Department of Public Welfare Authority to Remove a Stale Matter from Its Docket
Does the Department of Public Welfare Have the Authority to Remove a Stale Matter from Its List of Cases Provided Due Process is Afforded to the Parties ?
In Burch v. Department of Public Welfare, 815 A.2d 1143 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003), this Court recognized the authority of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to remove a stale matter from its docket, provided that due process is afforded to the parties.
The key to determining whether dismissal of an administrative appeal on the basis of non pros is proper lies with whether the requirements for non pros were met and whether the parties were afforded due process - not whether the parties have failed to comply with a rule or order.
Therefore, we must examine those issues to determine whether the dismissal was proper.
In Captline v. County of Allegheny, 553 Pa. 92, 718 A.2d 273 (1998), which originated before a court of common pleas and which involved the Eminent Domain Code, Act of June 22, 1964, Special Sess., P.L. 84, as amended, 26 P.S. 1-101 - 1-903, the Supreme Court explained when a grant of a judgment of non pros was proper.
The Supreme Court's guidance on that issue is instructive for the case at hand.
The Supreme Court wrote, as follows:
The question of whether to grant a judgment of non pros due to the plaintiff's failure to prosecute his action within a reasonable time is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. Jacobs v. Halloran, 551 Pa. 350, 710 A.2d 1098 (1998).
In Jacobs, we recognized that the two year presumption of prejudice adopted in Penn Piping 11 had become unworkable.
As a result, we returned to the test set forth in James Brothers Company v. Union Banking and Trust Company of DuBois, 432 Pa. 129, 132, 247 A.2d 587, 589 (1968), which required the showing of actual prejudice to the defendants from the delay in prosecution.
Accordingly, we held:
To dismiss a case for inactivity pursuant to a defendant's motion for non pros there must first be a lack of due diligence on the part of the plaintiff in failing to proceed with reasonable promptitude.
Second, the plaintiff must have no compelling reasons for the delay.
Finally, the delay must cause actual prejudice to the defendant. Id. at 358, 710 A.2d at 1103. Captline, 553 Pa. at 94-95, 718 A.2d at 274.