Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider what constituted a “compelling reason” for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pennsylvania Rule of Juvenile Court Procedure 632. At the time of the May 2014 delinquency termination hearing at issue herein, D.C.D. was an intellectually low-functioning and socially immature twelve-year-old boy who was a victim of sexual abuse. He originally entered the delinquency system in the fall of 2012, at age ten, due to allegations that he committed indecent assault against his five-year-old sister. Rather than formally adjudicating him delinquent at that time, the juvenile court entered a consent decree pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. 6340, which allowed for the suspension of delinquency proceedings prior to formal adjudication, and placed D.C.D. in a specialized foster care program administered by Pressley Ridge. In subsequent years, D.C.D. would be placed in multiple foster homes, removed each time for sexual harassment against foster family members, and for trying to start fires in the homes. Some residential treatment facilities (RTF) were unwilling to accept children who had incidents of fire-starting, and others could not provide services for his level of intellectual functioning. Given the available options, the parties agreed that D.C.D. should be moved to the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital - Choices Program (Southwood), a RTF which had a bed immediately available and which focused specifically upon his cohort: intellectually low-functioning, sexual offenders. Despite the parties’ agreement to place D.C.D. at Southwood, Southwood informed them that it could not accept him due to his adjudication of delinquency for a sexual offense. However, the director stated that they could accept D.C.D. if the delinquency supervision was terminated. As a result, D.C.D.’s counsel filed a motion for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pa.R.J.C.P. 632 to which the York County District Attorney objected and requested a hearing. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court properly determined that the juvenile court acted within its discretion in granting early termination to the juvenile in this case to allow him to obtain necessary and immediate treatment, after properly taking into account the three aspects of balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) embodied in the Juvenile Act and incorporated into the Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure. View "In Re: D.C.D." on Justia Law

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Anthony Burke was a child diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder. Throughout the first six months of 2010, Anthony and his family were covered by a group health insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Appellant, Independence Blue Cross (“Insurer”), maintained through Anthony’s father, John Burke’s employer. Initially, Anthony received “applied behavioral analysis” (ABA) treatment at home. In August 2009, before an Autism Coverage Law became effective relative to the Burkes’ coverage, the family requested benefits, under the Policy, for ABA services to be provided at the parochial elementary school attended by Anthony. Insurer denied coverage on account of an express place-of-services exclusion in the Policy delineating that services would not be covered if the care was provided in certain locations, including schools. In a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mr. Burke argued that the place-of-services exclusion in the Policy was nullified, as it pertained to in-school services, by the Autism Coverage Law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Legislature intended to permit only general exclusions that would not substantially undermine the mandatory coverage requirement: “we simply do not believe that the Legislature intended to permit insurers to exclude coverage in the sensory-laden educational environment where children spend large portions of their days, or to require families to litigate the issue of medical necessity discretely in individual cases to secure such location-specific coverage for the treatment.” The Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the Burkes, and that the Policy’s place-of-services exclusion was ineffective under the Autism Recovery Law. View "Burke v. Independence Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, and in a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the elements of a bad faith insurance claim brought pursuant to Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S. section 8371. In 1992, while working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) Appellee LeAnn Rancosky purchased a cancer insurance policy as a supplement to her primary employer-based health insurance. The cancer policy was issued by Appellant Conseco Health Insurance Company (“Conseco”). To pay for the policy, Rancosky’s employer automatically deducted bi-weekly payments of $22.00 from her paycheck. The policy contained a waiver-of premium provision, which excused premium payments in the event Rancosky became disabled due to cancer. In 2003, Rancosky was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Though, Rancosky did not return to her job with USPS following her hospital admission, she remained on her employer’s payroll for several months because she had accrued unused vacation and sick days. Consequently, Conseco continued to receive payroll deducted premiums from Rancosky until June 24, 2003, when Rancosky went on disability retirement. Premium payments were made in arrears; the final premium payment extended coverage under her policy to May 24, 2003. Unbeknownst to Rancosky, her physician statement inaccurately specified her date of disability as beginning on April 21, 2003, rather than on February 4, 2003. 5 Believing that the premiums had been waived and that no further premiums were due on the policy because of her disability from cancer, Rancosky’s final premium payment came from her June 24, 2003, payroll-deducted premium. Over the next two years, as Rancosky experienced several recurrences of her cancer, she continued to submit claims to Conseco. Conseco eventually started denying Rancosky’s claims for further benefits based upon her failure to pay premiums. The Supreme Court adopted the two-part test articulated in Terletsky v. Prudential Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 649 A.2d 680 (Pa. Super. 1994) in order for a plaintiff to recover in a bad faith action; proof of an insurance company’s motive of self-interest or ill-will is not a prerequisite to prevailing in a bad faith claim under Section 8371, as was argued by Appellant. The Court affirmed the superior court, which partially vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on Appellee’s bad faith claim. View "Rancosky v. Washington National Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a trial court erred by denying a motion to recuse the entire bench of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Appellant James Kravitz was the sole officer, director, and shareholder of several companies known as the Andorra Group, which included Appellants Cherrydale Construction Company, Andorra Springs Development, Inc., and Kravmar, Inc., which was formally known as Eastern Development Enterprises, Incorporated (“Eastern”). Kravitz also owned a piece of property known as the Reserve at Lafayette Hill (“Reserve”). Andorra Springs was formed to develop residential housing on sections of the Reserve. In 1993, Andorra Springs hired Cherrydale as the general contractor to build the homes on the Reserve. Eastern operated as the management and payroll company for the Andorra Group. Appellee Roy Lomas, Sr., d/b/a Roy Lomas Carpet Contractor was the proprietor of a floor covering company. Cherrydale and Lomas entered into a contract which required Lomas to supply and install floor covering in the homes being built by Cherrydale. Soon thereafter, Cherrydale breached that contract by failing to pay. Lomas demanded that Cherrydale submit Lomas’ claim to binding arbitration as mandated by the parties’ contract. The parties arbitrated the matter, and a panel of arbitrators entered an interim partial award in favor of Lomas, finding that Cherrydale breached the parties’ contract. Following Kravitz’s unsuccessful attempt to have the interim award vacated, the arbitrators issued a final award to Lomas. Judgment was entered against Cherrydale in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Important to this appeal, then-Attorney, now-Judge Thomas Branca represented Lomas throughout the arbitration proceedings. Since the entry of judgment, Kravitz actively prevented Lomas from collecting his arbitration award by, inter alia, transferring all of the assets out of Cherrydale to himself and other entities under his control. In March 2000, Lomas commenced the instant action against Appellants. Then-Attorney Branca filed the complaint seeking to pierce the corporate veil and to hold Kravitz personally liable for the debt Cherrydale owed to Lomas. Approximately one year later, then-Attorney Branca was elected to serve as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Prior to taking the bench, then Judge-Elect Branca withdrew his appearance in the matter and referred the case to another law firm. After several years of litigation, the parties agreed to a bifurcated bench trial. Although Appellants acknowledged that they were unaware of any bias or prejudice against them on the part of Judge Rogers or any other judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Appellants maintained that Judge Branca’s continued involvement and financial interest in the case created an “appearance of impropriety” prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Specifically at issue before the Supreme Court was whether the moving parties waived their recusal claim and, if not, whether the claim had merit. The Court held that the recusal issue was untimely presented to the trial court and, thus, waived. View "Lomas v. Kravitz" on Justia Law

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The facts of this matter arose out of a fatal accident involving a collision between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the admissibility of the pedestrian’s postmortem blood alcohol content (“BAC”) in a personal injury action against a motorist and, whether independent corroborating evidence of the pedestrian’s intoxication was required, in addition to expert testimony interpreting the BAC, before the BAC evidence may be admitted. The Court declined to adopt a bright-line rule predicating admissibility on the existence of independent corroborating evidence of intoxication and instead held that the admissibility of BAC evidence was within the trial court’s discretion based upon general rules governing the admissibility of evidence, and the court’s related assessment of whether the evidence establishes the pedestrian’s unfitness to cross the street. Thus, the Court found the trial court properly exercised its discretion in admitting the BAC evidence at issue and affirmed the Superior Court order. View "Coughlin v. Massaquoi" on Justia Law

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Due to the impending special election on March 21, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolved this matter by per curiam Order on March 3, 2017, leaving in place the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation’s (Bureau) determination that Appellant Cheri Honkala was ineligible to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the special election. The Court concluded appellant Honkala and the Green Party of Pennsylvania failed to comply with Section 629 of the Election Code, which required the nomination certificate to be filed by January 30, 2017. The Commonwealth Court determined that: the nomination certificate was presented to the State one day past the filing deadline; individual notice was provided by e-mail almost two weeks prior to the filing deadline; public notice was timely available on the Bureau’s website; and the requirements were readily accessible through the election law. The Commonwealth Court refused to grant relief on Appellants’ claim that a Bureau employee provided appellants with misinformation. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, and denied mandamus relief. View "Green Party of Pennsylvania v. Dept of State" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cross-appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review to consider whether three statutory provisions, the “Donated or Dedicated Property Act” (“DDPA”), the “Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act” (“Project 70 Act”), and the Eminent Domain Code, allow Appellant Downingtown Borough (“Borough”) to sell four parcels of land to private housing developers , Appellants Progressive Housing Ventures, LLC and J. Loew and Associates, Inc. (“Developers”). The four parcels comprised a public community park owned and maintained by the Borough, and were held by the Borough as trustee. After review, the Court vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court with respect to the Borough’s proposed sale to Developers of two southern parcels, reversed the order regarding the proposed sale by the Borough to Developers of two northern parcels, and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court involving the Borough’s grant of easements to Developers over all parcels. The Borough was required to obtain court approval before selling the parcels, and easements over the land would have subordinated public rights to the parcels to private rights. View "Downingtown Borough (Friends of Kardon Park, Aplts)" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice action premised upon lack of informed consent, the issue presented was whether the trial court erred in refusing to strike prospective jurors for cause based upon their relationships to the case through their employer or their immediate family member's employer. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in this regard. However, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it instructed the jury to consider information provided by the defendant surgeon's qualified staff in deciding the merits of the informed consent claim. Because a physician's duty to provide information to a patient sufficient to obtain her informed consent is non delegable, the Court reversed the Superior Court's order affirming the judgment entered in favor of the defendant, and remanded for a new trial. View "Shinal v. Toms M.D." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter was whether a recently terminated employee was an "employee" and, thus, entitled to inspect her personnel file, according to the Inspection of Employment Records Law ("the Personnel Files Act" or "the Act"). Reading the Personnel Files Act according to its plain terms, the Court concluded that former employees, who were not laid off with re-employment rights and who are not on a leave of absence, have no right to access their personnel files pursuant to the Act, regardless of how quickly following termination they request to do so. The Court reversed the contrary holding of the Commonwealth Court. View "Thomas Jefferson Univ Hosp v. Dept of Lab. & Ind." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the ownership and use of certain undesignated property and the road that ran the length of a peninsula jutting into Lake Meade, the man-made lake at the heart of a planned community. Property owners complained about loitering and trespassing, and accused their governing homeowners association (HOA) of not enforcing community rules to encourage the bad behavior. The property owners took the HOA to court in a quiet title action to settle ownership over the undesignated property, specifically that they owned the property at issue, that the HOA asserted wrongful possession over the property at issue, and that the HOA intentionally and unreasonably allowed trespass and loitering. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, finding that the property owners have an easement across the property at issue, like the other owners in the community. “Although the Superior Court seemed skeptical about the complained-of uses of the disputed property, it evidently recognized that it would be premature to venture a legal opinion on that subject.” The Supreme Court reversed the superior court under directing the entry of judgment in the Starlings’ favor on their claim for injunctive relief regarding the use of disputed property, as well as its reversal of the trial court’s determination that the HOA did not own the property in fee simple subject to Subdivision owners’ access easements and any other established rights-of-way. View "Starling v. Lake Meade Prop." on Justia Law