Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc. v. Campbell
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) is subject to the Right to Know Law’s record-disclosure mandates. The PIAA is a non-profit corporation and voluntary-member organization which organizes interscholastic athletics and promotes uniform standards in interscholastic sports. In 2020, Simon Campbell, a private citizen, filed a records request under the Right to Know Law seeking eight categories of records from the PIAA. The PIAA objected, asserting it is not a Commonwealth authority or entity subject to the Right to Know Law, and noted its intent to litigate the issue. The court found that the inclusion of PIAA in the definition of a state-affiliated entity, a subset of the definition of a Commonwealth agency, indicates that the General Assembly intended to subject PIAA to the Right to Know Law's record-disclosure scheme. Furthermore, the court found that the General Assembly did not mean the phrase "Commonwealth entity" to be strictly limited to official government agencies. Instead, the Assembly intended the phrase to include organizations that perform some role associated with statewide governance. View "Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc. v. Campbell" on Justia Law
Vinculum, Inc. v. Goli Technologies, LLC
In a dispute between two IT staffing firms, Vinculum, Inc. and Goli Technologies, LLC, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the trial court erred by not awarding attorney fees to Vinculum, as stipulated in their contract, after it found that Goli Technologies breached the contract. The court further held that the trial court did not err by limiting Vinculum's damages to the one-year non-compete period specified in the contract.The case originated from Goli Technologies' breach of a consulting agreement that contained a one-year non-compete provision. Vinculum sued for breach of contract, seeking both attorney fees and lost-profit damages. The trial court found for Vinculum but denied attorney fees and limited the award of damages to the one-year non-compete period. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision.Reversing the Superior Court's decision regarding attorney fees, the Supreme Court held that the trial court should have awarded Vinculum attorney fees as stipulated in the contract. The court remanded the case to the trial court for a hearing to determine the reasonable amount of attorney fees to be awarded to Vinculum.Regarding the lost-profit damages, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and the Superior Court that Vinculum's damages were limited to the period of the non-compete clause. The court held that although damages beyond the non-compete period are not absolutely barred, Vinculum did not establish at trial that it suffered lost-profit damages extending beyond the non-compete period. Thus, the court affirmed the lower courts' decisions on this issue. View "Vinculum, Inc. v. Goli Technologies, LLC" on Justia Law
Mimi Investors, LLC v. Tufano, P., et al.
Mimi Investors, LLC (“Mimi Investors”) sued Paul Tufano, David Crocker, Dennis Cronin, and Neil Matheson (“ORCA Officers”), the directors and officers of ORCA Steel, LLC (“ORCA Steel”), a now-defunct data storage company, alleging that ORCA Officers made material misrepresentations of fact in violation of the Pennsylvania common law and Section 1- 401(b) of the Pennsylvania Securities Act ("PSA"). Mimi Investors described a meeting held in February of 2014 during which ORCA Officers allegedly represented to Mimi Investors that they had received 400 orders for computer data storage space (“CDS Orders”) for ORCA Steel’s new data storage facility. To secure financing for the purpose of servicing the CDS Orders, ORCA Officers sought promissory notes to increase capital. In October 2014, ORCA Steel ceased making interest payments on the loan. ORCA Steel did not respond to Mimi Investors’ demand letter, sent in August 2015, which sought to cure the default. Mimi Investors asserted that neither “construction financing nor the fulfillment of the new orders materialized.” It also averred that, on October 21, 2014, ORCA Officers told Mimi Investors that they “had known for months that the loan to fund new construction was not viable” because the CDS Orders were “not investment grade.” Mimi Investors claimed that “these misrepresentations regarding available construction financing and committed orders, as well as other statements by” ORCA Officers, “were material and untrue within the meaning of the” PSA, and that Mimi Investors “relied on these misrepresentations in deciding to make the [l]oan[.]” In a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether a plaintiff must plead and prove scienter as an element of 70 P.S. § 1-401(b) of the PSA. After careful review, the Court held that under the plain language of its text, Section 1-401(b) of the PSA did not contain a scienter element. However, the PSA provided a defense to civil liability under Section 1-401(b) if the defendant could show they “did not know and in the exercise of reasonable care could not have known of the untruth or omission[.]” View "Mimi Investors, LLC v. Tufano, P., et al." on Justia Law
The Bert Company v. Turk, et al.
The Bert Company, dba Northwest Insurance Services (“Northwest”), was an insurance brokerage firm with clientele in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York. From 2005 to 2017, Matthew Turk (“Turk”) was employed as an insurance broker with Northwest. First National Insurance Agency, LLC (“FNIA” or "First National") was an insurance brokerage firm. To grow its business in that region, First National developed a plan to takeover Northwest, initially by convincing key Northwest employees to leave Northwest for FNIA and to bring their clients with them. Through the fall and winter of 2016, Turk repeatedly met with First National about the plan with the hope that First National could gut Northwest by hiring the bulk of its highest producers, acquiring their clients, and ultimately forcing that company to sell its remaining book of clients. Pursuant to the plan, Turk remained at Northwest to convince the company to sell its remaining business to First National. Northwest refused, choosing instead to fire Turk and initiate legal action. In this appeal by permission, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opined on the jurisprudence of the United State Supreme Court addressing the constitutionality of an award of punitive damages by a civil jury in the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Court's grant of allowance addressed the narrow issue of the appropriate ratio calculation measuring the relationship between the amount of punitive damages awarded against multiple defendants who are joint tortfeasors and the compensatory damages awarded. The superior court calculated the punitive to compensatory damages ratio using a per-defendant approach, rather than a per-judgment approach. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court generally endorsed the per-defendant approach as consistent with federal constitutional principles that require consideration of a defendant’s due process rights. Further, the Court concluded that under the facts and circumstances of this case, it was appropriate to consider the potential harm that was likely to occur from the concerted conduct of the defendants in determining whether the measure of punishment was both reasonable and proportionate. View "The Bert Company v. Turk, et al." on Justia Law
Synthes USA HQ v. Pennsylvania
This case centered upon how Appellee Synthes USA HQ, Inc. should apportion its income between Pennsylvania and other states in order to calculate its Pennsylvania corporate net income tax. The two issues presented were: (1) does the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) have the authority to represent the Commonwealth in this litigation, where it asserted an interpretation of the relevant tax provision contrary to the reading forwarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (“Department”); and (2) whether the allocation of a corporation's sales of services between Pennsylvania and other states for purposes of calculating the corporation’s income that was taxable in Pennsylvania. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Attorneys Act permitted the OAG to take a position on behalf of the Commonwealth that was inconsistent with the position adopted by the Department, but the Court ultimately rejected the OAG’s reading of the relevant tax provision in favor of the interpretation presented by the Department. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court remanding this case to the Board of Finance and Revenue for calculation and issuance of a tax refund by the Department to Synthes for the 2011 tax year. View "Synthes USA HQ v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
Myers v. Pennsylvania
This direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on the efforts of Appellee John Myers to obtain a refund of 38 cents in sales tax he paid on purchases he made with redeemed coupons at BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. (BJ’s). The parties petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to interpret Section 33.2(b) of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Code, which excluded “from the taxable portion of the purchase price, if separately stated and identified." A vendor owes the state sales tax on the full price of the item unless it can establish a “new purchase price” of the item, which may be established where “both the item and the coupon are described on the invoice or cash register tape.” The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Board of Appeals (BOA) relied on Section 33.2, which permitted amounts represented by coupons to establish a new purchase price “if both the item and the coupon are described on the invoice or cash register tape.” The BOA concluded that the coupons were not adequately described on the receipts, and nothing indicated which items the coupons were related. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s order and found Appellee was entitled to a refund of overpaid sales tax. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, finding none of the receipts at issue here satisfied subsection 33.2(b)(2)’s description requirement. Because it was Appellee’s burden to prove that he was entitled to a refund of sales tax, he did not meet his burden. View "Myers v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway
A Virginia resident filed an action in Pennsylvania against a Virginia corporation, alleging injuries in Virginia and Ohio. The plaintiff asserted that Pennsylvania courts had general personal jurisdiction over the case based exclusively upon the foreign corporation’s registration to do business in the Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Pennsylvania's statutory scheme violated due process to the extent that it allowed for general jurisdiction over foreign corporations, absent affiliations within the state that were so continuous and systematic as to render the foreign corporation essentially at home in Pennsylvania. The Court further agreed that compliance with Pennsylvania’s mandatory registration requirement did not constitute voluntary consent to general personal jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order, which sustained the foreign corporation’s preliminary objections and dismissed the action with prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway" on Justia Law
General Motors Corp. v. Pennsylvania
General Motors was a Delaware corporation engaged in the sale of motor vehicles in Pennsylvania, and subject to Pennsylvania’s corporate income tax. GM contested the calculation of its 2001 Tax Year corporate income tax, after filing a report of change in its federal taxable income in March 2010. In February 2012, GM timely filed a petition for refund with the Department of Revenue’s (“Department”) Board of Appeals. It claimed that the cap on the net loss carryover (NLC) resulted in a “progressive effective tax rate” which violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. It explained that “a taxpayer conducting business on a larger scale in Pennsylvania pays a higher effective tax rate than a similarly situated taxpayer conducting business on a smaller scale.” In Nextel Communications of the Mid-Atlantic, Inc. v. Commonwealth, Department of Revenue, 171 A.3d 682 (Pa. 2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the NLC deduction applicable to corporate income tax for the tax year ending December 31, 2007 (“2007 Tax Year”), violated the Uniformity Clause. Here, the Court applied Nextel and considered GM's constitutional challenges to the NLC provisions applicable to corporate income tax in the tax year ending December 31, 2001 (“2001 Tax Year”). The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that Nextel applied retroactively to this case, however, it reversed the Commonwealth Court to the extent it remedied the violation of the Uniformity Clause by severing the $2 million NLC deduction cap, which would have resulted in an unlimited NLC deduction. Instead, the Supreme Court severed the NLC deduction provision in its entirety, resulting in no NLC deduction for the 2001 Tax Year. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s order to the extent it directed the Department to recalculate GM’s corporate income tax without capping the NLC deduction and issue a refund for the 2001 Tax Year, which the Court concluded was required to remedy the due process violation of GM’s rights pursuant to McKesson Corp. v. Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, Department of Business Regulation of Florida, 496 U.S. 18 (1990). View "General Motors Corp. v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
United Blower, et al. v Lycoming Water & Sewer
In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court properly calculated the “cost” of steel products under the Steel Products Procurement Act (“Steel Act” or “the Act”), which required that “75% of the cost of the articles, materials and supplies [of a steel product] have been mined, produced or manufactured” in the United States. G. M. McCrossin, Inc. (“McCrossin”), a contracting and construction management firm, served as the general contractor for the Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority (“Authority”) on a project known as the Montoursville Regional Sewer System Waste Water Treatment Plan, Phase I Upgrade (“Project”). In July 2011, McCrossin entered into an agreement with the Authority to supply eight air blower assemblies, which move air from one area to another inside the waste treatment facility. United Blower, Inc. (“UBI”), became a subcontractor on the Project. UBI was to supply the eight blowers required by the original specifications and was to replace the three digestive blowers as required by a change order. UBI prepared a submittal for the blowers which McCrossin in turn submitted to the Authority’s Project engineer, Brinjac Engineering (“Brinjac”). As part of the submittal, McCrossin provided Brinjac and the Authority with a form, which verified that 75% of the cost of the blowers was attributable to articles, materials, and supplies (“AMSs”) that were mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States. The total amount McCrossin paid UBI for the blower assemblies and digestive blowers was $239,800. The amount paid by the Authority to McCrossin for these items was $243,505. Authority employees began to question whether McCrossin and UBI provided products that complied with the Steel Act. The Supreme Court held the Commonwealth Court improperly calculated the cost of the steel products at issue, thereby reversing and remanding for further proceedings. View "United Blower, et al. v Lycoming Water & Sewer" on Justia Law
Mortimer v. McCool, et al.
In 2007, Ryan Mortimer was seriously and permanently injured when an intoxicated driver collided with her car. The driver recently had been served by employees of the Famous Mexican Restaurant (“the Restaurant”) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The owners of the Restaurant had a contractual management agreement with the owner of the Restaurant’s liquor license (“the License”), Appellee 340 Associates, LLC. The Restaurant was located in a large, mixed-use building owned by Appellee McCool Properties, LLC. At the time of the injury, Appellees Michael Andrew McCool (“Andy”) and Raymond Christian McCool (“Chris”) were the sole owners of 340 Associates. With their father, Raymond McCool (“Raymond”), they also owned McCool Properties. In an underlying “dram shop action,” Mortimer obtained a combined judgment of $6.8 million against 340 Associates and numerous other defendants. Under the Liquor Code, 340 Associates as licensee was jointly and severally liable for Mortimer’s entire judgment. 340 Associates had no significant assets beyond the License itself, and neither carried insurance for such actions nor was required by law to do so. Seeking to collect the balance of the judgment, Mortimer filed suit against 340 Associates, McCool Properties, Chris, Andy, and the Estate of Raymond (who died after the collision but before this lawsuit). Mortimer sought to "pierce the corporate veil" to hold some or all of the individual McCool defendants and McCool Properties liable for her judgment. While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that a narrow form of “enterprise liability” might be available under certain circumstances, it could not apply under the facts of this case: "We believe that our restrained, equitable posture toward veil-piercing cases has enabled Pennsylvania courts to do substantial justice in most cases, and that there is no clear reason to preclude per se the application of enterprise liability in the narrow form described herein." View "Mortimer v. McCool, et al." on Justia Law