Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business 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
Pgh. Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking, et al.
Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. (“PLS”) was a third-party logistics provider that arranged the shipping of its customers’ freight with selected trucking companies. Beemac Trucking (“Beemac”) was a shipping company that conducted non-exclusive business with PLS. In 2010, PLS and Beemac entered into a one-year Motor Carriage Services Contract (“the Contract”), which automatically renewed on a year to year basis until either party terminated it. The Contract contained both a non-solicitation provision and the no-hire provision. In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether no-hire, or “no poach,” provisions that were ancillary to a services contract between business entities, were enforceable under the laws of the Commonwealth. While the Contract was in force, Beemac hired four PLS employees. PLS sued Beemac, alleging breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, and a violation of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. PLS also sued the four former employees, alleging they had breached the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions of their employment contracts. The trial court held the worldwide non-compete clauses in the employees' contracts were “unduly oppressive and cannot be subject to equitable modification.” With respect to the contract between the companies, the trial court held the pertinent no-poach clause was void against public policy. “If additional restrictions to the agreement between employer and employee are rendered unenforceable by a lack of additional consideration, PLS should not be entitled to circumvent that outcome through an agreement with a third party.” Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgments, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pgh. Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking, et al." on Justia Law
Always Busy Consulting v. Babford & Company
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether a notice of appeal filed at a single docket number corresponding to the lead case of multiple consolidated civil cases should have been quashed for failing to satisfy the requirements of Pa.R.A.P. 341(a) as interpreted in Commonwealth v. Walker, 185 A.3d 969 (Pa. 2018). The Superior Court relied on Walker to quash the appeal below at one docket number, but the Supreme Court held Walker was inapplicable to the particular facts of this case and therefore reversed. View "Always Busy Consulting v. Babford & Company" on Justia Law
Wolf v. Scarnati
On March 6, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency (“Proclamation”) pursuant to 35 Pa.C.S. 7301(c), a provision of the Emergency Management Services Code. This Proclamation activated many emergency resources. Days later, the Governor issued an order closing businesses that were not considered life-sustaining. Four Pennsylvania businesses and one individual challenged the Governor's Order, alleging that it violated the Emergency Management Services Code and various constitutional provisions. On April 13, 2020, in an exercise of its King’s Bench jurisdiction, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Governor’s order complied with both the statute and Commonwealth Constitution. On June 3, 2020, the Governor renewed the Proclamation for an additional ninety days. June 9, 2020, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted a concurrent resolution to order the Governor to terminate the disaster emergency. The matter reached a loggerhead and went again before the Supreme Court. The Court issued an opinion stating "we find it necessary to make clear what this Court is, and is not, deciding in this case. We express no opinion as to whether the Governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes wise or sound policy. Similarly, we do not opine as to whether the General Assembly, in seeking to limit or terminate the Governor’s exercise of emergency authority, presents a superior approach for advancing the welfare of our Commonwealth’s residents." Instead, the Court decided here a narrow legal question: whether the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Emergency Services Management Code permitted the General Assembly to terminate the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency by passing a concurrent resolution, without presenting that resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto. To this, the Supreme Court responded "no": "because the General Assembly intended that H.R. 836 terminate the Governor’s declaration of disaster emergency without the necessity of presenting that resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto, we hold, pursuant to our power under the Declaratory Judgments Act, that H.R. 836 is a legal nullity." View "Wolf v. Scarnati" on Justia Law
Rullex Co., LLC. v. Tel-Stream, Inc.
In this appeal by allowance, a covenant not to compete was executed by an employee after the first day of employment. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the employer could enforce that provision in the post-employment timeframe although no new consideration was supplied in connection with its execution. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly denied a motion for a preliminary injunction: there was no evidence suggesting that, as of the commencement of the employment relationship, there was a meeting of the minds as to the noncompete agreement (NCA), or that the employee otherwise manifested his assent to provisions of the NCA that he was given, or an intent to be bound by them. View "Rullex Co., LLC. v. Tel-Stream, Inc." on Justia Law
A Special Touch v. UC Tax Services
A Special Touch (Salon) was a sole proprietorship owned by Colleen Dorsey (Owner) offering nail, skin, massage, and permanent cosmetic services. After a 2014 audit, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (Department), Office of Unemployment Compensation Tax Services (OUCTS) issued a Notice of Assessment to the Salon indicating that it owed unemployment compensation (UC) contributions and interest in the amount of $10,647.93 for the period of 2010 through the second quarter of 2014. This assessment was based on OUCTS’s determination that ten individuals providing work for the Salon had been misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees of the Salon, thus subjecting it to the UC taxes. This discretionary appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court required a determination of what “customarily engaged” meant, as that term was used in Subsection 4(l)(2)(B) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law), 43 P.S. section 753(l)(2)(B). In particular, the Supreme Court had to determine whether the phrase required an individual to be involved in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business in actuality, as opposed to having the mere ability to be so involved. The Court concluded the phrase “customarily engaged” as used in Subsection 4(l)(2)(B) mandated that an individual actually be involved in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business. Because the Commonwealth Court reached a contrary conclusion, the Court reversed. View "A Special Touch v. UC Tax Services" on Justia Law
Friends of Danny DeVito, et al v. Wolf
Petitioners were four Pennsylvania businesses and one individual who sought extraordinary relief from Governor Wolf’s March 19, 2020 order compelling the closure of the physical operations of all non-life-sustaining business to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”). The businesses of the Petitioners were classified as non-life-sustaining. In an Emergency Application for Extraordinary Relief, Petitioners raised a series of statutory and constitutional challenges to the Governor's order, contending the Governor lacked any authority to issue it and that, even if he did have such statutory authority, it violates various of their constitutional rights. Petitioners asserted the exercise of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s King’s Bench jurisdiction was not only warranted but essential given the unprecedented scope and consequence of the Executive Order on businesses in the Commonwealth. Exercising King's Bench jurisdiction, the Supreme Court concluded Petitioners could not establish any constitutional bases for their challenges. The claim for relief was therefore denied. View "Friends of Danny DeVito, et al v. Wolf" on Justia Law