of a paid position at West when PHA was still paying him for his expertise and advice regarding PHA's business with West in violation of 65 Pa.C.S. § 1103(a). The parties further stipulated that Bridges represented West, with actual compensation, on a matter before PHA less than a year after he left PHA, in violation of 65 Pa.C.S. § 1103(g).

The PHA determined that this guilty plea triggered the forfeiture of Bridge's pension benefits. The PHA Pension Review Board upheld the initial determination that Bridges' federal guilty plea to tax evasion triggered forfeiture of his retirement benefits under the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act (43 P.S. § 1311), despite the fact that 65 Pa.C.S. § 1103 is not an enumerated crime triggering forfeiture under the act.

The court of common pleas reversed the board's decision and reinstated Bridges' pension rights. It determined that there was not substantial evidence in the record that Bridges' crime was related to his public employment by the PHA, as required by the act.

PHA appealed to the Commonwealth Court, alleging that the lower court misapplied the act in interpreting the requirement that an underlying crime be related to public employment, and that the court either applied an incorrect standard of review or an incorrect definition of substantial evidence.

The court of common pleas filed a 1925(a) opinion requesting that the appeal be denied because there was not substantial evidence to support the board's determination that the $30,000 bonus Bridges received from West, or the crime of tax evasion, resulted from Bridges' employment by PHA.

Where a full and complete record of the proceedings before the local agency was made, the court must hear the appeal without a jury on the record certified by the agency. Under such circumstances, appellate review of a final agency decision is limited to determining whether constitutional rights have been violated, an error of law has been committed and whether the findings of the agency are supported by substantial evidence.