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In a case brought in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, Petitioner Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC, challenged a recent amendment to Pennsylvania gaming law in which casinos paid a supplemental assessment on slot-machine revenue, and the funds are then distributed primarily to underperforming slot-machine facilities to be used for marketing and capital development. Sands alleged that the amendment violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement of uniform taxation, its mandate that all enactments have a public purpose, and its rule against special legislation. Sands also claimed the scheme violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded the amendments were indeed unconstitutional, and the offending parts could be severed from the rest of the statute. Any assessment monies paid to the Commonwealth pursuant to the amended gaming law were ordered to be refunded. View "Sands Bethworks Gaming v. PA Dept of Revenue et al" on Justia Law

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This case arose due to the failure of a New Jersey couple to pay for their adult son’s stay at a Pennsylvania nonprofit residential facility. It primarily raised a choice-of-law issue in relation to the two states’ filial-support statutes. Alexander Schutt (“Alex”), born in 1986, had severe mental and physical disabilities, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Alex's parents lived in New Jersey. In 2001, Alex was placed at Melmark, a non-profit residential care facility for intellectually and physically disabled persons, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Once Alex turned 21, the Princeton Regional School District stopped paying for his care at Melmark; at that point, payment for his care shifted to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (NJ-DDD). In July 2011, NJ-DDD informed the Parents Alex would have to be relocated because the agency disapproved Melmark’s rates. NJ-DDD stated that the Parents, as guardians, should pick Alex up at Melmark and NJ-DDD would provide him with an emergency placement pursuant to New Jersey law. Parents did not retrieve Alex from Melmark. In December 2011, NJ-DDD wrote to Parents, stating it would fund Alex’s residence on a permanent basis at an identified facility in New Jersey beginning in January 2012. Unsatisfied, the Parents asked NJ-DDD instead to continue paying for Alex’s care at Melmark. NJ-DDD denied the request and advised the Parents it would stop paying Melmark as of December 31, 2011. Parents filed an administrative appeal in New Jersey in an effort to keep Alex at Melmark. NJ-DDD granted extensions of time to allow for Alex’s transfer to a New Jersey facility, but the agency ultimately informed Parents it would make no further payments to Melmark after March 31, 2012. When that date arrived, neither Parents nor NJ-DDD accepted custody of Alex, leaving Melmark to care for him uncompensated. Nevertheless, Parents continued to pay for off-campus speech classes, art classes, and equestrian therapy for Alex, all of which took place in Pennsylvania. In addition, Parents continued to visit Alex at Melmark almost every weekend even after NJ-DDD’s payments ceased. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's resolution of the choice-of-law issue vitiated the trial court's basis for concluding the parents did not, in the individual capacity, appreciate Melmark's services. "[I]n weighing the equities, we conclude that it would be inequitable for Parents to retain the benefits they received from Melmark without paying for them. Thus, Melmark has established all three prerequisites for its equitable claims." As such, the Court held the Superior Court erred in finding the trial court properly denied relief on Melmark's equitable claims. View "Melmark, Inc. v. Schutt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Health Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether, under Pennsylvania’s recidivist sentencing statute, 42 Pa.C.S. 9714, a second-strike offender could receive separate mandatory minimum sentences for a conspiracy conviction and a conviction for the offense underlying that conspiracy, when both offenses were separately listed as “crimes of violence” subject to the sentencing enhancement. Appellant Tyrice Griffin and a cohort, Juan Garcia, committed three armed robberies of restaurants/bars over the span of approximately one month beginning in October 2013. The Supreme Court found that robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery were crimes of violence as defined in subsection 9714(g). Because all six of Appellant’s robbery and conspiracy convictions constituted crimes of violence, both the trial court and Superior Court correctly determined that Appellant, as a second-strike offender, was to receive a sentencing enhancement for each conviction. View "Pennsylvania v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether a zoning ordinance that defined “family” as requiring “a single housekeeping unit” permitted the purely transient use of a property located in a residential zoning district. This question arose based on the increasingly popular concept of web-based rentals of single-family homes to vacationers and other short-term users (usually for a few days at a time). The Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to its prior decisions in Albert v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of N. Abington Twp., 854 A.2d 401 (Pa. 2004), and In re Appeal of Miller, 515 A.2d 904 (Pa. 1986), the purely transient use of a house is not a permitted use in a residential zoning district limiting use to single-family homes by a "single housekeeping unit." View "Slice of Life, et al v. Hamilton Twp ZHB" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from four separate, yet substantively similar, lawsuits filed by the county recorders in Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Berks Counties, Pennsylvania, and their respective Counties (collectively, the Recorders). The Recorders sued appellees, MERSCORP, Inc., its wholly-owned subsidiary, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), and several financial institutions who are members of MERS (collectively, MERSCORP). The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Commonwealth Court correctly determined that 21 P.S. 351, “Failure to record conveyance,” did not create a mandatory duty to record all mortgages and mortgage assignments in a county office for the recorder of deeds. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s decision and held Section 351 did not create a mandatory duty to record all land conveyances. Relying on the Third Circuit’s decision, MERSCORP filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to the Recorders’ complaints at state court, seeking dismissal on the basis that Section 351 did not provide a duty to record, and the Recorders did not have authority to enforce Section 351 in any event. The court overruled the preliminary objections, and denied MERSCORP’s request to certify its interlocutory order for an immediate appeal. MERSCORP then filed a petition for review in the Commonwealth Court; a divided Commonwealth Court reversed. The majority agreed with the Third Circuit’s conclusion in the Federal Action, specifically ruling “Section 351 does not issue a blanket command that all conveyances must be recorded; it states that a conveyance ‘shall be recorded’ in the appropriate place, or else the party risks losing his interest in the property to a bona fide purchaser.” The majority observed the plain language of Section 351 did not specify which party to a transaction must record a conveyance, nor did it state when recording must take place. The majority also recognized Pennsylvania courts have consistently interpreted Section 351 and other provisions of Title 21 as intended to protect subsequent mortgages and purchasers, and that the failure to record inherently provides a limited consequence — the loss of a priority interest. The majority found further support for its conclusion in precedent recognizing as valid even unrecorded interests in land. The majority noted the Recorders have a ministerial duty to the public to record and safeguard records presented to them for recording, but that duty does not confer standing to file actions to protect the public from “inaccurate” records in the MERS(r) system. The Recorders appealed, but finding no reversible error with the Commonwealth Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "MERSCORP, et al v. Delaware Co., et al." on Justia Law

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In a published opinion, a divided en banc panel of the Superior Court concluded that Subsection 110(1)(ii) of Pennsylvania’s compulsory joinder statute, 18 Pa.C.S. 110(1)(ii), did not preclude the Philadelphia District Attorney (the “Commonwealth”) from prosecuting appellant Marc Perfetto on pending misdemeanor criminal charges that arose from the same criminal episode that resulted in Appellant also being charged with a summary traffic offense, despite the fact that the Commonwealth already had prosecuted Appellant for that summary traffic offense. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal and held that Subsection 110(1)(ii) of the compulsory joinder statute barred the Commonwealth from further prosecuting Appellant on his pending charges. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Superior Court, reinstated the trial court's order, which granted Appellant's motion to dismiss his pending charges. View "Pennsylvania v. Perfetto" on Justia Law

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Appellant Eric Frein was sentenced to death after he was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, first-degree criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer, criminal attempt to commit first-degree murder and criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer, assault of a law enforcement officer in the first degree, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, discharge of a firearm into an occupied structure, possessing instruments of crime, and recklessly endangering another person. These charges arose from the 2014 fatal shooting of one Blooming Grove (Pike County) state police corporal, and the injury of others when appellant opened fire upon the barracks and parking lot with a high-powered rifle. Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was automatic; finding no reversible error, the Court affirmed the sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Frein" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding appellant Daniel Harmon was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to Section 402.6 of the Unemployment Compensation Law. Appellant was a part-time employee at Brown’s Shop Rite beginning February 14, 2013. By December, he was convicted of driving with a suspended license and sentenced to a term of 60 days’ imprisonment to be served on 30 consecutive weekends, beginning March 14, 2014 and ending August 7, 2014. Appellant’s employment with Brown’s Shop Rite was terminated on March 24, 2014 due to a violation of company policy, which was unrelated to his incarceration. He then filed for benefits and received them for the week ending March 29, 2014 through the week ending July 26, 2014. This period included weeks when appellant was serving his sentence of weekend incarceration. The Supreme Court held appellant was not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Harmon v. UCBR" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly transferred regulatory authority over Philadelphia taxicabs to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (“Authority”) through Act 94. The Act also created a budget submission process for the Authority to follow, and prescribed a formula that the Authority uses to ascertain assessments imposed upon Philadelphia taxicabs. In 2013, the Commonwealth Court found certain portions of Act 94 to be unconstitutional. The General Assembly then enacted Act 64 to cure the constitutional shortcomings identified by the Commonwealth Court. Partial rights taxicab owners in Philadelphia challenged the new scheme on constitutional grounds. The Commonwealth Court granted relief, finding that Subsection 5707(c) of the Parking Authorities Law, 53 Pa.C.S. 5707(c), violated the substantive due process rights of partial rights taxicab owners. Furthermore, the Commonwealth Court found that the budget submission process prescribed in 53 Pa.C.S. sections 5707(a) and 5710 constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in both respects: (1) subsection 5707(c) did not impair the substantive due process rights of partial rights taxicab owners; (2) subsections 5707(a) and 5710 did not amount to unconstitutional delegations of legislative power. View "Germantown Cab Co., et al. v. P.P.A." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case concerned whether counties could advance common law claims seeking legal redress against telecommunications companies for alleged deficiencies in their administration of fees associated with 911 emergency communication services. The Supreme Court concluded the Legislature balanced counties’ interests against those of other co-participants enlisted under the 911 Act and provided sufficient indicia evincing its intention to centralize enforcement authority in the relevant state agency. "Although we realize that the County may have been disadvantaged by PEMA’s apparent failure to act, this unfortunate circumstance does not control the judicial construction of a legislative enactment." Thus, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, and reinstated the order of the court of common pleas. View "Co. of Butler v. Centurylink, et al.." on Justia Law