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In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether, in the context of a grievance arbitration award, an arbitrator has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a dispute between a union and a municipality arising out of a surviving spouse’s pension benefit, where the benefit was afforded to the surviving spouse statutorily and incorporated into the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Pamela Cimino’s husband, Thomas J. Cimino, was a police officer for the City of Arnold, Pennsylvania (City) from July 1, 1990 until April 4, 2002. On April 4, 2002, Officer Cimino died off-duty of natural causes. At the time of his death, Officer Cimino had completed 11.77 years of service. The City issued Mrs. Cimino 142 consecutive monthly death benefit payments, from May 1, 2002 to February 1, 2014. However, in a 2014 compliance audit, the Commonwealth Auditor General’s Office determined that the City was incorrectly administering the death benefit. According to the Auditor General’s compliance audit, the City had been paying Mrs. Cimino twice as much as it should have under its interpretation of the applicable statute. The Wage Policy Committee of the City of Arnold Police Department (Union) initiated a grievance on behalf of Mrs. Cimino to dispute the 50% reduction in her death benefit pension payments. The Union followed the grievance procedure contained in the CBA between the City and the Union. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a dispute as here was arbitrable under the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”), 43 P.S. secs. 217.1-217.10, because the surviving spouse’s pension benefit was incorporated into the CBA. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court which held to the contrary. View "City of Arnold v. Wage Policy Committee" on Justia Law

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In 2011, when she was sixteen years old, the victim, C.S., reported that she had been raped and otherwise sexually abused repeatedly by her stepfather, Appellee Kenneth Maconeghy, Jr. C.S. related that the assaults had occurred in the home that she shared with her mother, Appellee, and several siblings, during the summer months of 2005, when she was eleven years old. Appellee was arrested and charged with various sexual crimes, including rape by forcible compulsion and rape of a child. The question presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review concerned whether, in a criminal prosecution, a sexual abuse evaluator may testify to his opinion that a child was sexually assaulted, where there was no physical evidence of abuse, and the opinion was premised upon the expert’s apparent acceptance of the child’s reporting and description. The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court, as well as the wide body of decisions from other jurisdictions, that expert testimony opining that a child has been sexually abused (which is predicated on witness accounts and not physical findings) is inadmissible. The Court’s decision was limited according to the terms of this opinion, i.e., the Court did not presently assess whether, or under what circumstances, such evidence may be appropriate in light of physical findings or as fair response on redirect examination or in rebuttal. View "Pennsylvania v. Maconeghy" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider what constituted a “compelling reason” for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pennsylvania Rule of Juvenile Court Procedure 632. At the time of the May 2014 delinquency termination hearing at issue herein, D.C.D. was an intellectually low-functioning and socially immature twelve-year-old boy who was a victim of sexual abuse. He originally entered the delinquency system in the fall of 2012, at age ten, due to allegations that he committed indecent assault against his five-year-old sister. Rather than formally adjudicating him delinquent at that time, the juvenile court entered a consent decree pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. 6340, which allowed for the suspension of delinquency proceedings prior to formal adjudication, and placed D.C.D. in a specialized foster care program administered by Pressley Ridge. In subsequent years, D.C.D. would be placed in multiple foster homes, removed each time for sexual harassment against foster family members, and for trying to start fires in the homes. Some residential treatment facilities (RTF) were unwilling to accept children who had incidents of fire-starting, and others could not provide services for his level of intellectual functioning. Given the available options, the parties agreed that D.C.D. should be moved to the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital - Choices Program (Southwood), a RTF which had a bed immediately available and which focused specifically upon his cohort: intellectually low-functioning, sexual offenders. Despite the parties’ agreement to place D.C.D. at Southwood, Southwood informed them that it could not accept him due to his adjudication of delinquency for a sexual offense. However, the director stated that they could accept D.C.D. if the delinquency supervision was terminated. As a result, D.C.D.’s counsel filed a motion for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pa.R.J.C.P. 632 to which the York County District Attorney objected and requested a hearing. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court properly determined that the juvenile court acted within its discretion in granting early termination to the juvenile in this case to allow him to obtain necessary and immediate treatment, after properly taking into account the three aspects of balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) embodied in the Juvenile Act and incorporated into the Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure. View "In Re: D.C.D." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Commonwealth Court erred when it vacated the decision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole regarding the allocation of pre-sentence confinement credit to which appellee Derek Smith was entitled. While on parole for a crime committed in Pennsylvania, appellee committed another crime in North Carolina. Appellee filed two pro se administrative appeals, arguing, inter alia, the Board should have awarded him credit on his state sentence for all the time he was detained. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court erred, and therefore remanded for recalculation of appellee’s maximum release date. View "Smith v. PA Board of Probation & Parole" on Justia Law

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In this direct appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the “net loss carryover” provision of the Pennsylvania Revenue Code for tax year 2007 (“NLC”), which restricted the amount of loss a corporation could carry over from prior years as a deduction against its 2007 taxable income to whichever is greater, 12.5% of the corporation’s 2007 taxable income or $3 million, violated Article 8, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (“the Uniformity Clause”). Nextel Communications, incorporated in Delaware, earned $45,053,282 in taxable income on its business activities in the Commonwealth. Under the NLC, Nextel was entitled to deduct from its 2007 taxable income the net losses it sustained in prior tax years in the amount of $3 million or 12.5% of its 2007 taxable income, whichever total was greater. In 2007, Nextel had a cumulative net loss dating from the tax year 1997 of $150,636,792. Because 12.5% of Nextel’s 2007 taxable income amounted to $5,631,660, and, hence, was greater than $3 million, Nextel claimed the 12.5% amount as a net loss deduction, thereby reducing its taxable income for 2007 to $39,421,622. Under the corporate net income tax rate of 9.9%, Nextel’s total tax liability to the Commonwealth on this adjusted income was $3,938,220, which Nextel paid to the Department. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s holding that the NLC, as applied to Nextel violated the Uniformity Clause. However, the Court also found that the portion of the NLC which created the violation, the $3 million flat deduction, could be severed from the remainder of the statute, while still enabling the statute to operate as the legislature intended. View "Nextel Communications v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the invocation of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), satisfied the newly-recognized constitutional right exception to the time limit prescribed by the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). The Pennsylvania Court held that neither “Johnson” nor “Welch” created a constitutional right that applied retroactively to Mark Spotz. In 1995, Spotz embarked upon a three-day homicide spree through York, Schuylkill, Cumberland, and Clearfield Counties. Spotz killed four people, one of whom was his own brother. In 1996, Spotz was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in York, Schuylkill, and Cumberland Counties. In Clearfield County, Spotz was convicted of, inter alia, voluntary manslaughter for the killing of his brother, and received a lengthy prison sentence. The cases at issue here concerned Spotz’ death sentences in Cumberland and Schuylkill Counties. In each case, Spotz filed facially untimely petitions for collateral relief, in which he maintained that “Johnson” and “Welch” sufficed to satisfy the newly-recognized constitutional right exception. The Pennsylvania Court determined the timeliness exception did not apply, and affirmed the PCRA court’s conclusion that Spotz’ petitions were untimely, rendering Pennsylvania courts without jurisdiction to provide relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Spotz" on Justia Law

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Anthony Burke was a child diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder. Throughout the first six months of 2010, Anthony and his family were covered by a group health insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Appellant, Independence Blue Cross (“Insurer”), maintained through Anthony’s father, John Burke’s employer. Initially, Anthony received “applied behavioral analysis” (ABA) treatment at home. In August 2009, before an Autism Coverage Law became effective relative to the Burkes’ coverage, the family requested benefits, under the Policy, for ABA services to be provided at the parochial elementary school attended by Anthony. Insurer denied coverage on account of an express place-of-services exclusion in the Policy delineating that services would not be covered if the care was provided in certain locations, including schools. In a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mr. Burke argued that the place-of-services exclusion in the Policy was nullified, as it pertained to in-school services, by the Autism Coverage Law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Legislature intended to permit only general exclusions that would not substantially undermine the mandatory coverage requirement: “we simply do not believe that the Legislature intended to permit insurers to exclude coverage in the sensory-laden educational environment where children spend large portions of their days, or to require families to litigate the issue of medical necessity discretely in individual cases to secure such location-specific coverage for the treatment.” The Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the Burkes, and that the Policy’s place-of-services exclusion was ineffective under the Autism Recovery Law. View "Burke v. Independence Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, and in a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the elements of a bad faith insurance claim brought pursuant to Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S. section 8371. In 1992, while working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) Appellee LeAnn Rancosky purchased a cancer insurance policy as a supplement to her primary employer-based health insurance. The cancer policy was issued by Appellant Conseco Health Insurance Company (“Conseco”). To pay for the policy, Rancosky’s employer automatically deducted bi-weekly payments of $22.00 from her paycheck. The policy contained a waiver-of premium provision, which excused premium payments in the event Rancosky became disabled due to cancer. In 2003, Rancosky was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Though, Rancosky did not return to her job with USPS following her hospital admission, she remained on her employer’s payroll for several months because she had accrued unused vacation and sick days. Consequently, Conseco continued to receive payroll deducted premiums from Rancosky until June 24, 2003, when Rancosky went on disability retirement. Premium payments were made in arrears; the final premium payment extended coverage under her policy to May 24, 2003. Unbeknownst to Rancosky, her physician statement inaccurately specified her date of disability as beginning on April 21, 2003, rather than on February 4, 2003. 5 Believing that the premiums had been waived and that no further premiums were due on the policy because of her disability from cancer, Rancosky’s final premium payment came from her June 24, 2003, payroll-deducted premium. Over the next two years, as Rancosky experienced several recurrences of her cancer, she continued to submit claims to Conseco. Conseco eventually started denying Rancosky’s claims for further benefits based upon her failure to pay premiums. The Supreme Court adopted the two-part test articulated in Terletsky v. Prudential Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 649 A.2d 680 (Pa. Super. 1994) in order for a plaintiff to recover in a bad faith action; proof of an insurance company’s motive of self-interest or ill-will is not a prerequisite to prevailing in a bad faith claim under Section 8371, as was argued by Appellant. The Court affirmed the superior court, which partially vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on Appellee’s bad faith claim. View "Rancosky v. Washington National Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a trial court erred by denying a motion to recuse the entire bench of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Appellant James Kravitz was the sole officer, director, and shareholder of several companies known as the Andorra Group, which included Appellants Cherrydale Construction Company, Andorra Springs Development, Inc., and Kravmar, Inc., which was formally known as Eastern Development Enterprises, Incorporated (“Eastern”). Kravitz also owned a piece of property known as the Reserve at Lafayette Hill (“Reserve”). Andorra Springs was formed to develop residential housing on sections of the Reserve. In 1993, Andorra Springs hired Cherrydale as the general contractor to build the homes on the Reserve. Eastern operated as the management and payroll company for the Andorra Group. Appellee Roy Lomas, Sr., d/b/a Roy Lomas Carpet Contractor was the proprietor of a floor covering company. Cherrydale and Lomas entered into a contract which required Lomas to supply and install floor covering in the homes being built by Cherrydale. Soon thereafter, Cherrydale breached that contract by failing to pay. Lomas demanded that Cherrydale submit Lomas’ claim to binding arbitration as mandated by the parties’ contract. The parties arbitrated the matter, and a panel of arbitrators entered an interim partial award in favor of Lomas, finding that Cherrydale breached the parties’ contract. Following Kravitz’s unsuccessful attempt to have the interim award vacated, the arbitrators issued a final award to Lomas. Judgment was entered against Cherrydale in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Important to this appeal, then-Attorney, now-Judge Thomas Branca represented Lomas throughout the arbitration proceedings. Since the entry of judgment, Kravitz actively prevented Lomas from collecting his arbitration award by, inter alia, transferring all of the assets out of Cherrydale to himself and other entities under his control. In March 2000, Lomas commenced the instant action against Appellants. Then-Attorney Branca filed the complaint seeking to pierce the corporate veil and to hold Kravitz personally liable for the debt Cherrydale owed to Lomas. Approximately one year later, then-Attorney Branca was elected to serve as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Prior to taking the bench, then Judge-Elect Branca withdrew his appearance in the matter and referred the case to another law firm. After several years of litigation, the parties agreed to a bifurcated bench trial. Although Appellants acknowledged that they were unaware of any bias or prejudice against them on the part of Judge Rogers or any other judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Appellants maintained that Judge Branca’s continued involvement and financial interest in the case created an “appearance of impropriety” prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Specifically at issue before the Supreme Court was whether the moving parties waived their recusal claim and, if not, whether the claim had merit. The Court held that the recusal issue was untimely presented to the trial court and, thus, waived. View "Lomas v. Kravitz" on Justia Law

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Appellant-Petitioners in this case were school districts, individuals, and groups with an interest in the quality of public education in Pennsylvania. They contended that the General Assembly and other Respondents collectively failed to live up to the mandate to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” They further alleged the hybrid state-local approach to school financing resulted in untenable funding and resource disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts. They claim that the General Assembly’s failure legislatively to ameliorate those disparities to a greater extent than it does constitutes a violation of the equal protection of law guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Commonwealth Court, sitting in its original jurisdiction, dismissed both claims at the pleading stage, relying on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s prior dispositions of similar cases. Arguably, these prior decisions held that such challenges were political questions that the courts could not adjudicate without infringing upon the constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, however, finding colorable Petitioners’ allegation that the General Assembly imposed a classification whereunder distribution of state funds results in widespread deprivations in economically disadvantaged districts of the resources necessary to attain a constitutionally adequate education. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court erred in determining that Petitioners’ equal protection claims are non-justiciable. “Whether Petitioners’ equal protection claims are viewed as intertwined with their Education Clause claims or assessed independently, those claims are not subject to judicial abstention under the political question doctrine. It remains for Petitioners to substantiate and elucidate the classification at issue and to establish the nature of the right to education, if any, to determine what standard of review the lower court must employ to evaluate their challenge. But Petitioners are entitled to the opportunity to do so.” View "William Penn Sch. Dist. et al, v. Dept of Educ." on Justia Law