Health Trust suit likely headed to state's top court
February 26. 2013 12:24AM
In what may seem odd to outsiders, both sides filed appeals to an appellate-court ruling in the legal battle between two school districts and the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust. While the appeals were filed with the same court that made the latest ruling, odds are good the whole thing will land on the docket of the state Supreme Court.
The case centers on the withdrawal of Dallas and Pittston Area School Districts from the Health Trust in 2007. The districts filed suit claiming they are owed their share of what was a large Trust surplus at the time of their withdrawal.
At last week's monthly meeting of the Trust, attorney Scott Gartley told the board the two districts have asked to re-argue their appeal before the Commonwealth Court. A five-judge panel of that court overturned an earlier ruling by Luzerne County Judge Lewis Wetzel, who ordered the Trust to pay nearly $7 million in surplus owed and interest.
Gartley also noted the Commonwealth Court did not rule on the Trust's contention that the two districts owe the Trust a total of $549,000. Gartley said Trust attorneys have asked the court to make a clear ruling on that issue.
But the lead attorney for the two districts, Howard Levinson, said Monday that the court's failure to rule on such a substantial issue bolsters the case for reconsideration.
The districts have asked to re-argue the case on 11 grounds, but Levinson said it boils down to a basic contention. “You had tax dollars paid by property owners of Dallas and Pittston and earmarked for one purpose, to pay health costs for Dallas and Pittston employees,” Levinson said.
The Commonwealth Court has three choices after the request for re-arguments two weeks ago, Levinson said: agree to re-hear arguments, decline to re-hear within 60 days, or do nothing for 60 days, at which time it would legally be considered rejected.
If it is denied or rejected, the next and final step is an appeal to the state Supreme Court.