Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in determining a school bus surveillance video sought in a request for public records pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) was not exempt from disclosure under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. 1232g. Rudy Miller, on behalf of The Express Times (collectively, Requester), submitted a RTKL request to the District. Therein, Requester sought information in connection with an incident involving an elementary school teacher who, according to Requester, had roughly physically disciplined a child on a school bus outside of the school. Although its rationale departed from the analysis of the Commonwealth Court, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s order, with instructions to redact students’ images from the video prior to disclosure. View "Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the superior court erred in its application of Pennsylvania law to find that L.B., a Colorado resident, was foreclosed from challenging the validity of his consent to permit the adoption of his minor children under the Pennsylvania Adoption Act, but not the requirements of the corresponding Colorado statute. After review, the Court concluded the superior court did not err, and affirmed the termination of L.B.'s parental rights to his children. View "In Re: J.W.B. & R.D.B." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the superior court erred in holding the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) did not preclude a wrongfully terminated employee from filing a court action for retaliatory discharge under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law when the plaintiff reported discriminatory conduct made unlawful by the PHRA, but was not herself the subject of the underlying discrimination. After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in so holding, and therefore affirmed. View "Harrison v. Health Network Lab, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellant Sara Ladd, a New Jersey resident, owned two vacation properties on Arrowhead Lake in the Pocono Mountains. Ladd started renting one of these properties in 2009 and the other in 2013 to supplement her income after being laid off from her job as a digital marketer. Eventually, some of her Arrowhead Lake neighbors learned of her success and asked her to manage rental of their own properties. Ladd considered “short-term” vacation rentals to be rentals for fewer than thirty days, and limited her services to such transactions only. Ladd acted as an “independent contractor” for her “clients” and entered into written agreements with them related to her services. In January 2017, the Commonwealth’s Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs (the Bureau), charged with overseeing the Commission’s enforcement of Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act (RELRA), called Ladd to inform her she had been reported for the “unlicensed practice of real estate.” Ladd reviewed RELRA and concluded her short-term vacation property management services were covered by the statute, and she would have to obtain a real estate broker license to continue operating her business. As Ladd was sixty-one years old and unwilling to meet RELRA’s licensing requirements, she shuttered PMVP to avoid the civil and criminal sanctions described in the statute. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the Commonwealth Court's holding that the RELA's broker licensing requirements satisfied the heightened rational basis test articulated in Gambone v. Commonwealth, 101 A.2d 634 (Pa. 1954), and thus do not violate Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution when applied to a self-described “short-term vacation property manager.” The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in so holding, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ladd et al v. Real Estate Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether a government employer properly terminated a probationary employee based on messages she posted to a social networking website. After review, the Court concluded the Commonwealth Court failed to engage in the required balancing of interests, and therefore erred when it reversed the adjudication and order of the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission (Commission) dismissing the probationary employee’s challenge to her termination. View "Carr v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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Appellee Mendy Trigg was the parent of J.T., who, in 2011, was age 4 and afflicted with craniosynostosis. In 2011, J.T. underwent surgery at the Hospital to correct this condition. Afterward, J.T. was transferred for post- operative care to one of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh's (“Hospital”) intensive care units. While recovering there, J.T. fell out of the hospital bed, and, as a result, suffered damage to the surgically repaired cranial area, necessitating immediate ameliorative surgery. Subsequently, Appellees filed suit against the Hospital alleging, inter alia, that the Hospital was negligent in placing J.T. in a regular adult size hospital bed, due to the large spaces between the vertical side rails, which they alleged, enabled J.T.'s fall. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review of this case to consider whether Appellees' argument that the trial court erred by not personally observing the demeanor of prospective jurors they challenged for-cause during voir dire. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded Appellees waived their argument for appellate review, and, thus, that the Superior Court erred in considering it. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Superior Court judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trigg v. Children's Hospital of Pgh." on Justia Law

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A Special Touch (Salon) was a sole proprietorship owned by Colleen Dorsey (Owner) offering nail, skin, massage, and permanent cosmetic services. After a 2014 audit, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (Department), Office of Unemployment Compensation Tax Services (OUCTS) issued a Notice of Assessment to the Salon indicating that it owed unemployment compensation (UC) contributions and interest in the amount of $10,647.93 for the period of 2010 through the second quarter of 2014. This assessment was based on OUCTS’s determination that ten individuals providing work for the Salon had been misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees of the Salon, thus subjecting it to the UC taxes. This discretionary appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court required a determination of what “customarily engaged” meant, as that term was used in Subsection 4(l)(2)(B) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law), 43 P.S. section 753(l)(2)(B). In particular, the Supreme Court had to determine whether the phrase required an individual to be involved in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business in actuality, as opposed to having the mere ability to be so involved. The Court concluded the phrase “customarily engaged” as used in Subsection 4(l)(2)(B) mandated that an individual actually be involved in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business. Because the Commonwealth Court reached a contrary conclusion, the Court reversed. View "A Special Touch v. UC Tax Services" on Justia Law

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In October 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court order and directed that the name of Sherrie Cohen be placed on the November 5, 2019 ballot as an independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council-at-Large. Because the Board of Elections only had until the close of business on October 4, 2019 to add Cohen’s name to the ballot, the Supreme Court issued its order noting that an opinion would follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court forth its reasons for concluding that Cohen’s withdrawal as a candidate in the Democratic primary election for City Council-at-Large did not preclude her from running in the general election as an independent candidate. On August 16, 2019, the trial court issued an order granting the petitions to set aside Cohen’s nomination papers. In an opinion in support of the order, the court looked to Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that when a candidate withdraws his nomination petitions for a primary ballot “within the permitted period,” his subsequently filed nomination papers may be accepted. The trial court distinguished Cohen’s case from Packrall because “Cohen required Court intervention to leave the primary ballot.” The court determined this to be the decisive factor in concluding that she was “subject to the ‘sore loser’ provision.” Cohen filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. In a single-judge memorandum and order, the trial court was affirmed, holding “[w]hen a person withdraws of his or her own volition within the time for filing, it ‘undoes,’ ab initio, the filing because a person gets to choose whether he or she wants to go through the primary process to seek an office.” Cohen asserted on appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s order that that court erred by failing to consider withdrawal by court order under Election Code Section 978.4 to have the same effect as voluntary withdrawal pursuant to Section 914. The Supreme Court agreed with Cohen that “[t]he Commonwealth Court failed to acknowledge that the important dividing line in this area of the law is between voluntary withdraw[als] and candidates getting stricken from the ballot. … Because there is no principled reason to distinguish between the voluntariness of a withdrawal under Section 914 or Section 978.4, Cohen is entitled to relief from this Court.” View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Sherrie Cohen" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the scope and application of the qualified immunity provided under Section 114 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. sections 7101-7503. On November 20, 2012, twenty-three year-old Andrew Johnson (Andrew) voluntarily admitted himself to Bowling Green-Brandywine Addiction Treatment Center (Brandywine). Andrew sought drug rehabilitation treatment for his addiction to opiates (OxyContin) and benzodiazepines (Xanax), which were first prescribed to him two years earlier for pain and anxiety related to back injuries arising from an ATV accident. He was accompanied by his mother, appellant Melissa Dean, and reported his health history to Brandywine staff. Appellee Mohammad Ali Khan, M.D., a physician at Brandywine, took Andrew’s medical history and performed a physical exam. At approximately 8:15 in the evening of November 28, 2012, the nursing staff informed Khan of Andrew’s elevated vital signs, but Khan declined to examine Andrew, did not issue any new treatment orders, and instructed the nursing staff not to transfer Andrew to the emergency room. The nursing staff again checked Andrew every few hours, noting his vital signs but giving no additional treatment. At approximately 7:50 a.m. the next morning, Andrew was found lying on the floor of his room, face down, without a pulse. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Andrew’s parents, appellant Dean and Clifton Johnson, as administrators of Andrew’s estate and in their individual capacities, filed suit against Brandywine, Dr. Kahn, and others who treated Andrew, raising medical malpractice, wrongful death and survival claims. Specifically, appellants alleged Andrew died of a cardiac arrhythmia due to the combination of medications prescribed during treatment at Brandywine, and that his death was the result of medical negligence including the failure to properly examine, diagnose, appreciate, and treat his medical condition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in affirming entry of a compulsory nonsuit and held immunity did not apply under circumstances where: (1) the patient was admitted for and primarily received drug detoxification treatment; and (2) the patient did not receive treatment to facilitate recovery from a mental illness. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dean v. Bowling Green-Brandywine" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether the Fair Share Act, 42 Pa.C.S. 7102, required a factfinder to apportion liability on a percentage, as opposed to per capita, basis in strict liability asbestos actions. William Roverano was exposed to a variety of asbestos products from 1971 to 1981 in the course of his employment as a helper and a carpenter with PECO Energy Company. Additionally, he smoked cigarettes for approximately thirty years until 1997. In November 2013, Roverano was diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs. In 2014, Roverano brought a strict liability lawsuit against thirty defendants, including John Crane, Inc. (Crane) and Brand Insulations, Inc. (Brand), asserting that exposure to their asbestos products caused his lung cancer. His wife, Jacqueline Roverano, filed a loss of consortium claim. Before trial, several defendants, including Crane and Brand, filed a motion in limine seeking a ruling that the Fair Share Act applied to asbestos cases. The Supreme Court concluded the Act’s plain language was consistent with per capita apportionment in asbestos cases, the Act does not specifically preempt Pennsylvania common law favoring per capita apportionment, and percentage apportionment in asbestos cases was impossible of execution. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s order, which vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded this case for a new trial to apportion damages on a percentage basis. Additionally, the Supreme Court considered whether the Act required a factfinder to apportion liability to bankrupt entities that entered into a release with the plaintiff. To this, the Court concluded that upon appropriate requests and proofs, bankruptcy trusts that were either joined as third-party defendants or that have entered into a release with the plaintiff could be included on the verdict sheet for purposes of liability only. Accordingly, this case was remanded to the trial court to consider whether Appellees submitted sufficient requests and proofs to apportion liability to the settled bankruptcy trusts. View "Roverano. v. John Crane, Inc." on Justia Law