Allegheny County v. Com.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation490 A.2d 402,507 Pa. 360
PartiesThe COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY and the Prison Board of Allegheny County, Appellants, v. The COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Correction; Glen R. Jeffes, Commissioner, Bureau of Correction; Erskind Deramus, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Correction; and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, Fred W. Jacobs, Chairman, Appellees. The COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY and the Prison Board of Allegheny County, Appellants, v. The COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Correction; Glen R. Jeffes, Commissioner, Bureau of Correction; Erskind Deramus, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Correction; and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, Fred W. Jacobs, Chairman, Appellees.
Decision Date29 March 1985

James H. McLean, Dennis R. Biondo (County Solicitor Offc.), Pittsburgh, for appellants.

Thomas F. Halloran, Francis R. Filipi, Deputy Attys. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellees.



NIX, Chief Justice.

These are consolidated appeals from orders of the Commonwealth Court refusing to enter a preliminary mandatory injunction requiring the Bureau of Corrections (hereinafter "Bureau") 1 and the Board of Probation and Parole (hereinafter "Board") to permit transfer of certain inmates then housed in the Allegheny County Jail (hereinafter "Jail") to appropriate state facilities and the sustaining of preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to an amended complaint filed by the County of Allegheny and its Prison Board (hereinafter collectively referred to as "County"). We are hearing these matters as a direct appeal pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 723(a), 42 Pa.C.S. § 5105 and Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). 2 Because of the increasing frequency of prison overcrowding and its impact upon the security and the safety of the citizens in those communities where these facilities are situated, we will overlook some of the glaring pleading deficiencies in the County's amended complaint and reach an issue which is of significant public importance. The issue involved is whether mandamus is an appropriate remedy to compel State agencies to assist political subdivisions in meeting the problems of prison overcrowding where the resources provided to the political subdivision by the State are demonstrably inadequate to meet the crisis. We conclude that it is an arbitrary exercise of discretion for a State agency charged with responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the various State correctional facilities to deny assistance to a political subdivision where it is demonstrated that the political subdivision has not been provided adequate resources to maintain its detention facilities in accordance with constitutional standards and adequate security cannot be maintained. Moreover, where a crisis situation exists the political subdivision has a right to demand that prisoners who are committed to the custody of a State agency and temporarily placed in county facilities be transferred to appropriate State facilities in order to relieve overcrowding.


The instant controversy is the by-product of continuing litigation in the federal courts concerning living conditions in the Jail. In 1978 inmates of the Jail brought a class action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the constitutionality of the conditions under which they were confined. The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, after a six-week trial, held that a number of those conditions were unconstitutional and appointed a master to make a report and recommendations. Owens-El v. Robinson, 442 F.Supp. 1368 (W.D.Pa.1978). The master's recommendations were subsequently adopted, 457 F.Supp. 984 (W.D.Pa.1978), and the County defendants did not appeal. An appeal by the inmates, however, led to a second trial on the adequacy of psychiatric care at the Jail. Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754 (3d Cir.1979), on remand, 487 F.Supp. 638 (W.D.Pa.1980).

At the time of the District Court's initial ruling, overcrowding in the Jail was not found to be a problem. Owens-El v. Robinson, supra at 1376. By July of 1983, however, the Jail's population had increased by more than half, prompting the inmates to seek additional relief. On May 25, 1983, the District Court found the Jail to be unconstitutionally overcrowded and ordered a step-by-step reduction of the prison population. By January 1, 1984, there were to be no more than five hundred (500) male and thirty (30) female inmates housed in the Jail. Inmates of Allegheny County v. Wecht, 565 F.Supp. 1278 (W.D.Pa.1983).

The County was initially able to comply with the population reduction scheme but, in August and September of 1983, the County moved for relief from the District Court's May 25 order, citing difficulty in relocating inmates to achieve the required population caps. On October 20, 1983, after a hearing on the County's motions, the District Court rejected the County's requests and ordered the Director and Warden of the Jail to release on their own recognizance prisoners held in default of the lowest amount of bail until the population limits mandated by the May 25 order were met.

On December 28, 1983, the County filed a complaint in mandamus and equity in the Commonwealth Court against the Bureau, its Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, and the Board and its Chairman, following the Deputy Commissioner's refusal to authorize the transfer of seventy-six (76) specified inmates to state facilities. Shortly thereafter the District Court held a status conference. The court acknowledged the following actions by the County:

The County and the Prison Board have undertaken extensive efforts to reduce the population at the Jail and secure alternative housing for inmates in order to comply with the above-mentioned federal Order including:

a) Authorized the renovation of the County-owned Jones Law Building in Pittsburgh into an approximately 300 bed jail with completion for 1985;

b) Authorized the construction of a twenty-five bed group home for females in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh; this is due for completion of construction in the Spring of 1984;

c) Contracted with several non-profit agencies in the Pittsburgh area to provide temporary housing for non-violent inmates;

d) Contacted all municipalities in Allegheny County with police lock-ups with a view toward renting cells on a space available basis for persons convicted of driving while intoxicated;

e) Contacted all 24 counties in the Western Pennsylvania area and contracted with those counties with available space for housing inmates from Allegheny County on a space available basis. Currently, there are 44 males and 14 females housed in those other counties and no additional space is available.

--- F.Supp. ---- (W.D.Pa.1984).

Expressing dissatisfaction with the prisoner release program and stressing the preferability of interim housing facilities, however, the court ordered that, after February 15, 1984, a sanction of Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000) would be imposed for each prisoner so released. That order was stayed pending the County's appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the interim, on January 26, 1984, the County had filed in its action pending in the Commonwealth Court a motion for preliminary injunction, a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, and an amended complaint. The motion for leave was granted on February 14, 1984. The defendants in the mandamus action responded to the filing of the amended complaint by filing preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer. After a hearing President Judge Crumlish denied the County's motion for a preliminary injunction on May 15, 1984; 3 the County appealed that determination to this Court. On September 6, 1984, the Commonwealth Court sustained the defendants' preliminary objections and dismissed the County's Complaint without leave to amend. --- Pa.Commw. ----, 480 A.2d 1330 (1984). That order was also appealed to this Court.


A demurrer can only be sustained where the complaint is clearly insufficient to establish the pleader's right to relief. Firing v. Kephart, 466 Pa. 560, 353 A.2d 833 (1976). For the purpose of testing the legal sufficiency of the challenged pleading a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer admits as true all well-pleaded, material, relevant facts, Savitz v. Weinstein, 395 Pa. 173, 149 A.2d 110 (1959); March v. Banus, 395 Pa. 629, 151 A.2d 612 (1959), and every inference fairly deducible from those facts, Hoffman v. Misericordia Hospital of Philadelphia, 439 Pa. 501, 267 A.2d 867 (1970); Troop v. Franklin Savings Trust, 291 Pa. 18, 139 A. 492 (1927). The pleader's conclusions or averments of law are not considered to be admitted as true by a demurrer. Savitz v. Weinstein, supra.

Since the sustaining of a demurrer results in a denial of the pleader's claim or a dismissal of his suit, a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer should be sustained only in cases that clearly and without a doubt fail to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Schott v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 436 Pa. 279, 259 A.2d 443 (1969); Botwinick v. Credit Exchange, Inc., 419 Pa. 65, 213 A.2d 349 (1965); Savitz v. Weinstein, supra; London v. Kingsley, 368 Pa. 109, 81 A.2d 870 (1951); Waldman v. Shoemaker, 367 Pa. 587, 80 A.2d 776 (1951). If the facts as pleaded state a claim for which relief may be granted under any theory of law then there is sufficient doubt to require the preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer to be rejected. Packler v. State Employment Retirement Board, 470 Pa. 368, 371, 368 A.2d 673, 675 (1977); see also Schott v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., supra at 291, 259 A.2d at 449.


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