Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Kneebone v. Lutz
Appellants Patrick and Pamela Lutz (“Homeowners”) owned a single-family, detached home on a half-acre lot along Kesslersville Road in Plainfield Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. The property was located in a farm and forest district under the township’s zoning code. Single-family dwellings were permitted in that district but, per the zoning code, they are subject to setback requirements. Homeowners decided to add onto the back of their home. The design called for an addition to extend to the building envelope in the back: to 50 feet shy of the rear property line, with a raised, covered deck extending 18 feet into the rear setback area. When Homeowners submitted their plan to the township for approval, the zoning officer sent them written notice that the deck would not be allowed because it intruded into 50-foot setback area. He observed Homeowners could seek relief from the zoning hearing board (the “Board”) in the form of a dimensional variance. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed appeal to consider whether the Commonwealth Court correctly applied its standard of appellate review relative to the grant of a dimensional zoning variance. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was evenly divided; by operation of law, the Commonwealth Court’s judgment was thus affirmed. View "Kneebone v. Lutz" on Justia Law
In the Interest of: N.W.-B.
Mother J.B., lived with her two young children (“Y.W.-B” and “N.W.-B”) and the children’s father (“Father”) in Philadelphia. In 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (“DHS”) allegedly received a general protective services report (“GPS report”) from an unidentified source alleging possible neglect by Mother. Although DHS referenced this GPS report several times at the evidentiary hearing and used it to refresh its sole witness’s recollection, it inexplicably never introduced it into evidence. The proceedings revealed the allegation suggested Mother was homeless and failed to feed one of her children during a single eight-hour period. DHS used this allegation as grounds to enter and inspect the family residence. The issue for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether DHS established sufficient probable cause for the trial court to issue the order permitting entry into the home without consent. To this, the Court concluded DHS did not establish probable cause, and thus reversed the order of the Superior Court holding to the contrary. View "In the Interest of: N.W.-B." on Justia Law
Metal Green Inc. v. City of Phila, et al.
The issue this appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved the proposed redevelopment of a 90-year-old abandoned two-story industrial building, consisting of approximately 14,000 square feet, formerly used as a garage/warehouse facility. In 2013, Appellant Metal Green Inc. purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale for approximately $90,000. In August 2016, Mt. Airy USA, a local nonprofit, commenced a legal action against Metal Green pursuant to the 2008 Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act (“Act 135”). A court declared the property to be blighted and abandoned and ordered Metal Green to remediate the hazards that the property posed to the community. While the court possessed the authority to order the demolition of the building, it held such action in abeyance, allowing Metal Green to not only make necessary repairs, but to pursue redevelopment of the property. The Department of Licenses and Inspections denied Metal Green’s application for a building permit to convert the warehouse to apartments. The Supreme Court considered the proper legal standard to be applied when considering an application for a “use variance” under the Philadelphia Zoning Code, as well as the appropriate standard of review for such determinations. The Court held that the minimum variance requirement, as set forth in the Philadelphia Zoning Code, applied to use variances. Additionally, in determining the entitlement to a use variance, the Court concluded considerations of property blight and abandonment were more properly evaluated under the Code’s unnecessary hardship requirement, rather than under the minimum variance requirement. Finally, the Court reaffirmed its traditional abuse of discretion or error of law standard of review with respect to a court’s review of a variance determination; however, as a component thereof, the Court allowed for review for a capricious disregard of the evidence under certain circumstances. View "Metal Green Inc. v. City of Phila, et al." on Justia Law
Lageman v. Zepp, et al.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to clarify whether resort to the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was precluded when the plaintiff introduced enough “direct” evidence that the Doctrine was not the only avenue to a finding of liability - whether the two approaches to satisfying the plaintiff’s evidentiary burden were mutually exclusive. The Superior Court held that they were not exclusive. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly vacated the trial court's refusal to charge the jury on res ipsa loquitur, and remanded for a new trial. View "Lageman v. Zepp, et al." on Justia Law
Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway
A Virginia resident filed an action in Pennsylvania against a Virginia corporation, alleging injuries in Virginia and Ohio. The plaintiff asserted that Pennsylvania courts had general personal jurisdiction over the case based exclusively upon the foreign corporation’s registration to do business in the Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Pennsylvania's statutory scheme violated due process to the extent that it allowed for general jurisdiction over foreign corporations, absent affiliations within the state that were so continuous and systematic as to render the foreign corporation essentially at home in Pennsylvania. The Court further agreed that compliance with Pennsylvania’s mandatory registration requirement did not constitute voluntary consent to general personal jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order, which sustained the foreign corporation’s preliminary objections and dismissed the action with prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway" on Justia Law
Estate of Bisher v. Lehigh Vly Health Net.
Following the death of their twenty-five-year-old son Cory Bisher (“Cory”), Brenton and Carla Bisher filed suit, without representation by counsel, against eleven defendants comprising both named individuals and corporate entities alleging their medical malpractice resulting in Cory’s death. Each parent brought their own wrongful death claims, and Carla filed a survival action on behalf of Cory’s estate (“Estate”). Following protracted proceedings, the trial court struck the amended complaint with prejudice because of defects in the Certificates of Merit mandated by Rule of Civil Procedure 1042.3 in professional liability suits against licensed professionals. On appeal, the Superior Court sua sponte determined that the Bishers committed two errors that jointly deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction over all claims: Carla’s unauthorized practice of law and the lack of verification of the complaint. The panel concluded that it too lacked jurisdiction and quashed the appeal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that neither the unauthorized practice of law in the trial court, nor the lack of verification identified by the Superior Court, implicated subject-matter jurisdiction, and thus could not be raised sua sponte. The Supreme Court also disagreed with the panel’s alternative holding that the trial court properly struck the amended complaint because of the defects in the Certificates of Merit. Because the unauthorized practice of law issue will be ripe for further litigation on remand, the Supreme Court concluded that pleadings unlawfully filed by non-attorneys were not void ab initio. "Instead, after notice to the offending party and opportunity to cure, the pleadings are voidable in the discretion of the court in which the unauthorized practice of law took place." View "Estate of Bisher v. Lehigh Vly Health Net." on Justia Law
Energy Transfer v. Friedman
In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the Office or Open Records (“OOR”) has the authority to review the denial of an individual’s request for records pursuant to the Right to Know Law (“RTKL”), where a public utility has designated records responsive to the request as confidential security information (“CSI”) under the Public Utility Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act. The Supreme Court held that the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) had exclusive authority to review such requests and, therefore, the OOR erred in exercising jurisdiction over the CSI-designated records. View "Energy Transfer v. Friedman" on Justia Law
Albert v. Sheeley’s Drug Store, et al.
In late 2015, decedent Cody Albert (“Cody”) and his childhood friend, Zachary Ross (“Zachary”) struggled with substance abuse issues. At that time, Zachary’s mother, April Kravchenko, was suffering from multiple myeloma for which her doctors prescribed her several opiate pain medications, which she filled at a small, independent pharmacy in Scranton called Sheeley’s Drug Store. Kravchenko and her sister Debra Leggieri worried Zachary would try to pick up (and use) Kravchenko’s pain medication from Sheeley’s while Kravchenko was in the hospital. To prevent this, Leggieri called Sheeley’s and placed a restriction on who could pick up Kravchenko’s prescriptions. Zachary called Sheeley’s one day pretending to be his mother, and asked about refilling her OxyContin prescription. Donato Iannielli, owner-pharmacist Lori Hart’s father, and the prior owner of Sheeley’s, was the pharmacist on-duty at the time, and told “Kravchenko” that her OxyContin prescription could not be filled yet, but that she had a prescription for fentanyl patches ready to be picked up. “Kravchenko” told Iannielli that she wanted to send her son to pick up the patches, but stated that he did not have a driver’s license or other form of identification. Iannielli told the caller that this would not be a problem, since he personally knew and would recognize Zachary. Cody then drove Zachary to Sheeley’s, where Zachary picked up Kravchenko’s medication even though, according to Zachary, the pharmacy receipt explicitly stated, “[d]o not give to son.” On the drive back to Zachary’s house, Cody at some point consumed fentanyl from one of the patches, smoked marijuana, and then fell asleep on the once inside the house. Later that night, Zachary tried to wake Cody up, but he was unresponsive. Cody was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Zachary eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and multiple drug offenses in connection with Cody’s overdose. The question in this appeal was whether claims brought against the pharmacy on behalf of the decedent who overdosed on illegally obtained prescription drugs was barred by the doctrine of in pari delicto. Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the trial court correctly applied the in pari delicto doctrine, judgment was affirmed. View "Albert v. Sheeley's Drug Store, et al." on Justia Law
Lorino v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA)
Appellant Vincent Lorino worked as an equipment operator for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“Employer”) when he slipped on the running board of the truck he used for work and fell backwards, injuring his lower back and left hip. Employer accepted liability for a low back sprain/tear and a left hip sprain/tear pursuant to two medical-only notices of compensation payable (“NCP”). In February 2017, Employer referred Appellant for an independent medical examination (“IME”). The IME examiner determined Appellant had fully recovered from his injuries, that any pain Appellant experienced was the result of pre-existing degenerative disc disease, and that Appellant required no further treatment. As a result, Employer filed a petition to terminate Appellant’s treatment. Appellant retained counsel for the hearing on Employer’s termination petition. At the hearing, Appellant testified he had been receiving treatment from Dr. Shivani Dua, who administered epidural steroid injections to alleviate the pain in his back and left hip. Appellant explained that while the steroid injections would alleviate his pain for a few months, the pain would slowly return, at which point he would need to return for additional injections. Appellant indicated he received his most recent injection approximately two to three weeks before the IME. At the conclusion of the hearing, Appellant requested, in addition to continued medical benefits, attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 440 of the Workers' Compensation Act, asserting that, because he received only medical benefits, he was unable to retain the services of an attorney based on a traditional contingent fee arrangement, and instead was required to enter into an hourly-rate fee agreement. At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the propriety of the Commonwealth Court’s construction of Section 440 of the Act as precluding an award of attorney’s fees to a claimant when an employer established a reasonable basis for seeking a termination of benefits. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court’s interpretation of Section 440 was contrary to the statute’s express language, and, therefore, reversed in part and remanded. View "Lorino v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA)" on Justia Law
Steltz v. Meyers M.D., et al.
In 2016, Craig Steltz filed a medical malpractice action against Dr. William Meyers, Vincera Core Institute, and Vincera Institute (collectively Appellants). While rehabilitating from surgery, Steltz, a professional football player, felt a pop in his right leg. This led him to return to Dr. Meyers, after team physicians received results from a MRI. At a follow-up appointment, Dr. Meyers also performed an MRI on Steltz, discussed the MRI with Dr. Adam Zoga, a musculoskeletal radiologist, and concluded Steltz had scar tissue breakup, a normal postoperative finding, and not a new injury. However, Dr. Paul Read, a second musculoskeletal radiologist, also independently reviewed the second MRI, and issued a report concluding there was a complete tear of the adductor tendon. Based on these conflicting interpretations of the MRI, Steltz alleged Dr. Meyers was negligent in failing to diagnose and disclose the existence of the tear as reported by Dr. Read. Appellants’ counsel’s first line of questioning to Dr. Zoga on direct examination at trial, asked Dr. Zoga's estimation of how many musculoskeletal radiologists there were in the US, and commented, in his question, that "plaintiff couldn’t find one of them to come into this courtroom to support Dr. Read, did you know that?" Steltz's counsel requested a curative instruction, and moved for a mistrial. The trial court gave the jury a curative instruction and denied the mistrial. Appellants' counsel, in closing, referred back to that line of questioning, asserting Steltz “didn’t bring anybody in to dispute [Dr. Crain and Dr. Zoga] because they can’t.” Steltz’s counsel did not object to any of these statements. Instead, in rebuttal, Steltz’s counsel reiterated that Dr. Read was a board-certified radiologist with a focus in musculoskeletal radiology. The jury returned a verdict for Appellants. Steltz filed a post-trial motion asserting the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial because the effect of Appellants’ counsel’s question to Dr. Zoga was so prejudicial that no jury instruction could adequately cure the prejudice. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial based on a single, unanswered question proposed to an expert witness, and that decision alone could not later serve as the basis for granting a new trial. View "Steltz v. Meyers M.D., et al." on Justia Law