Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether access to public information available pursuant to section 614 of the Administrative Code of 1929, 71 P.S. 234, was governed by the Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”). On January 15, 2014, then-Treasurer Robert McCord received a letter from Appellees, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (“PFUR”), demanding production of a list of names. PFUR’s letter stated that “this is not a request pursuant to the [RTKL],” but that instead, “[t]his is a request for the public information which is mandated to be available from your office under Section 614 of the Administrative Code of 1929 (“List of Employees to be Furnished to Certain State Officers”).” The Treasurer replied that he considered PFUR’s demand to be a request under the RTKL and would proceed accordingly. PFUR objected to application of the RTKL, and the Treasurer filed a petition for review in the nature of an action for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction. The Treasurer alleged that the List contained information that he believed exempt from public disclosure under the RTKL and the Pennsylvania Web Accountability and Transparency Act (“PennWATCH Act”). The Supreme Court concluded the RTKL governed the method of access to section 614 information, but that the exceptions to disclosure under the RTKL, 65 P.S. 37.708, did not apply to permit redactions from otherwise publicly available information. “Before disclosing any section 614 information, however, the State Treasurer must perform the balancing test set forth in Pa. State Educ. Ass'n v. Commonwealth , Dep't of Cmty. & Econ. Dev., 148 A.3d 142 (Pa. 2016) (“PSEA”), to ensure that disclosures of personal information do not violate any individual’s rights of informational privacy under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” View "PA Treasurer v. Union Reform" on Justia Law

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Appellee Mission Funding Alpha was a calendar-year taxpayer that conducted business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the year ending December 31, 2007, and subject to the Pennsylvania Foreign Franchise Tax. In this case, appellee’s annual tax report (the Report) was due to be filed on or before April 15, 2008. As of that date, appellee had timely remitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (the Department) quarterly estimated payments totaling $430,000 for its 2007 Tax Year liability. A credit overpayment was also carried forward for appellee’s 2007 Tax Year liability. Without first seeking an extension of time to file its Report after the due date of April 15, 2008, appellee filed it late, on September 19, 2008. The Department accepted appellee’s reported franchise tax liability and imposed a $913 late-filing penalty because appellee had not requested a filing extension and had not filed its Report by the due date of April 15, 2008. On September 16, 2011, appellee filed a petition for refund with the Board of Appeals, seeking a refund of the entire amount of its reported 2007 franchise tax liability ($66,344). The Board of Appeals dismissed the petition as untimely, stating it was filed more than three years after the payment date of April 15, 2008. Appellee then appealed to the Board of Finance and Revenue, arguing its refund petition was timely because the time to file a petition did not begin to run until its tax was defined or deemed paid, which did not occur until appellee filed its 2007 Report on September 19, 2008. The Board of Finance and Revenue affirmed the decision of the Board of Appeals, concluding although appellee paid $66,344 in franchise tax for 2007 on the due date of April 15, 2008, the refund petition was filed more than three years after that due date, and therefore was untimely. Appellee argued the applicable statute of limitations for a refund claim is three years from the date of payment of tax but a tax is not deemed “paid” until amounts are applied to a definite tax liability. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the Commonwealth Court erred in holding the three-year tax refund period specified in Section 3003.1(a) of the Tax Reform Code of 1971 (Tax Code), 72 P.S. 10003.1(a), began to run on the date the corporate taxpayer files its annual tax report. Appellee’s refund petition was not timely filed because the three-year tax refund period began to run on April 15, 2008, and expired prior to the September 16, 2011 filing date. View "Mission Funding Alpha v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the General Assembly abrogated high public official immunity when it enacted Section 6111(i) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act (UFA), 18 Pa.C.S. sections 6101-6187. Appellees John Doe 1, John Doe 2, John Doe 3 and Jane Doe 1 were adult individuals residing in Franklin County who each applied for a license to carry a firearm (LTCF) by submitting an application to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department. Subsequently, appellees filed the underlying eight-count class action complaint against Franklin County officials, pertinent here, Sheriff Dane Anthony (Sheriff Anthony, collectively, appellants), claiming, inter alia, violations of the confidentiality provision of Section 6111(i) and seeking damages. Appellees alleged they and several other applicants received notification of the approval, renewal, denial or revocation of their LTCF applications from appellants via postcards sent through the United States Postal Service (USPS), and the postcards were not sealed in an envelope. Appellees alleged, inter alia, appellants’ use of postcards to notify LTCF applicants of the status of their applications resulted in the notices being “visible [to] all individuals processing, mailing and serving the mail, as well as, [to] any individual receiving the postcard at the address, who may or may not be the applicant or license holder.” Appellees claimed these actions constituted “public disclosure” in violation of Section 6111(i). Central to this appeal is Count III of the Complaint, in which appellees specifically alleged Sheriff Anthony, in his management and leadership of the Sheriff’s Office, “instituted and directed the disclosure of confidential LTCF application information to the public, employees of the County and Sheriff’s Office not authorized under the UFA, [USPS] employees and other third parties at the same address who use the same mailbox as the LTCF applicant in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. §6111(i).” With regard to Count III, appellants sought dismissal of all claims against Sheriff Anthony on the basis that he was immune from suit as a high public official for any actions he took in his official capacity as Sheriff of Franklin County. The trial court sustained most of the preliminary objections and dismissed the entire complaint. Relevant here, the court concluded Sheriff Anthony qualified as a high public official, and was therefore immune from liability for any acts performed in his official capacity as sheriff. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the General Assembly did not abrogate high public official immunity through Section 6111(i), and thus reversed the Commonwealth Court on this issue. View "John Doe v. Franklin Co. Sheriff's Office" on Justia Law

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In a petition for review filed in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction, a group of state senators (“the Senators”) challenged as unconstitutional the Governor of Pennsylvania’s partial disapproval of the General Appropriations Act of 2014 (“GAA”) and the 2014 Fiscal Code Amendments (“FCA”). The Commonwealth Court denied the Senators’ request for summary relief. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Senators that the Governor’s attempted partial vetoes of the proposed legislation failed to adhere to the requirements of Article IV, Section 15, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court therefore reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision denying the Senators summary relief on Count I of their petition for review. View "Scarnati v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the office of Stacy Parks Miller (“Parks Miller”), the District Attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania, was an “office or entity of the unified judicial system” and thus properly classified as a “judicial agency” for purposes of application of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL). Under the RTKL, only the financial records of a judicial agency are subject to disclosure in response to RTKL requests. Parks Miller contended this limitation upon the scope of disclosure of judicial records applied to district attorneys. The Commonwealth Court determined that a district attorney’s office was “county staff” and “related staff,” i.e., two categories which are expressly excluded from the Judicial Code’s definition of “personnel of the system.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court: the definitional section of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa.C.S. 102, and the definitions provided in the Supreme Court’s Rules of Judicial Administration, demonstrated that a district attorney’s office is not a “judicial agency” for purposes of the RTKL. View "Miller v. County of Centre" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to determine when the statute of limitations begins to run on an uninsured motorist (UM) claim under an insurance policy. Specifically, the issue reduced to whether the statute of limitations begins to run on an insured’s ability to initiate a court action to enforce a UM claim in a policy containing an arbitration agreement. The Superior Court held that, for the purpose of UM and underinsured motorist (UIM) claims, the statute of limitations begins to run when a claimant injured in an automobile accident first learns that the other driver is uninsured or underinsured. However, the Supreme Court determined this conclusion was not adequately grounded in the pertinent statutory text, prevailing statute of limitations doctrine, or significant public policy concerns. Accordingly, the Court held that statute of limitations principles attending contract claims apply, and that the running of the statute was commenced upon an alleged breach of a contractual duty, which in this case would be occasioned by the insurer’s denial of coverage or refusal to arbitrate. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court’s order to the contrary. View "Erie Insurance Exchange v. Bristol" on Justia Law

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This appeal by allowance involved the automatic suspension of a nursing license based on a felony drug conviction. The question raised was whether, under the applicable statute, reinstatement of the license was precluded for a fixed period of ten years, or was instead permitted at an earlier date subject to the discretion of the state nursing board. Appellee held a license to practice professional nursing in Pennsylvania. In 2013, she pled guilty to one count of felony drug possession in violation of the Controlled Substance Act and received a sentence of probation without verdict. The Commonwealth then petitioned the Board to impose an automatic suspension of Appellee’s nursing license pursuant to Section 15.1(b) of the Nursing Law. As for the length of the suspension, the Board referenced two aspects of the Nursing Law reflecting different time periods. It first observed that Section 15.2 of the law prescribes a five-year minimum period. The Board then referred to Section 6(c) of the Nursing Law, which provided for a ten-year period with regard to the issuance of a new license. After quoting these provisions, the Board, without explanation, indicated that Appellee’s license would be automatically suspended for ten years. Appellee filed exceptions arguing that the ten-year suspension period was improper. Thereafter, the Board entered a final adjudication affirming the notice and order. A divided Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s holding. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed: “it is not illogical that the General Assembly would provide for discretionary reinstatement of an automatically suspended license while also requiring a ten-year waiting period for a convicted felon who has never held a license. In the former case the Board has a record of interaction in which the licensee previously demonstrated the requisite skills, knowledge, and moral character to become a licensed professional, and has additionally fulfilled any continuing requirements for licensure over a period of time. … nothing in our decision prevents the Board from seeking revocation of a license, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Nursing Law, following a conviction under the Controlled Substances Act. … If an automatically-suspended license is ultimately revoked, reinstatement would then be governed by Section 15.2.” View "McGrath v. Bur. of Prof. & Occ. Affairs" on Justia Law

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This case was a direct appeal in a judicial discipline case that resulted in Appellant Dawn Segal's removal from office as a municipal court judge in Philadelphia. In 2014, amidst a federal investigation encompassing electronic surveillance of telephone conversations in which she participated, Appellant reported to the Judicial Conduct Board (the “Board”) that she had ex parte communications with then-fellow- Municipal Court Judge Joseph Waters about several cases that were pending before her. FBI agents and federal prosecutors interviewed Appellant on several occasions, ultimately playing tapes of the intercepted conversations. The Board, which had already opened an investigation into the matter, proceeded to lodge a complaint against Appellant in the Court of Judicial Discipline (the “CJD”). The Board asserted violations of the then-prevailing Canons of Judicial Conduct, including Canon 2B, Canon 3A(4), Canon 3B(3), and Canon 3C(1). A federal prosecution of Waters was initiated, and he entered a negotiated guilty plea to mail fraud, and honest service wire fraud. Shortly thereafter, Appellant (through counsel) self-reported to the Board that she and Waters had had ex parte communications concerning pending cases. The correspondence stated that Appellant had not previously made these disclosures to the Board on account of a request from federal authorities to maintain confidentiality. In March 2015, the Board filed its complaint with the CJD. Finding the sanction imposed by the CJD as lawful, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined it lacked authority to disapprove it. As such, the CJD's decision was affirmed. View "In Re: Dawn Segal, Judge" on Justia Law

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Appellant Angeles Roca served as a common pleas judge in the family division of the First Judicial District, Philadelphia County. Her term overlapped with those of former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judges Joseph Waters and Dawn Segal. During this period, the FBI was investigating Waters’ activities; the investigation included wiretap surveillance of his telephone communications. Several conversations between Waters and Appellant were recorded in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Appellant asked Waters for advice on how her son, Ian Rexach, should proceed relative to a tax judgment. Appellant learned that Segal would not be presiding over these types of petitions after June 29, 2012; seeking to ensure that Segal presided over her son’s petition, Appellant called Waters to encourage him to intervene. Segal reviewed the petition for reconsideration and issued a rule to show cause why the relief requested should not be granted. Although Segal did not preside over Rexach’s case thereafter, she called Waters to advise him that she “took care of it” and to “tell her it’s done.” Waters called Appellant and discussed the matter, confirming that it had been “taken care of” by Segal. A default judgment against Rexach was ultimately vacated and the case against him was withdrawn upon his payment of $477 in taxes. In 2015, the Judicial Conduct Board sent Appellant informal letters of inquiry concerning her contacts with other judges. At the time, Appellant was unaware that her conversations with Waters had been recorded. In her written responses, Appellant made several representations which were inconsistent with the content of the recorded phone conversations. In 2016, the Board filed an amended complaint with the CJD alleging that Appellant had violated Article V, Sections 17(b) and 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as well as several provisions of Pennsylvania’s former Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”). On appeal, Appellant alleged that the CJD’s removal-and-bar sanction was unduly harsh under the circumstances. She requestd a lesser penalty. In this respect, Appellant maintained, first, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was not bound by a state constitutional provision, which limited the Court's review of the sanction imposed by the CJD to whether it was lawful. In the alternative, Appellant proffered that the punishment was not lawful because it was inconsistent with prior decisions in cases where the misconduct was not extreme. The Supreme Court found the penalty imposed by the CJD was lawful. That being the case, the Court lacked authority to overturn it. View "In Re: Angeles Roca, Judge" 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