Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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This case was one in a longstanding dispute between major health services providers operating in Western Pennsylvania: UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, Highmark) and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Highmark and UPMC separately entered into Consent Decrees with the Commonwealth's Office of Attorney General (OAG). In this case, an issue arose concerning the obligations imposed by the Consent Decrees relative to UMPC's attempt to terminate ten hospital Medicare Acute Care Provider Agreements it had with Highmark. Pertinent here, UPMC's Consent Decree required it to treat Highmark's Medicare Advantage Plan consumers as in-network through the end date of the Consent Decree. UPMC allowed Provider Agreements with Highmark to renew annually in satisfaction of its in-network obligation. UPMC informed Highmark in accordance with the notice provisions, it would terminate the Provider Agreements on December 31, 2018, but would nonetheless continue to comply with all terms and obligations of those agreements through June 30, 2019, pursuant to the Decree runout provision. Highmark filed for an injunction and to hold UPMC in contempt. The Commonwealth granted OAG's petition to enforce, rejecting UPMC's contention that the six-month runout provision of the Provider Agreements satisfied its obligation to remain in "contract" with Highmark. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the runout provision of the Provider Agreement satisfied UPMC's obligation to contract for in-network access to its facilities for Highmark's MA Plan subscribers through June 30, 2019. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed this appeal to address the City of Philadelphia's so-called "soda tax." In June 2016, City Council enacted the challenged ordinance, which imposed a tax regarding specified categories of drinks sold, or intended to be sold, in the municipal limits. Appellants -- a group of consumers, retailers, distributors, producers, and trade associations -- filed suit against the City and the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in the court of common pleas, challenging the legality and constitutionality of the tax and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The common pleas court differentiated the soda tax as a “non-retail, distribution level tax” and that the tax did not apply to the same transaction or subject as the state sales tax, thus, no violation of the "Sterling Act," Act of August 5, 1932, Ex. Sess., P.L. 45 (as amended 53 P.S. sections 15971–15973). A divided, en banc panel of the Commonwealth Court affirmed, the majority reasoning that in determining whether a tax was duplicative, the focus is upon the incidence of the tax; such incidence is ultimately determined according to the substantive text of the enabling legislation; and the concept of legal incidence does not concern post-tax economic actions of private actors. Because the City’s beverage tax and the state sales and use tax are imposed on different, albeit related, transactions and measured on distinct terms, the majority likewise concluded that the Sterling Act was not offended. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Sterling Act conferred upon the City "a broad taxing power subject to preemption," while clarifying that “any and all subjects” are available for local taxation which the Commonwealth could, but does not presently, tax. The Commonwealth could, but did not, tax the distributor/dealer-level transactions or subjects targeted by the soda tax. "Moreover, the legal incidences of the Philadelphia tax and the Commonwealth’s sales and use tax are different and, accordingly, Sterling Act preemption does not apply." View "Williams v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, at issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the high income child support guidelines found at Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-3.1 inherently accounted for the reasonable needs of the children such that any discrete analysis of those needs by a fact-finder was improper. The Court also examined whether a voluntary contribution to an irrevocable non-grantor trust for the benefit of the children was an appropriate factor for a court to consider for purposes of deviating from the guidelines amount of child support under Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-5(b). Furthermore, the Court considered the propriety of an award of attorney’s fees to the obligee in this case. The Court concluded: (1) Rule 1910.16-3.1 did not render independent examination of the reasonable needs of the children by the fact-finder improper in high income cases; (2) a voluntary contribution to an irrevocable non-grantor trust for the benefit of the children was an inappropriate factor to consider for deviation purposes under Rule 1910.16-5(b); and (3) the obligee is not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees in this case. View "Hanrahan v. Bakker" on Justia Law

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Appellant Rodger Lindsay, a debtor who, in response to a mortgage foreclosure complaint filed by Appellee Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC (“Bayview”), asserted as an affirmative defense in new matter Bayview’s failure to provide him with the required thirty days’ notice. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether, following Bayview’s discontinuance of the case, Lindsay was entitled to recover attorneys’ fees arising from the assertion of his affirmative defense. The Court concluded that to be entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees under section 503(a) of the Loan Interest and Protection Law (“Act 6”), the debtor must commence an “action” asserting a violation of section 403(a) and prevail. Because an affirmative defense was not an “action” for purposes of Act 6, under the facts and procedural history presented here, Lindsay was not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees. View "Bayview Loan v. Lindsay" on Justia Law

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Appellee, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (“MSC”), filed in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction a petition for review in the nature of a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief (the “Petition”), on behalf of itself and its members. MSC challenged the validity of several regulations relating to unconventional gas well operations as governed by Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act of 2012 (known as Act 13). MSC alleged that certain provisions were void and unenforceable for multiple reasons, including that they were vague, lacked statutory authorization, and conflicted with other regulations and statutes applicable to the industry. Furthermore, MSC averred that the rulemaking process did not comply with the Regulatory Review Act, and that the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (the “EQB”) failed to develop criteria for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to use in conditioning a drilling permit on relevant factors. The Commonwealth Court issued a single-judge, unpublished opinion and order, granting in part and denying in part preliminary injunctive relief. The Commonwealth Court also issued an order granting in part and denying in part MSC's Application for Expedited Special Relief. The order preliminarily enjoined DEP from implementing and enforcing certain sections of the Act. After its review of the parties' arguments on appeal of the Commonwealth Court order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court affirmed the grant of preliminary injunctive relief as to Counts I and II. As for Count IV, the Court affirmed the grant of relief as to Section 78a.59c, but reversed the grant of relief as to Section 78a.59b(b). Finally, the Court reversed the grant of preliminary injunctive relief as to Count V. View "Marcellus Shale Coalition v. Dept. Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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This discretionary appeal addressed the role of a court following a school district’s decision to conduct a private sale of an unused or unnecessary school building pursuant to section 7-707(3) of the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949. Ridgefield Elementary School (“Ridgefield”) sat on 7.9 acres of land (the “Property”), which contained the school, a playground, a parking lot and open greenspace. Ridgefield was located in Millcreek Township (the “Township”) and was in an R-1 single- family residential zoning district. In 2013, the Millcreek Township School District (the “School District”) closed Ridgefield, partitioned the Property into three lots, and tried to sell the Property through a sealed bid process, but it received no bids. In July 2014, the School District listed the Property for sale. Two offers were made on the property; in 2015, the School District petitioned the trial court for approval of the private sale of Lot 1 of the Property. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a trial court’s involvement in such cases is limited to either approving or disapproving the sale. The statute required a determination of whether the petition for private sale contains the requisite information and was adequately supported by the opinions of two disinterested individuals who are familiar with the real estate in the geographic area, have viewed the property for sale, and concluded that the proposed sale price “is a fair and reasonable one and in their opinion a better price than could be obtained at public sale.” The statute does not require, and thus courts may not consider, whether the sale serves the public interest. Here, the Commonwealth Court based its decision on an erroneous interpretation of section 7-707(3) and the prior decisions of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In Re: Private Sale of Prop. by Millcreek Twp. SD" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, we consider whether Appellant, the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), is entitled to subrogation of benefits that a trooper – who was injured in a motor vehicle accident – was eligible to receive under the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) against the trooper’s recovery from a third-party tortfeasor pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In 2011, Pennsylvania State Trooper Joseph Bushta (“Claimant”) was on duty when his police vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer. As a result of the collision, Claimant suffered various cervical, thoracic, and lumbar injuries which required medical treatment and physical therapy, and which resulted in Claimant’s inability to perform his job duties for approximately 16 months. PSP, a self-insured public employer, issued a notice of compensation payable (“NCP”) indicating a weekly compensation rate of $858.08 under the WCA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that all of the benefits Claimant received were Heart and Lung benefits, not WCA benefits. Thus, pursuant to the MVFRL, PSP does not have a right of subrogation against Claimant’s settlement with the third-party tortfeasors. View "Penn. State Police v. WCAB (Bushta)" on Justia Law

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Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) appealed directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a decision by the Commonwealth Court entering a $3.2 million verdict in favor of plaintiff-appellee Ralph Bailets after a bench trial of his claims arising under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law. PTC presented a question of first impression in Pennsylvania: whether non-economic damages for items such as embarrassment, humiliation, loss of reputation and mental anguish were available to plaintiffs in actions brought under the Law. Additionally, if non-economic damages are authorized under the Law, PTC asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the verdict amount was excessive in this case. After review, the Court concluded non-economic damages were available to successful plaintiffs under the Law and the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in entering a verdict amount of $1.6 million for non-economic damages. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bailets v. Pa. Turnpike Commission" on Justia Law