Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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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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This case comes to us for a second time to determine if the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) was exempted from the jurisdiction of the City of Philadelphia (the City) via the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (Philadelphia Commission) and the provisions of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (FPO). This case originated in seven administrative proceedings against SEPTA that individuals instituted with the Philadelphia Commission from July 2007 through April 2009, alleging violations of the FPO. At least two of the administrative complaints included claims of types of discrimination against which the FPO offers protection, but that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) did not cover. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously remanded this case to the Commonwealth Court to ascertain the legislative intent regarding this issue by employing the analysis set forth in “Dep‘t of Gen. Serv. v. Ogontz Area Neighbors Ass‘n,” (483 A.2d 448 (Pa. 1984)). On remand, the Commonwealth Court determined that, applying the Ogontz test, the language and statutory scheme of the relevant statutes revealed the legislature‘s intent to exempt SEPTA from actions brought under the FPO. The Supreme Court found the Commonwealth Court did not err in its determination that, under the first prong of the Ogontz analysis, the statutory language and legislative scheme of the enabling legislation disclosed the legislature‘s intent to exclude SEPTA from the jurisdiction of the FPO. The order of the Commonwealth Court was therefore affirmed. View "SEPTA v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ralph Bailets was employed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission from 1998 to 2008. Appellant achieved “outstanding” and “commendable” performance ratings while employed as the Commission’s manager of financial reporting and systems. During this time, appellant frequently complained that he observed improprieties and wasteful practices regarding various matters, including a Commission computer systems contract with Ciber, Inc., EZPass discounts, politically motivated personnel actions, and the use of multiple, unnecessary external investment managers. Appellant’s job title and responsibilities were changed in June, 2008, he was removed from an additional position as assistant secretary-treasurer around the same time, and his employment by the Commission was ultimately terminated in November, 2008. Believing these actions were retaliation for his reports of wrongdoing and waste at the Commission, appellant filed a complaint in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction, alleging a single claim under the Whistleblower Law, against the Commission, Anthony Q. Maun, the Commission’s director of accounting; and Nikolaus H. Grieshaber, the Commission’s chief financial officer (collectively, appellees). In an unreported, single-judge opinion, Senior Judge Friedman held the decision to terminate appellant was “a management discretionary action, motivated by legitimate employer objectives.” The court concluded there were legitimate reasons for firing appellant, and there was nothing in the record establishing the decision makers who terminated his position were even aware of appellant’s reports of alleged wrongdoing and waste; the evidence instead showed 15 positions were eliminated in November, 2008, because of “a poor economy, declining traffic, and necessary expense reductions across the Commission.” After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court. The Court found sufficient evidence that appellant made prima face evidence of violations of the Whistleblower law, "which at the very least created issues of material fact to preclude the grant of summary judgment." View "Bailets v. Pa. Turnpike Commission" on Justia Law

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The trial court in this case denied Jane Doe's (a minor) application for judicial authorization for an abortion, reasoning, in significant part, that because the minor did not seek parental consent she was not "mature and capable" of giving informed consent independently. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of judicial authorization, finding no abuse of discretion. In this appeal, the Supreme Court examined the standard of review applicable to the trial court's denial, and had to determine whether the trial court may, under Pennsylvania law, deny judicial authorization based upon the minor’s failure to obtain parental consent. Upon review of the particular facts of this case, the Supreme Court held that the appeal would be reviewed under the "abuse of discretion" standard. Additionally, the Court held that a trial court lacks statutory authority to deny a minor's petition based on her failure to obtain parental consent. Premised upon these conclusions, the Court vacate the order of the Superior Court, which affirmed the order of the trial court. View "In the Interest of Jane Doe" on Justia Law