Commonwealth Court reinstates Butler County's 911 case

By Glenn Minnis | Jul 3, 2017

HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court on June 8 reversed a lower court’s decision sustaining CenturyLink Communications' and numerous telephone providers' objections to the County of Butler’s complaints about payments for 911 services.

In a dispute that dates to 2016, Butler County officials alleged CenturyLink, United Telephone Co. of Pennsylvania, Consolidated Communications Enterprise Services and others failed to fulfill their obligations as stipulated by the statewide 911 emergency communication systems.

The three-judge Commonwealth Court panel also outlined that the dispute between the two parties centered on whether the service providers failed to bill and undercharged subscribers. 

The judges added to effectively adjudicate the matter called for taking into account principles of the 911 Act both before and after changes were made to it by the General Assembly in August 2015.

As part of its initial complaint, Butler County Commissioners alleged as many as 15 telephone service providers from across the state were contributing less than their fair share in support of county's 911 system, according to Trib Live. Attorneys for Butler County added the six years of alleged delinquent payments had left the targeted providers owing the county $10.9 million.

Butler County is represented by the Philadelphia law firm Dilworth Paxson, whose reps have also filed several other related suits on behalf of other local jurisdictions, Trib Live reported. 

Pennsylvania law requires that telephone service providers bill 911 fees to subscriber and remit the costs collect to the counties, the complaint states.

The Commonwealth Court overturned a ruling that prevented the county from bringing its claims.

"The County is alleging a specific harm that stems from its direct relationship with the Service Providers under the 911 Act’s statutory scheme," the court ruled.

"The County has obligations under this statutory scheme and its ability to meet those obligations is dependent on the Service Providers charging consumers in compliance with the 911 Act. 

"We conclude, therefore, that the 911 Act does not preclude the County from bringing its dispute to a court for resolution. We reach no conclusion, however, as to the merits of the chosen causes of action or forms of relief set forth in the County’s complaint."

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