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No fiduciary duty arises in a consumer transaction for the purchase of a whole life insurance policy based upon the advice of a financial advisor where the consumer purchasing the policy does not cede decision -making control over the purchase to the financial advisor. In 1995, Bryan Holland, a financial advisor for IDS Life Insurance Corporation, made an unsolicited telephone contact, a "cold call," to Eugene and Ruth Yenchi. At a subsequent meeting and for a fee of $350, Holland presented the Yenchis with a financial management proposal containing a notice that it had been prepared by "your American Express financial advisor" (Holland) and that "[alt your request, your American Express financial advisor can recommend products distributed by American Express Financial Advisors and its affiliates as investment alternatives for existing securities." The Proposal offered the Yenchis a number of general recommendations, including that they monitor monthly expenses, consolidate their debt, consider various savings plans, consolidate current life insurance policies into one policy, review long-term care coverage, keep accurate records for tax purposes (medical expenses and charitable contributions), transfer 401(k) funds into mutual funds, and continue estate planning with an attorney and their financial advisor. The Yenchis implemented some of these recommendations. In 2000, the Yenchis had their portfolio independently reviewed. Through this process, they were advised that Holland’s recommendations would be financially devastating to the Yenchis. In April 2001, the Yenchis sued Holland and his company, American Express Financial Services Corporation, American Express Financial Advisors Corporation, and IDS Life Insurance Company. The Yenchis' asserted claims of negligence/willful disregard, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), bad faith, negligent supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Of relevance here, with respect to the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the trial court held that no fiduciary relationship was established between the Yenchis and Holland because the Yenchis continued to make their own investment decisions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, consistent with its jurisprudence, no fiduciary duty arose in such a situation. Consequently, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision to the contrary. View "Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial" on Justia Law

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Section 306(a.2) of the Workers' Compensation Act allowed employers to demand that a claimant undergo an impairment -rating evaluation (IRE), during which a physician must determine the "degree of impairment" that is due to the claimant's compensable injury. In order to make this assessment, the Act required physicians to apply the methodology set forth in "the most recent edition" of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. In consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether this mandate violated the constitutional requirement that all legislative power "be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." In 2007, Mary Ann Protz sustained a work -related knee injury. Her employer, Derry Area School District (Derry), voluntarily began paying temporary total disability benefits. An IRE physician evaluated Protz and assigned to her a 10% impairment rating based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (the Guides). Because Protz's impairment rating was less than 50%, Derry filed a modification petition seeking to convert Protz's disability status from total to partial -the effect of which would be to limit the duration that Protz could receive workers' compensation benefits. A Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the petition. Protz appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, arguing that the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated to the AMA the authority to establish criteria for evaluating permanent impairment. The Board rejected Protz's constitutional argument and affirmed the WCJ's decision. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board, finding that the Act lacked "adequate standards to guide and restrain the AMA's exercise" of its delegated power to create a methodology for grading impairment. Derry and Protz appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the Pennsylvania Constitution prevented the General Assembly from passing off to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's holding that Section 306(a.2) violated the non-delegation doctrine, however, found that Section 306(a.2) was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" 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 this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court examined the contours of the 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution in light of a declaratory judgment action brought by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“Foundation”) challenging, inter alia, the constitutionality of statutory enactments relating to funds generated from the leasing of state forest and park lands for oil and gas exploration and extraction. Because state parks and forests, including the oil and gas minerals therein, were part of the corpus of Pennsylvania’s environmental public trust, the Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth, as trustee, had to manage them according to the plain language of Section 27, which imposed fiduciary duties consistent with Pennsylvania trust law. The Court further found that the constitutional language controlled how the Commonwealth may dispose of any proceeds generated from the sale of its public natural resources. View "PA Env. Defense Fdn. v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the language of the utility service facilities exception ("Utility Exception") to governmental immunity contained in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act ("Tort Claims Act"). The Commonwealth Court concluded that where a dangerous condition of the facilities of a utility system is created by the negligent action or inaction of a local agency or its employees, the Utility Exception did not apply. Because the Commonwealth Court misconstrued both the Utility Exception and the gravamen of the lawsuit in question, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Metropolitan Edison v. City of Reading" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether video components of motor vehicle recordings (MVRs) created by appellant Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) were exempt from disclosure to the public as criminal investigative records under the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) or the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA). The Court also considered whether these recordings implicated provisions of the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act (Wiretap Act). The Commonwealth Court held MVRs generally are public records subject to disclosure, and affirmed in part the decision of the Office of Open Records (OOR) directing PSP to provide MVRs to appellee Michelle Grove. The Commonwealth Court also reversed in part, remanding the matter to the OOR with instructions for redaction of the audio portions of the MVRs before disclosure. The Supreme Court concluded that disclosure of the MVRs pursuant to the RTKL did not violate the Wiretap Act, and reversed that portion of the Commonwealth Court’s order that suggested additional findings with respect to notice were warranted on remand. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order in all other respects. View "PA State Police v. Grove" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional 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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In a capital post-conviction appeal, Appellant Michael Pruitt raised six challenges, several of which fell within the category of the claims deemed to have been abandoned by the PCRA court. In 2003, Appellant forcibly entered the home of Greta Gougler, where he robbed, raped, and murdered her. Appellant was arrested, tried, and convicted for first -degree murder, rape, robbery, and other offenses, and a jury returned a death verdict in a capital sentencing proceeding. On direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. In 2009, Appellant brought these proceedings under the Post Conviction Relief Act (the "PCRA"). The post -conviction court conducted a series of evidentiary hearings, throughout which Appellant was represented by the members of the Federal Community Defender Office. Later, per Appellant's request, those attorneys were removed from the representation and new counsel was appointed in their place. In 2015, Appellant submitted a request to proceed pro se. The PCRA court scheduled a proceeding, at which Appellant agreed to continue to be represented by counsel but was deemed by the court to have "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily abandon[ed] any issues raised by prior PCRA counsel and/or [current counsel] that are not contained in [a] memorandum in support of the PCRA relief petition filed this date[.]" The PCRA court subsequently denied relief on the remaining claims for relief. This appeal followed. The Supreme Court concluded the record supported the PCRA court's determination that Appellant abandoned the six claims at issue here, and affirmed the court's subsequent order. View "Pennsylvania v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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Appellant Leon Mills challenged a superior court decision to overturn a county court’s finding of a violation of Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 that he receive a prompt trial. The Rule requires that trial commence within 365 days from the date the criminal complaint is filed. Delays at any stage of the proceedings caused by the Commonwealth when it fails to exercise due diligence count in the 365-day tally. On June 6, 2011, the Commonwealth filed a complaint against Appellant charging him with a series of crimes arising out of a drive -by shooting, including attempted murder and aggravated assault. At a status meeting on March 20, 2012, however, per the Commonwealth's request, trial was continued. Trial was rescheduled to September 10, 2012. The outcome of the dismissal motion turned on whether or not 174 days was to be included or excluded in the 365 -day calculation. The common pleas court enforced the rule's main directive, and dismissed. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with Appellant that time attributable to the normal progression of a case simply was not "delay" for purposes of Rule 600, and reinstated the dismissal order. View "Pennsylvania v. Mills" on Justia Law

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SugarHouse HSP Gaming ("SugarHouse"), the holder of a Category 2 slot machine license for a casino it operated in Philadelphia, and Market East Associates, L.P. ("Market East"), an unsuccessful applicant for the Category 2 license awarded to Stadium Casino, LLC (“Stadium”), both filed petitions for review ofa Supplemental Adjudication issued by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, in which the Board awarded the last remaining Category 2 license. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court dismissed SugarHouse's petition for review, finding it was not entitled to intervene in the proceedings on remand. In Market East's petition for review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board's determination that Watche Manoukian, an individual who is an affiliate of Stadium, was not eligible to apply for a Category 1 slot machine license at the time of Stadium's application for its Category 2 license, and, thus, that Section 1304(a)(1) of the Gaming Act would not be violated by the issuance of a Category 2 license to Stadium. However, the Court reversed the Board's determination of what constitutes a "financial interest" as that term was used in Section 1330, and defined that term in this opinion. Because the Board admitted that it did not determine the nature of the specific "equity infusion" Manoukian would supply post-licensure to the trust which has an ownership interest in Stadium, the Court could not affirm the Board's conclusion that Manoukian would not be in violation of Section 1330's 33.3% limit on the possession of a financial interest in a Category 2 slot machine licensee by another slot machine licensee. Thus, the Court again remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Market East Assoc. v. PA Gaming Control Bd." on Justia Law