Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Robert Bentley (Bentley) was a broker of certificates of deposits (CDs). He operated his business through two entities: Bentley Financial Services (BFS) and Entrust Group (Entrust). Entrust had a $2 million line of credit with Main Line Federal Savings Bank (Main Line). In 1996, Main Line terminated the line of credit after the bank discovered Bentley had forged his accountant’s signature on a document. Main Line demanded repayment of the outstanding $2 million balance. In order to pay back Main Line, Bentley sold $2 million of fake CDs. Thereafter, Bentley engaged in a Ponzi scheme in which he would sell fraudulent or fictitious CDs to new investors in order to pay off previous investors. In 1997, as he continued to defraud investors, Bentley opened deposit and wire transfer accounts with a new bank, Bryn Mawr Trust Company (BMT). Bentley became one of BMT’s largest customers. In 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission commenced an action against Bentley for his Ponzi scheme. The federal court appointed David Marion (Marion) as a receiver for BFS and Entrust. In 2004, Marion initiated this case. Marion’s complaint, amended in 2012, raised claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act (UFA), aiding and abetting fraud, and negligence. In 2014, the trial court granted summary judgment to BMT on the claim of aiding and abetting fraud. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted limited discretionary review to consider whether to recognize a cause of action for aiding and abetting fraud and, if so, to determine the scienter requirement for this tort. The Court held aiding and abetting fraud was a cognizable claim under Pennsylvania law, and the required state of mind was actual knowledge of the fraud. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "Marion v. Bryn Mawr Trust Co." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the validity of modified terms, made by agreement of the settlor and beneficiaries, for removal and/or replacement of a trustee by the beneficiaries of irrevocable inter vivos trusts. The trusts at issue were all created by Walter Garrison, “Settlor,” founder and CEO of CDI Corp., a successful computer serving company. The trusts all named Settlor’s son Mark Garrison and any children Mark would have as beneficiaries. In 2017, Settlor and Beneficiaries entered into agreements to modify the Trusts pursuant to section 7740.1(a) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trust Act (“UTA”). Settlor passed away in February 2019. Proceeding under the modified provision, Beneficiaries acted to remove the existing independent co-trustees and to appoint Dr. Mairi Leining, Christina Zavell, and Michael Zavell in their place. The existing co-trustees, when notified of Beneficiaries’ action, advised that they did not recognize the modifications to the Trusts as valid or their purported removal thereunder. Seeking to uphold the co-trustee replacements, Mark filed a declaratory judgment petition to test the validity of the 2017 modifications. The Supreme Court determined the lower courts’ extension of its holding in Trust under Agreement of Edward Winslow Taylor, 164 A.3d 1147 (Pa. 2017) to unified action of beneficiaries and settlor of a trust under section 7740.1(a) was improper. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Trust Under Deed of W. Garrison" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred when it applied the plurality’s analysis in Easton Area School District v. Miller, 232 A.3d 716 (Pa. 2020) (Easton Area II) and ordered redaction and disclosure of the school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 2016, Valerie Hawkins, on behalf of Fox 43 News (collectively, Requester), submitted a Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) request to Central Dauphin School District (the District), seeking a copy of school bus surveillance video which captured an incident between a 17-year-old member of a District high school basketball team (the student), and a parent of another player (the adult), who allegedly grabbed the student’s wrist during their interaction. The incident occurred in a parking lot outside the high school’s gymnasium, while the players and school staff were boarding the school bus following a basketball game. The adult involved received a summary citation for harassment related to the incident. Requester attached a copy of the citation notice from the magisterial district court record to the record request; the notice identified the adult and student by name as the defendant and victim, respectively. Karen McConnell, the District’s open records officer, denied the request for access to the video, explaining it was an education record containing “personally identifiable information directly related to a student or students,” which, according to the District, protected the video from release under FERPA, and consequently precluded its disclosure under the RTKL as well. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err when it applied the analysis articulated in Easton Area II and ordered the mandatory redaction and disclosure of a school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to FERPA. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order with instructions to the District to reasonably redact the students’ personally identifiable information prior to disclosure. View "Central Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. Hawkins, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellee Linda Reibenstein undisputedly brought her claims against Appellant Patrick Conaboy, M.D., after the two-year period had run, and the death certificate undisputedly and correctly noted the medical cause of Reibenstein’s decedent’s death. The trial court ruled that the phrase “cause of death” referred specifically and only to the direct medical cause of death. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment to Dr. Conaboy under Section 513(d) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (“MCARE”). The Superior Court reversed, interpreting “cause of death” more broadly to encompass considerations associated with the manner of death (i.e., legal cause). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that MCARE’s tolling provision could not bear the breadth of that reading, and reversed. View "Reibenstein v. Barax" on Justia Law

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In late 2012, 16-year-old Shane McGuire and a group of his friends smashed pumpkins and stacked bricks on the doorstep of a home in McGuire’s neighborhood. The teens were still on the property when the homeowner, City of Pittsburgh Police Officer Colby Neidig, arrived home with his wife and children. McGuire watched the family’s reaction to the vandalism and then banged on the front door and ran away, accidentally tripping over his own brick boobytrap in the process. Neidig saw McGuire running, and gave chase, catching McGuire, knocking him to the ground and punching McGuire in the face. Neidig was not wearing his police uniform at the time, nor did he identify himself as a police officer. Neidig called 911 and restrained McGuire until Officer David Blatt, an on-duty City of Pittsburgh police officer, arrived. Two years later, McGuire filed a federal lawsuit against Neidig, Blatt, and the City of Pittsburgh, asserting excessive use of force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 19833 and state law assault and battery claims. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in McGuire’s favor, finding that Neidig used unreasonable force against McGuire while acting under color of state law under Section 1983, and that Neidig was liable for McGuire’s assault and battery claims as well. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved whether the City of Pittsburgh had a statutory duty to indemnify one of its police officers for the judgment entered against him in a federal civil rights lawsuit. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that a federal jury’s finding that a police officer acted “under color of state law” for purposes of Section 19831 necessarily constituted a “judicial determination” that he also acted within the “scope of his office or duties” for purposes of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Thus, the judgment was affirmed. View "McGuire v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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A declaratory judgment action was filed in the context of two insurance- company liquidation matters. The parties asserted they informally agreed, among themselves, and the single Commonwealth Court Judge overseeing the cases, to a procedure for a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court to render a decision to be reviewable via exceptions by the Commonwealth Court, en banc. However, as the agreement was not memorialized as of record, the party aggrieved by the panel opinion, the statutory liquidator, lodged an immediate appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after that opinion and order were filed, and then filed exceptions with the Commonwealth Court, en banc. After the Commonwealth Court, en banc, rendered a second opinion and order, overruling the exceptions and confirming the panel’s initial decision, the statutory liquidator filed a second appeal with the Supreme Court parallel to the first. This raised a jurisdictional question. The Supreme Court found two of four petitions filed were properly dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The other two were properly before the Court, and on the merits, the Court affirmed the Panel's July 9, 2021 order: “[t]here is simply no statutory authority for this well-intentioned proposal [or] any standard to guide the Liquidator’s establishment [of the proposal] or [the Commonwealth Court’s] evaluation thereof.” View "In Re: American Network Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The jury in this medical malpractice case awarded plaintiff Karen Cowher a lump sum amount of damages under the Pennsylvania Survival Act, and did not itemize the amount of pain and suffering damages or other components of its aggregate award. The Superior Court granted the defendants Dr. Sobhan Kodali, St. Luke’s University Health Network, and St. Luke’s Cardiology Associates a new trial on survival damages based on their claim the admission of plaintiff’s expert opinion testimony on pain and suffering was erroneous. The narrow question the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed in this appeal was whether defendants waived their right to a new trial under the general verdict rule. This rule applies and mandates waiver when a general verdict rests upon both valid and invalid grounds, and the litigant challenging the verdict failed to request a special verdict slip that would have clarified the basis for the verdict. The Supreme Court concluded these were the circumstances here. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held defendants waived a new trial under the general verdict rule and reversed the Superior Court’s order for a new trial. View "Estate of Cowher. v. Kodali, et al" on Justia Law

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The underlying dispute before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case involved the adequacy of state funding for community participation support ("CPS") services, which were designed to help individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities live independently. The primary issue on appeal related to the exhaustion requirement. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS") issued ODP Announcement 19-024, indicating it intended to change the rate structure for CPS services provided under the Home and Community Based Services (“HCBS”) waivers. Petitioners filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging the legality of the new fee schedule and alleged the new reimbursement rates were too low to sustain the provision of CPS services to eligible recipients. Pertinent here, the Commonwealth Court agreed with one of DHS' preliminary objections that Petitioners failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, as required by case precedent, before seeking judicial review. The court acknowledged a narrow exception to the exhaustion requirement whereby a court may consider the merits of a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief if a substantial constitutional question is raised and the administrative remedy is inadequate. It clarified, however, that the exception only applied where the plaintiff raises a facial constitutional challenge to the statute or regulation in question, as opposed to its application in a particular case. Here, the court concluded, the Petitioners were attacking the fee schedule in the Final Notice, which was produced by application of the legal authority cited in that notice, and not advancing a facial constitutional challenge. The court also found Petitioners failed to demonstrate the administrative remedy was inadequate. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s order insofar as it sustained the preliminary objection asserting that the Petitioners failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, and dismissed the Petition as to those parties. The order was vacated in all other respects, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Rehabilitation & Community Providers Association, et al. v. Dept. Human Svcs" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether the Pennsylvania Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5521(b), required Pennsylvania courts to apply a foreign jurisdiction’s statute of repose to a claim that accrued in a foreign jurisdiction. In 2013, Appellee William Kornfeind was injured when he fell from a 28-foot extension ladder while performing maintenance work on the roof of his home in Wauconda, Illinois. The ladder was designed, manufactured, and distributed by Old Ladder Company (Old Ladder) in 1995. Kornfeind believed he purchased it from The Home Depot (Home Depot) in Illinois sometime in the late 1990s. Old Ladder filed for bankruptcy in 2006. In 2007, New Werner Holding Co. assumed certain liabilities from Old Ladder. In 2015, Kornfeind filed suit at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. After the close of discovery, New Werner and Home Depot each filed motions for summary judgment, arguing the trial court should use Pennsylvania’s Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act to borrow Illinois’ ten-year statute of repose for product liability claims. They argued that because Kornfeind admitted in his deposition that he purchased the ladder in the late 1990s, the latest he could have purchased it was on December 31, 1999, which was more than ten years before he filed suit in 2015. As Kornfeind’s product liability claims would be time-barred by the Illinois statute of repose and Pennsylvania did not have a statute of repose for product liability claims. The trial court denied both motions for summary judgment, reasoning that, as a matter of law, Pennsylvania’s borrowing statute “is explicitly limited to statutes of limitations and does not include statutes of repose.” Because the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act did not require the application of a foreign jurisdiction’s statute of repose, it affirmed the portion of the order of the Superior Court that affirmed the trial court order denying the motion for summary judgment filed by New Werner. View "Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a question of whether the General Assembly overstepped its constitutional authority by enacting legislation that allowed for universal mail-in voting. Among other things, "Act 77" effected major amendments to the Pennsylvania Election Code, including universal, state-wide mail-in voting. On November 21, 2020, eight petitioners – including a Republican congressman and Republican candidates for the United States House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court seeking to halt the certification of the 2020 General Election, and including a facial challenge to the portions of Act 77 that established universal mail-in voting. The Supreme Court exercised extraordinary jurisdiction over the matter, and found a “complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing [the] facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77’s enactment[,]” as the petitioners waited until the ballots from the General Election were in the process of being tallied, and the results were becoming apparent, to raise their claim. Thus, the Court found the claim barred by the doctrine of laches. The Court found no restriction in the Pennsylvania Constitution on the General Assembly's ability to create universal mail-in voting. View "McLinko v. Penna. Dept. of State, et al." on Justia Law