Exclusive Jurisdiction In Matters Involving Claims Arising Out of Contracts With the Commonwealth
In Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Department of Transportation (2005) the Supreme Court again clarified that the Board of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction in matters involving claims arising out of contracts with the Commonwealth, stating:
The legislature created the Board of Claims in 1937, and conferred upon it the exclusive power to arbitrate claims arising from contracts entered into by the Commonwealth. See Emergency Medical Services Council of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Inc. v. Dept. of Health, 499 Pa. 1, 451 A.2d 206, 209 (1982).
The main purpose of the Board of Claims is to provide an independent administrative body and a comprehensive plan to adjudicate claims arising from contracts entered into by the Commonwealth.
As the Court explained in Emergency Medical Services:
The Board of Arbitration of Claims can award monetary damages for breach of contract.
The legislature has provided in accordance with its power under Art. 1, Sec. 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, that all claims against the Commonwealth arising from contracts shall be heard by the Board of Arbitration of Claims.
This Board has exclusive jurisdiction of contract claims pursuant to the Act of May 20, 1937.
The Act created a special forum, specified the nature of claims to be considered claims of or over three hundred dollars, and limited the remedy to monetary damages. Vespaziani v. Dept. of Revenue, 40 Pa. Commw. 54, 396 A.2d 489 (1979); Brocker Mfg. & Supply Co., Inc. v. United Bonding & Insurance Company, 8 Pa. Commw. 110, 301 A.2d 438 (1973).
With the passage of the Commonwealth Court Act, and the creation of that court's jurisdiction, the legislature carefully provided that the jurisdiction of the newly created court would not repeal, modify, or supplant the jurisdiction of the Board.
When the ban imposed by the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity was abrogated, to clarify the Commonwealth Court's power to intervene in these matters with equitable relief, the legislature modified Section 4651 (72 P.S. 4651-4) by inserting the word 'exclusive' to emphasize that only the Board should hear these matters. 451 A.2d at 209.
Thus, when the legislature passed the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act of October 5, 1978, it recognized that claims arising from contracts involving the Commonwealth could sound in both assumpsit and equity, and expressly provided that, regardless of form, these claims should be decided by the Board of Claims.
It is thus readily apparent that Pennsylvania's legislative scheme intended to vest the Board of Claims with expansive jurisdiction to decide disputes concerning contracts involving the Commonwealth, regardless of a given case's peculiar path to the Board.