Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In October 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court order and directed that the name of Sherrie Cohen be placed on the November 5, 2019 ballot as an independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council-at-Large. Because the Board of Elections only had until the close of business on October 4, 2019 to add Cohen’s name to the ballot, the Supreme Court issued its order noting that an opinion would follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court forth its reasons for concluding that Cohen’s withdrawal as a candidate in the Democratic primary election for City Council-at-Large did not preclude her from running in the general election as an independent candidate. On August 16, 2019, the trial court issued an order granting the petitions to set aside Cohen’s nomination papers. In an opinion in support of the order, the court looked to Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that when a candidate withdraws his nomination petitions for a primary ballot “within the permitted period,” his subsequently filed nomination papers may be accepted. The trial court distinguished Cohen’s case from Packrall because “Cohen required Court intervention to leave the primary ballot.” The court determined this to be the decisive factor in concluding that she was “subject to the ‘sore loser’ provision.” Cohen filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. In a single-judge memorandum and order, the trial court was affirmed, holding “[w]hen a person withdraws of his or her own volition within the time for filing, it ‘undoes,’ ab initio, the filing because a person gets to choose whether he or she wants to go through the primary process to seek an office.” Cohen asserted on appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s order that that court erred by failing to consider withdrawal by court order under Election Code Section 978.4 to have the same effect as voluntary withdrawal pursuant to Section 914. The Supreme Court agreed with Cohen that “[t]he Commonwealth Court failed to acknowledge that the important dividing line in this area of the law is between voluntary withdraw[als] and candidates getting stricken from the ballot. … Because there is no principled reason to distinguish between the voluntariness of a withdrawal under Section 914 or Section 978.4, Cohen is entitled to relief from this Court.” View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Sherrie Cohen" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the scope and application of the qualified immunity provided under Section 114 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. sections 7101-7503. On November 20, 2012, twenty-three year-old Andrew Johnson (Andrew) voluntarily admitted himself to Bowling Green-Brandywine Addiction Treatment Center (Brandywine). Andrew sought drug rehabilitation treatment for his addiction to opiates (OxyContin) and benzodiazepines (Xanax), which were first prescribed to him two years earlier for pain and anxiety related to back injuries arising from an ATV accident. He was accompanied by his mother, appellant Melissa Dean, and reported his health history to Brandywine staff. Appellee Mohammad Ali Khan, M.D., a physician at Brandywine, took Andrew’s medical history and performed a physical exam. At approximately 8:15 in the evening of November 28, 2012, the nursing staff informed Khan of Andrew’s elevated vital signs, but Khan declined to examine Andrew, did not issue any new treatment orders, and instructed the nursing staff not to transfer Andrew to the emergency room. The nursing staff again checked Andrew every few hours, noting his vital signs but giving no additional treatment. At approximately 7:50 a.m. the next morning, Andrew was found lying on the floor of his room, face down, without a pulse. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Andrew’s parents, appellant Dean and Clifton Johnson, as administrators of Andrew’s estate and in their individual capacities, filed suit against Brandywine, Dr. Kahn, and others who treated Andrew, raising medical malpractice, wrongful death and survival claims. Specifically, appellants alleged Andrew died of a cardiac arrhythmia due to the combination of medications prescribed during treatment at Brandywine, and that his death was the result of medical negligence including the failure to properly examine, diagnose, appreciate, and treat his medical condition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in affirming entry of a compulsory nonsuit and held immunity did not apply under circumstances where: (1) the patient was admitted for and primarily received drug detoxification treatment; and (2) the patient did not receive treatment to facilitate recovery from a mental illness. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dean v. Bowling Green-Brandywine" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether the Fair Share Act, 42 Pa.C.S. 7102, required a factfinder to apportion liability on a percentage, as opposed to per capita, basis in strict liability asbestos actions. William Roverano was exposed to a variety of asbestos products from 1971 to 1981 in the course of his employment as a helper and a carpenter with PECO Energy Company. Additionally, he smoked cigarettes for approximately thirty years until 1997. In November 2013, Roverano was diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs. In 2014, Roverano brought a strict liability lawsuit against thirty defendants, including John Crane, Inc. (Crane) and Brand Insulations, Inc. (Brand), asserting that exposure to their asbestos products caused his lung cancer. His wife, Jacqueline Roverano, filed a loss of consortium claim. Before trial, several defendants, including Crane and Brand, filed a motion in limine seeking a ruling that the Fair Share Act applied to asbestos cases. The Supreme Court concluded the Act’s plain language was consistent with per capita apportionment in asbestos cases, the Act does not specifically preempt Pennsylvania common law favoring per capita apportionment, and percentage apportionment in asbestos cases was impossible of execution. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s order, which vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded this case for a new trial to apportion damages on a percentage basis. Additionally, the Supreme Court considered whether the Act required a factfinder to apportion liability to bankrupt entities that entered into a release with the plaintiff. To this, the Court concluded that upon appropriate requests and proofs, bankruptcy trusts that were either joined as third-party defendants or that have entered into a release with the plaintiff could be included on the verdict sheet for purposes of liability only. Accordingly, this case was remanded to the trial court to consider whether Appellees submitted sufficient requests and proofs to apportion liability to the settled bankruptcy trusts. View "Roverano. v. John Crane, Inc." on Justia Law

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In September 2013, Tawny Chevalier filed a class action complaint against General Nutrition Centers, Inc., a Delaware corporation, and General Nutrition Corporation, a Pennsylvania corporation (collectively GNC). The case involved the calculation of overtime compensation for non-exempt salaried workers under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act of 1968 (PMWA), and the related regulations adopted by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (Pennsylvania Regulations). Specifically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether these statutory and regulatory provisions allowed for the usage of the Fluctuating Work Week method (FWW Method) for calculating overtime compensation for salaried employees working fluctuating hours. As explained in detail below, we affirm the Superior Court’s decision rejecting the use of the FWW Method under the PMWA and the Pennsylvania Regulations, which were distinguishable from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which overtly adopted the FWW Method for salaried employees working fluctuating hours. Chevalier had previously been employed by GNC as a store manager and senior store manager, earning a set weekly salary plus commissions, regardless of the number of hours she worked in a given week. GNC additionally paid her overtime for any hours worked in excess of forty hours in a week by utilizing the FWW Method explained below. Essentially, Chevalier argued that the FWW Method did not satisfy the PMWA’s requirement that employees “shall be paid for overtime not less than one and one-half times the employe[e]'s regular rate.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision to reject GNC’s use of the FWW Method for calculating Plaintiffs’ overtime compensation to the extent it used a 0.5 multiplier. View "Chevalier v. General Nutrition Centers" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether a magisterial district court had jurisdiction over a case proceeding under the Landlord and Tenant Act, where the plaintiff was the purchaser of a property at a sheriff’s sale, and the defendants were the property’s former owners who refused to leave, but where the parties did not have a landlord-tenant relationship. The Supreme Court determined the magistrate court did not have jurisdiction, and so reversed and remanded for dismissal. View "Assouline v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether a requested change of beneficiary designation and plan option for benefits payable under the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) was effective upon mailing or upon receipt by SERS, where SERS did not receive the required change documentation until after the SERS member’s death. The Court held the change was not effective until receipt by SERS, the common law mailbox rule did not apply, and the Commonwealth Court erred in holding to the contrary. View "Estate of L. Wilson v. State Employees' Retirement Bd." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved an airline employee who was injured while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot after her shift ended. The question before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the employee’s injury can be said to have occurred on the airline’s premises for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act even though the City of Philadelphia owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court, Appeal Board, and WCJ correctly concluded that the lot in which the employee parked her vehicle was integral to the company’s business operations. The employee used the airport parking lot and shuttle service to enter and exit her workplace. As part of the airline’s business relationship with the airport, it clearly was aware that the Division of Aviation would make employee parking available to the airline’s employees. “Indeed, the evidence presented to the WCJ suggests that, had the Division not done so, US Airways would have been obligated under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants to reimburse flight attendants like Bockelman for the cost of airport parking.” View "US Airways, et al. v. WCAB (Bockelman)" on Justia Law

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This matter came from two separate lawsuits commenced in the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas which were subsequently removed to federal district courts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and thereafter consolidated for disposition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Appellee William Scott was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Appellant Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Appellee Samantha Sayles was covered by an automobile policy issued by Appellant Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate’s policy contained a clause, similar to the one in Scott’s policy, providing that, in order to receive first-party medical benefits, the insured had to submit to mental and physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurance company at the company’s behest before medical benefits were paid. Both appellees were injured in separate car accidents, and their respective insurance companies refused to pay their medical bills. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Does an automobile insurance policy provision, which required an insured seeking first-party medical benefits under the policy to submit to an independent medical exam whenever the insurer requires and with a doctor selected by the insurer, conflict with 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1796(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), such that the requirement was void as against public policy? After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the provision indeed conflicted with Section 1796(a), and was void as against public policy. View "Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants Jonathan Saksek and Joshua Winter challenged a superior court decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of Appellees Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Johnson & Johnson Company, and Janssen Research and Development, LLC (collectively, “Janssen”). Saksek and Winter were two of a large number of men who filed suit against Janssen, alleging that they developed gynecomastia as a result of their ingestion of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug manufactured by Janssen. In 2014, Janssen filed two motions for summary judgment, which were nominally directed at Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, but had language affecting all Risperdal plaintiffs: the companies sought a global ruling that all claims accrued for statute of limitations purposes no later than October 31, 2006, when Janssen changed the Risperdal label to reflect a greater association between gynecomastia and Risperdal. The trial court ruled that all Risperdal-gynecomastia claims accrued no later June 31, 2009. The superior court disagreed, ruling that all such claims accrued no later than Janssen’s preferred date (October 31, 2006). Concluding that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment at all in Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated its decision and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Risperdal Litig." on Justia Law

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Decedent Sophia Krasinski died testate in 2006. The primary assets of her estate included three parcels of real estate. The Executor was one of the Decedent’s four children, who also included Eleanor Krasinski, James Krasinski, and Patricia Krasinski-Dunzik. Decedent’s will directed that each of her four children were equal beneficiaries of the residue of the estate. In 2010, the Executor filed a petition to permit the private sale of real estate to heirs. The orphans’ court granted the Executor’s petition to permit the sale. Dunzik and her husband sued the estate based upon an alleged oral contract with the Decedent regarding the property. After a nonjury trial, the trial court ruled that there was no enforceable oral contract between Dunzik and Decedent and dismissed the case. This trial court order also lifted a stay on the orphans’ court’s prior order approving the private sale of the Decedent’s lands. Dunzik did not appeal the trial court’s rulings. The sale proceeded; the Executor, James and his wife, and Dunzik attended, at which time Dunzik stated that she would not be bidding because she believed that she already owned the properties. Dunzik again challenged the completed sales. This discretionary appeal presented the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with an opportunity to clarify the proper scope of Rule 342(a)(6) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, which provided for an appeal as of right from an order of the Orphans’ Court Division that “determin[es] an interest in real or personal property.” The statute further provided that the failure of a party to immediately appeal an order appealable under, inter alia, Rule 342(a)(6), constitutes a waiver of all objections to the order. The Supreme Court concluded Dunzik waived all objections to the orphans’ court’s order approving the private sale. View "In Re: Estate of Krasinski" on Justia Law