Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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Between March and August 2020, the Green Party of Pennsylvania (“Green Party”) circulated signature pages for a nomination paper pertaining to a slate of five candidates for federal and state office: Elizabeth Faye Scroggin for President of the United States; Neal Taylor Gale for Vice President of the United States; Timothy Runkle for Treasurer of Pennsylvania; Olivia Faison for Auditor General of Pennsylvania; and Richard Weiss for Attorney General of Pennsylvania. On August 3, the deadline for filing nomination papers, Runkle presented the nomination paper at issue in this appeal. Runkle appended to the nomination paper notarized candidate affidavits for himself, Faison, and Weiss, but he did not submit affidavits for Scroggin or Gale. Instead, Runkle’s submission included a notarized candidate affidavit for Howie Hawkins and a non-notarized affidavit for Angela Walker (“Candidates”), who were nominated as the Green Party’s candidates for President and Vice President, respectively, at the national Green Party Convention in July 2020. On August 10, the Green Party filed two Substitute Nomination Certificates, seeking to replace Scroggin and Gale with Hawkins and Walker. The certificates, which were signed and notarized on August 6 (for Hawkins) and 7 (for Walker), indicated that the cause of each vacancy was “[r]esignation,” and that the substitutions of Hawkins and Walker were made by the Green Party on August 2, the day before Runkle presented the nomination paper in the filing office designated by the Department. Objectors filed a petition to set aside the Green Party candidates’ nomination paper as to the entire slate as well as to the purported substitutions and candidacies of Hawkins and Walker. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court erred in dismissing Objectors’ petition to set aside Scroggin’s nomination, and Hawkins’ substitution, as the Green Party’s candidate for President of the United States. The Court found Scroggin failed to comply with the Election Code’s strict mandate that she append an original affidavit to her nomination paper, and the party’s use of Hawkins’ affidavit while presenting a nomination paper in which he was not “named therein” did not suffice to cure that error. "That defect was fatal to Scroggin’s nomination and, therefore, to Hawkins’ substitution." Accordingly, the Secretary of the Commonwealth was directed to remove Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker from the general election ballot as the Green Party’s nominees for President and Vice President. View "In Re: Nom Papers of Scroggin; Appeal of Stefano" on Justia Law

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On October 25, 2011, Appellant Nicole B.’s then-eight-year-old son N.B. was sexually assaulted by three of his male fourth-grade classmates in a bathroom at his public elementary school in the City of Philadelphia. According to Appellant, N.B. had endured two months of pervasive physical and verbal harassment at school leading up to the sexual assault. During that time, both Appellant and N.B. reported the harassment to his teacher and to school administrators, to no avail. In November 2011, Appellant withdrew N.B. from the elementary school after learning of the attack. Over two years later, in 2014, Appellant filed an administrative complaint with the Human Relations Commission against the Philadelphia School District (“District”) in her individual capacity and on N.B.’s behalf, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of gender and race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The Human Relations Commission rejected Appellant’s complaint as untimely, because it was filed beyond the 180-day time limit. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether principles of equitable tolling found in PHRA, or Pennsylvania’s Minority Tolling Statute (“Minority Tolling Statute”), applied to an otherwise untimely complaint. After review, the Supreme Court found the PHRA’s equitable tolling provision applied to a minor whose parent failed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations for filing an administrative complaint prior to the minor reaching the age of majority. By this finding, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al." on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, the issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was the appropriate test to determine whether a claimant who is otherwise entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits due to a separation from employment becomes ineligible for those benefits as a result of being self-employed pursuant to Section 402(h) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (the Act, known as the self-employment exclusion). The Court held that Section 4(l)((2)(B), 43 P.S. section 753(l)(2)(B), contained the appropriate test for determining whether or not an individual is in self-employment. If an individual was not in “self-employment,” then he remained eligible for benefits. Applying that test to the facts of this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's ruling that the claimant was not self-employed. View "Lowman v. Unemp. Comp. Bd. of Review" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether application of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) to the judicial branch of our tripartite form of government violated separation of powers principles. On April 3, 1989, the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas (“CCP”) Office of Adult Probation hired Appellant Michael Renner as a Parole Officer. In July 2011, Appellant informed Lehigh County Chief Probation Officer John Sikora that he had been diagnosed with a serious mental health condition and was hospitalized; he was subsequently absent from work for 4 to 6 weeks. During Appellant’s absence, Sikora telephoned him numerous times to confirm the legitimacy of Appellant’s condition. Upon his return to work, Appellant alleged Sikora and Lehigh County Benefits Manager Mark Surovy, both of whom supervised Appellant, pressured Appellant to resign or take a leave of absence. Appellant confronted Sikora about his hostilities towards him, but Sikora refused to discuss the matter. Subsequently, in March 2014, Sikora terminated Appellant for failing to administer a urine test to an offender under his supervision. Appellant claimed the test was not required and that the reason for his termination was pretextual. Appellant protested his termination to then-President Judge of the CCP Carol McGinley, but Judge McGinley refused to take any action. As a result, Appellant claimed he could not obtain other employment in any other court system, and, in 2014, he filed a charge of unlawful discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was dual-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), against Lehigh County Adult Probation, Sikora, and Surovy. Thereafter, Appellant completed training as a municipal officer, and, subsequently, was offered a police officer position by Northampton and Fountain Hill Boroughs. Appellant alleged that the CCP and Lehigh County learned that Appellant was offered employment as a police officer, and caused an order to be issued banning Appellant from possessing a firearm or taser in the Lehigh County Courthouse, Old Courthouse, and Government Center. As a result, Northampton and Fountain Hill Boroughs rescinded their employment offers. Appellant eventually got his gun possession ban lifted, but as a condition, the CCP and Lehigh County required him to undergo a medical exam, which Appellant contended was a violation of the PHRA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that application of the PHRA to the judiciary would violate separation of powers principles, and thus, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Renner v. CCP of Lehigh Co., et al" on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, a Pennsylvania superior court held that anti-alienation provisions governing municipal pensions found in various statutes protected assets from attachment and other legal process (including a contract claim) only while those assets remained in the possession of the pension fund administrator. Specifically, the court determined that a spouse’s promise to waive her right to her husband’s pension benefits, including agreeing to transfer such benefits after receiving them from the administrator, was legally enforceable. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that because the superior court’s interpretation was consistent with the plain language of the statutes, the context in which the provisions appear, and Pennsylvania precedent interpreting similar statutory language, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the superior court. View "Estate of M&J Benyo v. Breidenbach" on Justia Law

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Appellants, the manufacturers of various pesticides, appealed a Superior Court decision reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in their favor following the trial court’s determination that the testimony of the experts proffered by Appellee, the Executor of the Estate of Thomas J. Walsh, failed to satisfy the test set forth in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923). For nearly forty years, Walsh served as a groundskeeper and golf course superintendent at several Pittsburgh area golf courses. His work involved the regular application of various pesticides (primarily insecticides and fungicides) on the golf courses. Over this time, Walsh kept a detailed record of his activities regarding the pesticides he used, including a detailed log of the specific products and the dates of their applications. In 2008, Walsh was suffering from fever, chills, and a cough when he arrived at an emergency room. A bone marrow biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (“AML”). Cytogenetic testing revealed significant chromosomal aberrations. On February 2, 2009, Walsh died. His treating oncologist, James Rossetti, D.O., later opined that Walsh’s extensive exposure to pesticides raised a high degree of suspicion that said exposure played a significant role in the development of his AML. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling, but gave instructions that on remand to the trial court, the Appellants should be given the opportunity to renew their Frye motions. View "Walsh v. BASF Corporation et al." on Justia Law

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A mental health patient lived in a forty-unit apartment building and repeatedly told his doctors and therapists he would kill an unnamed “neighbor.” He ultimately carried out his threat, killing an individual who lived in his building, a few doors away from his own apartment. In subsequent wrongful death litigation filed by the victim’s mother, the providers argued they had no duty to warn anyone about their patient’s threats because he never expressly identified a specific victim. The trial court rejected this argument and denied the providers’ motion for summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed to trial. On appeal, the Superior Court agreed, and finding no reversible error, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. View "Maas v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Elma Betty Temple (“Elma”), who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, became a resident of Providence Care Center, a nursing home located in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Providence Care Center, LLC (“Providence”) owned and operated the facility, while Grane Healthcare Company (“Grane”) provided management services. In November 2011, Elma, then aged 81, fell while walking on a ramp. She suffered a fracture in her right humerus, a fracture in her right pelvis, and a laceration to her right elbow. Providence apparently was not supervising Elma at the time; the only witness to the incident, a hospice chaplain, was not a designated caregiver. In 2012, Emla's son, James Temple (“Temple”), filed a complaint on Elma’s behalf against Providence and Grane, alleging negligence and corporate negligence, and sought punitive damages. Temple alleged that Providence should have known that Elma required supervision, because of two previous falls in 2011. Temple further claimed that the facility was understaffed, and that Providence failed to provide needed safety measures. In this case, a panel of the superior court concluded that, even though Providence had waived its opportunity to ask for a mistrial, the trial court nonetheless possessed and invoked its inherent authority to grant a new trial sua sponte for the same reasons that Providence raised in its post-trial motions. In so ruling, the superior court affirmed the trial court’s grant of a new trial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized that a trial court possesses "the very limited and restrained authority to halt proceedings and compel them to begin anew based upon that unpreserved error. But in such a circumstance, a trial court may only use its sua sponte authority to grant a new trial where 'exceedingly clear error' results in 'manifest injustice,' of a constitutional or structural nature." Because Providence did not preserve its request for a mistrial and because the trial court did not grant, and could not have granted, a new trial sua sponte based upon the unpreserved request for a mistrial, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Temple v. Providence Care Center" on Justia Law

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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