Jon Campisi Jan. 29, 2013, 8:58am

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel has reversed a decision by the Philadelphia

Parking Authority to deny an application to a limousine company to provide service in Philadelphia, ruling that the PPA wrongly relied on a previous citation and fine issued to the company as the basis for its decision.

Mapemawa Inc. had petitioned the Commonwealth Court to review an adjudication by the PPA’s Taxicab and Limousine Division that denied the company’s application for a certificate of public convenience to provide limo service in the City of Brotherly Love.

The PPA had denied the application because the company allegedly did not show it was capable of providing lawful service because it had pled liable to a PPA citation in 2008 and paid a civil penalty of $1,000.

The three appeals judges, however, determined that a single enforcement action from 2008 is insufficient to support the PPA’s conclusion that Mapemawa lacked the propensity to operate legally.

The record shows that in 2009, Mapemawa applied to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for a certificate of public convenience to provide limo service in Pennsylvania and to the PPA to provide such service in Philadelphia.

The PUC granted the company’s application but the PPA did not after its enforcement department objected, citing the previous citation.

The company argued that the PPA erred because the 2008 enforcement action that caused the PPA to deny the certificate of public convenience in January 2010 was, itself, illegal in that it was based upon a regulation that was later nullified by Commonwealth Court judges themselves.

“In this case, we reverse based on the simple fact that the Parking Authority denied Applicant’s application for a certificate of public convenience on the sole basis of a nullified regulation,” the ruling states.

The ruling states that the PPA, for reasons “mysterious” to the court, never cited the statutory standard for licensure, or rather the requirement that an applicant show it is capable of providing lawful service.

The PPA cited only its regulation that has been nullified because it was not promulgated in accordance with the state’s Documents Law.

The judges nevertheless still addressed the merits of the case, although even then they determined that the prior citation issued to the limo company did not prove sufficient grounds to deny the plaintiff’s application.

The evidence did not show that the company previously acted in deliberate violation of the law, the ruling states, and even if the company had set out to violate the law, it would not have entered into a lease with Limo 200 and publicized its illegal conduct on the Internet.

“Our precedent teaches that this type of evidence supports Applicant’s position that it did not deliberately set out to violate the Parking Authority’s regulation,” the court ruling states.

The previous citation had stemmed from an incident in which the PPA had accused the plaintiff of operating without the proper registration.

The organization also accused Maria Fernandez, the owner of Mapemawa, of operating an improper website advertising the business.

Fernandez informed the PPA that she believed she was operating within the law since she had a lease with a company called Limo 2000, which did hold the proper certificates of public convenience from both the PUC and the PPA, the record shows.

Fernandez eventually pleaded “liable” and paid the $1,000 civil penalty.

Following an administrative proceeding, a hearing officer issued his adjudication, explaining that because the regulation cited by the PPA had been set aside by Commonwealth Court, he would instead cite the PUC regulation.

In the end, the hearing officer determined that it was “impossible to accept that [Applicant’s] unlawful operations resulted from a good faith misunderstanding of the law,” the record shows.

The hearing officer, however, never explained why Fernandez’s understanding of the law was wrong, and he didn’t analyze why Fernandez couldn’t operate lawfully under her company’s lease of Limo 2000’s certificate of public convenience.

The officer instead concluded that the plaintiff “flagrantly and defiantly” operated her limo service in Philadelphia without the proper certificate, something that he said showed a “lack of propensity to operate legally.”

In the end, however, the Commonwealth Court panel determined that Fernandez did not act in deliberate violation of the law.

“Here, Applicant settled the matter of its violation of a regulation, later nullified, and so did the Parking Authority,” the judges wrote. “The settlement, binding on both parties, resolved the matter of Applicant’s conduct between April and August 2008.

“If the Parking Authority believed that Applicant’s violation of the law was so serious, as it now contends, then it should not have settled the citation for $1,000,” the ruling continues. “It should have exacted an agreement from Applicant that it would not be eligible for a certificate of public convenience or gone to a hearing. It did not do so.”

The judges wrote that the evidence shows that the plaintiff took immediate measures to respond to the PPA’s concerns, regardless of the fact that the citation was based on a regulation that was later nullified by the court.

The decision was written by Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt. Judges Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter and James Gardner Colins joined in on the decision.

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