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Commonwealth Court Rebukes Trial Court for 'Retransferring' Inmate's ADA Case

[caption id="attachment_6214" align="alignnone" width="620"] Credit: Shutterstock.com[/caption] A prisoner's Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit continues to ping-pong back and forth between the Greene County Court of Common Pleas and the Commonwealth Court, with each claiming it does not have jurisdiction to decide the issue. In a Jan. 31 ruling, a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel consisting of Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini, President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt and Judge Michael H. Wojcik transferred Francis Harris' case back to the common pleas court, admonishing the court for "retransferring" a case that the Commonwealth Court has already said it does not have the authority to review. Harris, serving time at SCI Greene for murder, sued the prison system for failing to accommodate his foot pain with orthotic shoes. All of his claims were tossed except for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the dismissal of all but Harris' ADA claim. He alleged that he was denied afternoon yard time instead of morning yard time, which he requested because his foot pain is worse in the morning. The appeals court said it did not have jurisdiction to address the issue and remanded the case back to the trial court. After that, however, the Greene County Court granted the state's motion to transfer the case back to the Commonwealth Court. The trial judge reasoned that the Commonwealth Court had jurisdiction because Harris sought a writ of mandamus and monetary damages. "It is improper for a trial court to 'retransfer' a matter back to this court if we originally transferred the matter to the trial court for jurisdictional reasons," Pellegrini said in the court's opinion. He continued, "Simply put, while the trial court may disagree with this court’s original transfer order or how we interpreted Harris’ action against the department, it is nonetheless obligated to follow that order." Pellegrini noted that it was the trial court that had jurisdiction because of the monetary damages Harris sought. "Here, it is clear that Harris’s ADA claim falls within Section 761(a)(1)(v) because he is seeking money damages under a statutory provision and, accordingly, his ADA claim constitutes an action in tort," Pellegrini said. "While Harris may also be seeking mandamus relief, our Supreme Court has made clear that this does not operate to transform a trial court’s jurisdiction as it would arguably permit forum shopping through pleading." Harris represented himself in the litigation. Theron Perez represents the Department of Corrections and did not return a call seeking comment.