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Appellant Kevin Bundy appealed pro se the deduction of funds from his prisoner account to satisfy financial obligations imposed as part of his criminal sentences. He contends, primarily, that he was constitutionally entitled to predeprivation notice and a hearing before such deductions began. Several of Appellant’s averments focused on the alleged impropriety of making deductions from gifts from family and friends. Others claim an entitlement to an ability-to-pay hearing, which, under prevailing Pennsylvania law as established by the Commonwealth Court, would only be implicated in relation to Act 84 deductions if there had been a “material change of circumstances” - such as a threat of additional confinement or increased conditions of supervision as a result of unpaid financial obligations. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Appellant’s first theory relating to gifted funds. Still, construing Appellant’s pro se averments with some leniency, the Court found he has alleged that, due to his indigence, the deductions have adversely affected his ability to litigate his PCRA petition. The Court found this allegation “resonant” because the change-in-circumstances prerequisite, as developed by the Commonwealth Court, was grounded on the premise that the prisoner can obtain meaningful merits review of the financial aspects of his sentence through direct appeal or post-conviction proceedings. If (as asserted) that opportunity was substantially encumbered by the Department of Corrections’ Act 84 deductions, an issue arises whether the “George/Ingram” rule should be extended to encompass such a circumstance. “[T]he law does not say with certainty that no relief is available. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court should not have sustained Appellees’ demurrer.” The order of the Commonwealth Court was reversed and the matter was remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Bundy v. Wetzel et al" on Justia Law

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In two discretionary appeals consolidated for opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tackled an unsettled question in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. In Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourth Amendment prohibited law enforcement officers from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a residence for the purpose of conducting a routine felony arrest. In dictum expressed at the end of its opinion, the Payton Court stated that a warrant requirement for arrests in the home placed no undue burden on law enforcement, and that “an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.” The following year, in Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981), the Court held that a warrant for an individual’s arrest did not authorize an entry into the home of a third party not named in the arrest warrant. To protect third parties’ interests in the privacy of their homes, the Steagald Court held, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement mandated a magistrate’s determination of probable cause before police may enter those homes in order to search the premises for the individual named in the arrest warrant. In these two Pennsylvania cases, the Pennsylvania Court addressed circumstances in which a law enforcement officer sought to execute an arrest warrant inside a home: how would it be determined that the home was that of the intended arrestee, such that the Payton dictum could apply, rather than the home of a third party, where Steagald would apply? The Pennsylvania Court concluded the Fourth Amendment required that, police officers may enter the home of the subject of an arrest warrant to effectuate the arrest, but they must obtain a valid search warrant before entering the home of a third party. View "Commonwealth v. Romero, A., Aplt." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether a defendant, who was ineligible for statutory collateral review because he was sentenced to pay a fine without incarceration or probation, could obtain review of ineffective assistance of counsel claims presented in post-sentence motions filed with the trial court. The lower courts held that Appellant Edward Delgros could not obtain review because he failed to satisfy any of the exceptions to the Supreme Court’s general rule deferring such claims to collateral review under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a new exception to the general deferral rule: requiring trial courts to examine ineffectiveness claims when the defendant is ineligible for PCRA review. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded to the trial court for consideration of Appellant’s postsentence claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Pennsylvania v. Delgros" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Appellant Steven Konyk entered into a negotiated plea agreement with federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania whereby he pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography. At the time, Megan’s Law III was in effect. Based on the offense to which Appellant pled guilty, that enactment required Appellant to register as a sex offender for ten years upon his release from prison. In the context of the plea agreement, Appellant understood and took into account this ten-year period when he pleaded guilty. Appellant was released from federal custody in March 2007 and began registering his address with PSP as required under Megan’s Law III. Since then, he satisfied all requirements imposed on him at sentencing and has complied with Megan’s Law. In 2012, before Appellant completed his ten-year registration period, Megan’s Law III was replaced by Megan’s Law IV, also referred to as the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”). At that time, Megan’s Law III registrants became subject to SORNA’s registration requirements. Appellant filed in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction an amended Petition for Review (the “Petition”), seeking mandamus relief in the form of a directive to PSP to conform Appellant’s registration status to the requirements of Megan’s Law III rather than SORNA. He asserted that: as a result of his plea agreement, a contract was formed between himself and the Commonwealth; the contract incorporated the ten-year period reflected under Megan’s Law III; and retroactive application of SORNA’s 15-year period would breach the contract. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review thus centered on whether a contract-based cause of action existed in Appellant’s favor to enforce the ten-year period where subsequent state legislation increased the registration period to fifteen years and the Commonwealth was not a party to the plea agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court: “We realize this puts individuals in Appellant’s circumstances in a difficult position, as they have entered into a plea agreement when Megan’s Law III’s registration periods were in effect, and they cannot secure relief on a contract-based claim from either the federal or state government. Still, such individuals should be aware that the federal government is not responsible for administering Megan’s Law in Pennsylvania and, as such, cannot validly agree to be obligated by a specific contractual provision relating to the length of the individual’s post-release sex-offender registration.” View "Konyk v. PA State Police" on Justia Law

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Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law

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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