Court: Pa. Township Residents Don't Have to Call 911

May 24, 2013
The township's ordinance forced residents needing an ambulance to call 911 or face a hefty fine.

May 24--Millcreek Township residents still have a choice when calling for emergency ambulance service.

The state Commonwealth Court on Thursday upheld a 2011 ruling that struck down a restrictive Millcreek ordinance governing 911 and ambulance services.

The township passed the ordinance in April 2010. It required residents to dial only 911 when calling for an ambulance during an emergency. It further named Millcreek Paramedic Service, or MPS, as the township's only designated ambulance service.

The move, in effect, made it illegal for residents to call MPS rival EmergyCare Inc. for help. Residents or businesses violating the ordinance faced fines of $250 to $1,000.

EmergyCare challenged the new rule in court and, after a series of hearings, Erie County Judge Michael E. Dunlavey declared it unconstitutional in October 2011.

"The ordinance forces Millcreek residents and businesses to choose MPS or break the law and call EmergyCare," Dunlavey wrote in a 13-page opinion. "This is not a choice by any definition."

Dunlavey said the ordinance would interfere with the contracts EmergyCare had with its more than 4,000 subscribers in Millcreek, in part because the ordinance would have required EmergyCare to forward to 911 any calls its Millcreek customers made to EmergyCare's number, 870-1000.

Dunlavey said the ordinance also violated EmergyCare's free-speech rights. The ordinance prohibited anyone, including EmergyCare, from advertising or advocating "the use of a telephone number other than 911" to request emergency services.

"The ordinance blatantly attempts to eliminate any competition with MPS in providing emergency services without any regard for its impact on Millcreek residents and businesses, the very same people who MPS is meant to serve," Dunlavey said in the decision.

Millcreek's five volunteer fire departments formed Millcreek Paramedic Service in 1999. The market before that had been largely controlled by EmergyCare.

The state Commonwealth Court, in weighing the township's appeal of Dunlavey's ruling, agreed with Dunlavey.

In an opinion by Senior Judge Rochelle S. Friedman, the court said the township had the right to designate a primary emergency medical service provider. The township's ordinance, however, improperly excluded all other emergency medical service providers, the court said.

Both the state and U.S. constitutions ban government from interfering in contracts, the court said.

"The (Millcreek) ordinance substantially impairs (EmergyCare's) contracts by criminalizing conduct that EmergyCare is contractually obligated to perform," the court said.

It said the township had failed to show that its ordinance had a legitimate or significant public purpose.

"We agree with the trial court that the ordinance is primarily an effort to isolate a revenue stream and eliminate competition," Friedman wrote.

LISA THOMPSON can be reached at 870-1802 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at

Copyright 2013 - Erie Times-News, Pa.

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