Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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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

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The underlying litigation arose out of a land-ownership dispute between Jean Louse Villani, who was a co-plaintiff with her late husband until his death, and defendants John Seibert, Jr. and his mother, Mary Seibert (“Appellants”). Appellants prevailed in both an initial quiet title action and ensuing ejectment proceedings. During the course of this dispute, the Villanis were represented by Thomas Schneider, Esquire (“Appellee”). Appellants notified Mrs. Villani and Appellee that they intended to pursue a lawsuit for wrongful use of civil proceedings based upon Mrs. Villani’s and Appellee’s invocation of the judicial process to raise purportedly groundless claims. In November 2012, Mrs. Villani countered by commencing her own action seeking a judicial declaration vindicating her position that she did nothing wrong and bore no liability to Appellants. In this interlocutory direct appeal by permission, the issue presented was whether a legislative enactment recognizing a cause of action for wrongful use of civil proceedings infringed upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s constitutionally prescribed power to regulate the practice of law, insofar as such wrongful-use actions may be advanced against attorneys. As was relevant here, Appellee contended that the statutory scheme embodying a cause of action for wrongful use of civil proceedings, the “Dragonetti Act,” was an unconstitutional incursion by the General Assembly upon the Court’s power under Article V, Section 10(c). Given this asserted defect, he claimed that attorneys should be immunized from any liability under these statutory provisions. Appellee has failed to establish that the Dragonetti Act clearly and palpably violated the Pennsylvania Constitution, or that the Supreme Court should per se immunize attorneys, as attorneys, from the application of the substantive tort principles promulgated by the political branch in the Dragonetti Act. View "Villani v. Seibert" on Justia Law

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This case comes to us for a second time to determine if the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) was exempted from the jurisdiction of the City of Philadelphia (the City) via the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (Philadelphia Commission) and the provisions of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (FPO). This case originated in seven administrative proceedings against SEPTA that individuals instituted with the Philadelphia Commission from July 2007 through April 2009, alleging violations of the FPO. At least two of the administrative complaints included claims of types of discrimination against which the FPO offers protection, but that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) did not cover. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously remanded this case to the Commonwealth Court to ascertain the legislative intent regarding this issue by employing the analysis set forth in “Dep‘t of Gen. Serv. v. Ogontz Area Neighbors Ass‘n,” (483 A.2d 448 (Pa. 1984)). On remand, the Commonwealth Court determined that, applying the Ogontz test, the language and statutory scheme of the relevant statutes revealed the legislature‘s intent to exempt SEPTA from actions brought under the FPO. The Supreme Court found the Commonwealth Court did not err in its determination that, under the first prong of the Ogontz analysis, the statutory language and legislative scheme of the enabling legislation disclosed the legislature‘s intent to exclude SEPTA from the jurisdiction of the FPO. The order of the Commonwealth Court was therefore affirmed. View "SEPTA v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Pertinent to this appeal, the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”) required insurers to offer insureds Underinsured Motorist coverage. Subsection 1731(c.1) of the MVFRL stated that any UIM coverage rejection form that does not “specifically comply” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL was void and that, if an insurer failed to produce a valid UIM coverage rejection form, then UIM coverage shall be equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability limits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to determine whether an insurer’s UIM coverage rejection form “specifically compl[ied]” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL if the insurer’s form was not a verbatim reproduction of the statutory rejection form found in Subsection 1731(c) of the MVFRL but, rather, differed from the statutory form in an inconsequential manner. The Court held that a UIM coverage rejection form specifically complies with Section 1731 of the MVFRL even if the form contains de minimis deviations from the statutory form. Because the Superior Court reached the proper result in this case, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Ford v. American States Ins." on Justia Law

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Appellants Main Line Gardens, Inc. and Coffman Associates, LLC (collectively, “Main Line”), petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the issue of whether it was proper for the Commonwealth Court to dismiss its appeal because it did not file briefs at the trial court in support of post-trial motions. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court erred, and thus remanded the case for merits review of the issues raised on appeal. View "Willistown Twp. v. Main Line Gardens" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) appealed a Superior Court judgment holding that section 6111.1(g)(2) of the Uniform Firearms Act, which provided for review by a court of common pleas of a request for the expungement of the PSP’s records of an individual’s involuntary civil commitment under section 7302 (“302”) of the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”), required a de novo hearing at which clear and convincing evidence must be presented in support of the 302 commitment. The Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court erred, as the plain language of section 6111.1(g)(2) required a court of common pleas to review only the sufficiency of the evidence to support the 302 commitment, limited to the information available to the physician at the time he or she made the decision to commit the individual, viewed in the light most favorable to the physician as the original decision-maker to determine whether his or her findings are supported by a preponderance of the evidence. Because the Superior Court reviewed the trial court’s decision through an "improper lens," the Supreme Court vacated its decision and remanded this case back to that court for further proceedings. View "In Re Vencil" on Justia Law

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In September 2004, an anonymous informant sent the City of Philadelphia a letter claiming that appellant Nathan Lerner was concealing taxable business income from the City. The City made numerous attempts to meet with Lerner in person to resolve his case, but Lerner refused the City’s offers. In 2010, Lerner filed a petition for review with the City’s Tax Review Board. The Board held a hearing, concluded that it lacked jurisdiction in light of a collection action pending at a trial court, and dismissed Lerner’s petition. Lerner appealed the Board’s dismissal to the trial court, which consolidated Lerner’s appeal with the City’s collection action. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s order quashing Lerner’s appeal. Lerner sought to delay the City’s collection action with onerous discovery requests and frivolous filings. Meanwhile, Lerner simultaneously disregarded the City’s discovery requests and refused to disclose information about his income, expenses, assets, and business interests. When the trial court ordered Lerner to comply, he violated the court’s order. As a result, the court precluded Lerner from entering any evidence at trial that he had not disclosed to the City. At the outcome of a bench trial, though the trial court found that the amount Lerner owed was “basically an amount pulled out of the sky,” Lerner had waived his right to challenge that assessment when he failed to timely petition the Board for review. Lerner appealed when the trial court denied his post-trial motion for relief. In that appeal, Lerner argued for the first time that the ground upon which the trial court's judgment was premised was misplaced. Lerner decided to assert on appeal that a taxpayer who fails to exhaust his or her administrative remedies may nonetheless challenge a tax assessment in a subsequent collection action when the taxing authority’s own evidence demonstrates that the assessment has no basis in fact. Although Lerner espoused the same argument before the Supreme Court, he did not preserve it. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's judgment. View "City of Philadelphia v. Lerner" on Justia Law

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In October 2009, Appellees Richard and Joyce Rost filed suit against multiple manufacturers of asbestos, averring that exposure to the defendants’ asbestos containing products caused Richard to contract mesothelioma. Before trial, the Rosts settled their claims against all defendants except for Appellant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”). Over Ford’s objections, the trial court consolidated the case for trial with two other mesothelioma cases. Trial commenced in September 2011, at which time the trial court reminded the parties of a pre-trial ruling, precluding any expert from offering testimony that “each and every breath” of asbestos may constitute an evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the defendant’s product was a substantial cause of mesothelioma. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” criteria in asbestos product liability litigation, seeking to provide further illumination on the principles set forth in its decisions in this area. After review, the Court concluded the trial court and the Superior Court properly applied those principles in this case, and thus affirmed the judgment entered in favor of Appellees. View "Rost v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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This was a direct appeal from a common pleas court order invalidating a statutory provision giving grandparents standing to seek custody of their minor grandchildren. The question this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the parents’ fundamental rights were violated by the conferral of standing based solely on a parental separation lasting at least six months. Appellees G.J.P. and A.P. (“Parents”) married in 2006 and had three children. Parents separated in October 2012, albeit they did not initiate divorce proceedings. Because they were in agreement as to custody matters while living separately, Parents never sought court involvement and no custody order was issued prior to this litigation. In December 2012, Parents mutually agreed that all contact between the children and their paternal grandparents, appellants D.P. and B.P. (“Grandparents”), should have been discontinued. The grandparents filed suit seeking partial custody of the minor children. Grandparents did not suggest that Parents were unfit or that the children were in any danger. As their basis for standing, they relied on Section 5325 of the Domestic Relations Code (the “Code”). "Section 5325 cannot survive strict scrutiny and, as such, it violates the fundamental rights of parents safeguarded by the Due Process Clause." Upon review, the Supreme Court "salvag[ed the] statute to the extent possible without judicially rewriting it" by severing the first half of paragraph (2) from the remainder of paragraph (2) and the remainder of Section 5325 generally. The Court then affirmed dismissal of the grandparents' petition. View "D.P. v. G.J.P." on Justia Law

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M.D. (“Mother”) met M.C. (“Father”) in 2002, when she was teaching in South Dakota, and the two became romantically involved, residing together until Mother returned to Pennsylvania in October 2003. Father briefly moved to Pennsylvania in January 2004 to be with Mother; however, the relationship quickly ended, and he ultimately returned to South Dakota. Shortly thereafter, Mother learned that she was pregnant with twin boys, and she moved in with her parents, who resided in Lycoming County. Although Father was aware that Mother was pregnant with his children, Father and Mother spoke infrequently throughout the pregnancy, and he did not visit. In October 2004, Mother gave birth to M.R.D. and T.M.D. Father visited for a few days following Children’s birth and returned for visits in December 2004 and January 2006; however, Father did not visit again, and his subsequent efforts at maintaining a relationship with Children were marginal at best. When Mother discussed the possibility of traveling with Children to South Dakota to visit with Father and his family, Father refused. In this appeal by allowance, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether, in order to facilitate the termination of a biological father’s parental rights, a grandfather could adopt his grandchildren with the children’s mother - his daughter. After review, the Supreme Court found the “cause” exception in the Adoption Act, 23 Pa.C.S. section 2901, did not under such circumstances, excuse a mother from the Act’s requirement that she relinquish her parental rights. Accordingly, as the contemplated adoption could not proceed, the Court reversed the order affirming the termination of the father’s parental rights. View "In Re: Adopt. of M.R.D. and T.M.D." on Justia Law