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Appellee EQT Production Company (“EQT”) brought this declaratory action when it became exposed to the civil penalties under the Clean Streams Law in 2012 on account of leaks from an impoundment used to contain impaired water flowing back from hydraulic fracture gas wells. According to the complaint, much of the penalty exposure asserted by the regulatory agency, the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP” or the “Department”), was premised on a “continuing violation” theory predicated on passive migration of contaminants from soil into water. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was tasked with determining the scope of those civil penalties. The Court determined that the mere presence of a contaminant in a water of the Commonwealth or a part thereof does not establish a violation of Section 301, 307, or 401 of the Clean Streams Law, since movement of a contaminant into water is a predicate to violations. This statement pertaining to the governing legal standard is distinct from whether and to what extent presence may serve as evidence of movement. The Department’s water-to-water theory of serial violations was rejected, and the Court emphasized nothing in this opinion should be read to approve or discount the Department’s soil-to-water theory. View "EQT Production Co v. Dept. of Env. Prot." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) appealed directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a decision by the Commonwealth Court entering a $3.2 million verdict in favor of plaintiff-appellee Ralph Bailets after a bench trial of his claims arising under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law. PTC presented a question of first impression in Pennsylvania: whether non-economic damages for items such as embarrassment, humiliation, loss of reputation and mental anguish were available to plaintiffs in actions brought under the Law. Additionally, if non-economic damages are authorized under the Law, PTC asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the verdict amount was excessive in this case. After review, the Court concluded non-economic damages were available to successful plaintiffs under the Law and the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in entering a verdict amount of $1.6 million for non-economic damages. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bailets v. Pa. Turnpike Commission" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice action, Monongahela Valley Hospital (“MVH”) contracted with UPMC Emergency Medicine, Inc. (“ERMI”) to provide staffing and administrative services for its emergency room. Both MVH and ERMI claimed the statutory evidentiary privilege in the Pennsylvania Peer Review Protection Act, 63 P.S. secs. 425.1-425.4 (PRPA) protected from disclosure the performance file of Marcellus Boggs, M.D. (“Dr. Boggs”) that had been prepared and maintained by Brenda Walther, M.D. (“Dr. Walther”), who served as the director of MVH’s emergency department and was Dr. Boggs’ supervisor. Dr. Boggs and Dr. Walther were employees of ERMI. In January 2011, Eleanor Reginelli was transported by ambulance to MVH’s emergency department with what she reported at the time to be gastric discomfort. She was treated by Dr. Boggs. Mrs. Reginelli and her husband, Orlando Reginelli, alleged Dr. Boggs failed to diagnose an emergent, underlying heart problem and discharged her without proper treatment. Several days later, Mrs. Reginelli suffered a heart attack. In 2012, the Reginellis filed an amended complaint containing four counts sounding in negligence. The Reginellis deposed, inter alia, Dr. Boggs and Dr. Walther. At her deposition, Dr. Walther testified that she prepared and maintained a “performance file” on Dr. Boggs as part of her regular practice of reviewing randomly selected charts associated with patients treated by Dr. Boggs (and other ERMI-employed emergency department physicians). In response, the Reginellis filed discovery requests directed to MVH requesting, among other things, “the complete ‘performance file’ for [Dr. Boggs] maintained by [Dr. Walther.]” MVH objected to production of the performance file, asserting that it was privileged by, inter alia, the PRPA. Under the facts presented in this case and the applicable statutory language of the PRPA, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined neither ERMI nor MVH could claim the evidentiary privilege: ERMI was not a “professional health care provider” under the PRPA, and the performance file at issue here was not generated or maintained by MVH’s peer review committee. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Superior Court to uphold the trial court’s ruling that PRPA’s evidentiary privilege had no application in this case. View "Reginelli v. Boggs" on Justia Law

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Bruce Edwards, Joseph Sarkis and Joseph Kovel (collectively, “Claimants”) were Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) officers and members of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association (“PSTA”). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (“Commonwealth”) and PSTA were parties to a collective bargaining agreement, which expired on June 30, 2008. During negotiations for a successor agreement, the Commonwealth and PSTA reached an impasse regarding, inter alia, union officer leave. An Act 111 interest arbitration panel was convened, and it issued an award on December 24, 2008 (“December Award”) that included, in relevant part, compensation for officers on leave while working on union duties. The Office of Administration (“OA”) and PSP (collectively, “Appellants”) appealed the December Award to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that the arbitration award violated the creditable leave provision found in section 5302(b)(2) of the Retirement Code, 71 Pa.C.S. section 5302(b)(2), as, in their view, that section obligated the Commonwealth to pay troopers on leave only the compensation she or he would receive as if in full-time active duty. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether compensation paid at higher amounts to those employees on leave had to be considered when computing that employee’s retirement benefit under the Retirement Code. To that end, the Court had to decide whether Kirsch v. Pub. Sch. Emp.’ Ret. Bd., 985 A.2d 671 (Pa. 2009), in which the Court decided the same issue under the companion Public School Employees Retirement Code, 24 Pa.C.S. sections 8101–9102 (“PSERC”), also applied here. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the relevant statutory provisions of the Retirement Code and PSERC differed significantly and thus compelled a contrary result. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Office of Admin. v. State Employees' Retirement Bd." on Justia Law

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This matter arose from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Estate of Richard Eazor deriving from a motor vehicle accident. The Eazor Estate was represented by Attorney William Weiler, Jr., who entered his appearance in the matter in March 2005. By December 1, 2005, Weiler became associated with Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C. Weiler brought the Eazor Litigation with him and Meyer Darragh attorneys worked on the Eazor Litigation for over seventy hours over a nineteen-month period. In May 2007, Weiler resigned from Meyer Darragh. At that time, Meyer Darragh understood it would continue as lead counsel in the Eazor Litigation along with Weiler at his new firm. Written correspondence at the time of Weiler’s separation from Meyer Darragh indicated that Meyer Darragh would receive two-thirds of the attorneys’ fees arising out of the Eazor Litigation, and Weiler would retain one- third of the fees. In an earlier decision in this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held Meyer Darragh, as predecessor counsel, was not entitled to breach of contract damages against successor counsel, the Law Firm of Malone Middleman, P.C., where a contract regarding counsel fees did not exist between the two firms. The Supreme Court granted discretionary review nunc pro tunc to determine whether Meyer Darragh was entitled to damages in quantum meruit against Malone Middleman, where the trial court initially held such damages were recoverable, but the Superior Court reversed. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court and remanded to the trial court for reinstatement of its award of damages in quantum meruit to Meyer Darragh against Malone Middleman. View "Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C. v. Law Firm of Malone Middleman, P.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Legal Ethics

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In this discretionary appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on the permissible scope of a warrantless search of a cell phone by police and the confines of the harmless error doctrine. Specifically, the issue was whether powering on a cell phone to gather evidence, without a warrant, violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court held that accessing any information from a cell phone without a warrant contravened the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014). Furthermore, the Court held that the error of admitting the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search of the cell phone in this case was not harmless. The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Superior Court and remanded the matter to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Fulton" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Appellant Jobe Danganan’s contracted with Appellee Guardian Protection Services (“Guardian”), a Pennsylvania-headquartered business, for home security equipment and services at his then-home in Washington, D.C. The contract signed by Appellant, a standardized form agreement employed by Guardian, contained, inter alia, a choice-of-law provision, stating that the “Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Pennsylvania.” Another clause required that any suit or legal proceeding pertaining to the Agreement be brought in the other party’s district or county of residence and mandated that the parties consent to jurisdiction in such venue. Prior to the expiration of the Agreement’s purported three-year initial term, Appellant moved to California and sold his Washington, D.C. house, notifying Guardian of his intent to cancel the contract and related home protection services. However, Guardian continued to bill Appellant, citing provisions of the Agreement that it claimed authorized ongoing charges through the contract’s term, regardless of cancellation attempts. Appellant filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on behalf of himself and a putative class of nationwide plaintiffs who were subject to the same form contract. His claims for relief were predicated exclusively on Pennsylvania statutory grounds, namely, the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") and Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act. The matter was removed to federal district court, and Guardian moved to dismiss, arguing that Appellant had not, pursuant to the UTPCPL, demonstrated a "sufficient nexus" between the Commonwealth and the improper conduct alleged in the complaint. In response to the first certified question, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a non- Pennsylvania resident may bring suit under the UTPCPL against a Commonwealth-headquartered business based on transactions that occurred out-of-state. Furthermore, the Court concluded that its answer to the first issue eliminated the predicate to the second question certified for review. The matter was thus returned to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. View "Danganan v. Guardian Protection Svc." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine whether the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) was liable for injuries caused by negligently and dangerously designed guardrails erected on Commonwealth real estate. Specifically, the Court found the issue reduced to whether the Commonwealth owed a duty of care when PennDOT installed a guardrail alleged to be dangerous. Pursuant to the plain language of the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa.C.S. sections 8521-8528, the Court found the Pennsylvania General Assembly waived PennDOT’s immunity as a bar to damages caused by dangerous guardrails affixed to Commonwealth real estate. Dean v. Dep’t of Transp., 751 A.2d 1130 (Pa. 2000) did not control under the facts presented here. The Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cagey v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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At a jury trial, Appellee Angel Resto was convicted of, among other offenses, rape of a child. The issue his appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether a mandatory minimum sentencing provision that did not require proof of any aggravating fact violated the Sixth Amendment per Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013). At sentencing, the common pleas court implemented the mandatory minimum sentence for that offense. On appeal, Appellee challenged the constitutional validity of his sentence under Alleyne, which disapproved judicial fact-finding related to “facts that increase mandatory minimum sentences.” The Superior Court affirmed by way of a memorandum decision, finding that the intermediate court had “systematically been declaring unconstitutional Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes that permit a trial court, rather than a jury, to make the critical factual findings for sentencing.” Assuming there were facts to be found under 18 Pa.C.S. 9718(a)(3), the panel explained that Section 9718(c), which directed sentencing judges to assess aggravating facts delineated in Section 9718(a), had been found to be unconstitutional and non-severable. The Commonwealth maintains its central position that there are no aggravating facts to be found under Section 9718(a)(3), and therefore, Alleyne is inapposite. The Supreme Court found that contrary to Appellee’s position, a conviction returned by a jury to which a mandatory minimum sentence directly attaches was not the same as an aggravating fact that increased a mandatory minimum sentence. The Court held Section 9718(a)(3) did not implicate Alleyne; and that 9718(a)(3), together with subsections (a)(1), (a)(2), (b), (c), (d) and (e) reflected a discrete series of crimes implicating mandatory minimum sentences coupled with the entire implementing scheme designed by the Pennsylvania Legislature. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court and remanded for reinstatement of Appellee's judgment of sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Resto" on Justia Law

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In a January 22, 2018 order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011, 25 P.S. sec. 3596.101 et seq. (the “2011 Plan”), “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. This adjudication was based on the uncontradicted evidentiary record developed at the Commonwealth Court level, wherein Petitioners established that the 2011 Plan was a partisan gerrymander, “designed to dilute the votes of those who in prior elections voted for the party not in power in order to give the party in power a lasting electoral advantage.” As a result, the Supreme Court fashioned an appropriate remedial districting plan, based on the record developed with the Commonwealth Court, drawing heavily upon the submissions provided by the parties, intervenors and amici. The Remedial Plan will be implemented in preparation for the May 15, 2018 primary election. View "League of Women Voters of PA et al v Cmwlth et al" on Justia Law