Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Hummel v. Walmart Stores, Inc
The issue this discretionary appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the class action proceedings in this case improperly subjected Appellants to a “trial by formula.” The trial court certified the class, a jury rendered a divided verdict, and the Superior Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Appellees brought various class action claims against their former employers, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Sam’s Club (collectively, “Wal-Mart”), based on policies and conduct pertaining to rest breaks and meal breaks. Appellees alleged Wal-Mart promised them paid rest and meal breaks, but then had forced them, in whole or in part, to miss breaks or work through breaks, and also to work “off-the-clock.” The trial court certified a class consisting of "all [then] current and former hourly employees of Wal-Mart in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from March 19, 1998 to the present December 27, 2005.” The class ultimately consisted of 187,979 members. Ultimately, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of Wal-Mart on all claims relating to meal breaks but in favor of Appellees on all claims relating to rest breaks and off-the-clock work. The amount of the judgment ultimately entered on the verdict was $187,648,589. After Wal-Mart appealed, the Superior Court affirmed in part and reversed in part in a published unanimous per curiam opinion, which corrected a patent mathematical error committed by the trial court, reversed the award of attorneys’ fees, and remanded to the trial court to recalculate the lodestar it had employed to determine the amount of attorneys’ fees. The issues Wall-Mart's appeal raised for the Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether Wal-Mart was subjected to a “trial by formula,” (suggesting that the class claims could only be properly proven by an individual examination of the 187,979 class members to determine their claims); and (2) whether Appellees were thereby improperly relieved of their burden to produce class-wide common evidence on key elements of their claims. The Supreme Court found there was a single, central, common issue of liability here: whether Wal-Mart failed to compensate its employees in accordance with its own written policies. On that question, both parties presented evidence. Wal-Mart’s liability was proven on a classwide basis. Damages were assessed based on a computation of the average rate of an employee’s pay (about eight dollars per hour) multiplied by the number of hours for which pay should have been received but was not. In the Court's view, "this was not a case of 'trial by formula' or of a class action 'run amok.'" Accordingly, the judgment of the Superior Court was affirmed. View "Hummel v. Walmart Stores, Inc" on Justia Law
Landay v. Rite Aid
In 2008, Attorney David Landay submitted to appellant Rite Aid of Pennsylvania, Inc., an "authorization" on behalf of an individual, requesting copies of the that person's pharmacy records. In response to the requests, Rite Aid sent invoices for $50 to both Landay and PC&G (collectively, "Appellees") for "professional services rendered." Appellees paid the invoices, and Rite Aid provided the requested copies of the pharmacy records. In 2010, Appellees filed a class action against Rite Aid. In Count I of the complaint, Appellees claimed that Rite Aid breached an implied agreement between the parties and Rite Aid that Rite Aid would provide copies of its records to its customers in a manner consistent with Pennsylvania law, limiting the amount that may be charged to the estimated actual and reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the reproduction of the requested records. Specifically, Appellees maintained that Rite Aid's act of charging a flat fee for the reproduction of records violated Section 6152(a)(2)(i) of the Medical Records Act (MRA). In Count II of their complaint, Appellees requested a declaratory judgment that the MRA prohibited Rite Aid from charging more than the reasonable expenses it incurred to reproduce the requested records, and, further, precluded Rite Aid from charging a flat fee. In this discretionary appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the MRA applied to the reproduction of records by pharmacies, and, if so, whether, and under what circumstances, pharmacies may charge customers a flat fee for the reproduction of records. The Court held that the Act did not apply to pharmacies, and, as a result, it did not address the flat fee issue. View "Landay v. Rite Aid" on Justia Law
Roethlein v. Portnoff Law Assoc.
In November 2002, Appellee Beverly Roethlein, an Allentown taxpayer, filed a class action complaint against Portnoff Law Associates, Ltd., and Michelle Portnoff, Esquire (the firm's sole shareholder) seeking recovery for unjust enrichment and violations of Section 502 of Act 6, Pennsylvania’s Loan Interest and Protection Law. Portnoff serves as a private tax collector for various municipalities and school districts, and had contracts with 22 municipalities to represent them in the collection of delinquent real estate taxes. Taxpayers would be charged $150 for the opening of a file and preparation of a demand letter; $150 for the filing of a lien and preparation of a second letter; and $150 for preparation and filing of a writ of scire facias. The contracts required the municipalities to enact an ordinance or resolution authorizing Portnoff to impose legal fees upon the delinquent taxpayer. From the time a file was sent to her for collection, Portnoff began charging 10% interest on the principal. The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the Loan Interest and Protection Law provided taxpayers with a cause of action to challenge costs imposed for the collection of delinquent taxes or to seek damages and attorneys’ fees for improperly-imposed costs. Furthermore, at issue was whether Section 7103 of the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act authorized a municipality to recover the administrative costs it incurs in collecting delinquent taxes. After review, the Court concluded that Act 6 does not provide a cause of action for claims which do not involve the loan or use of money. Furthermore, the Court concluded Section 7103 of the MCTLA allows a municipality to recover fees it pays to a third-party tax collector for the purpose of collecting delinquent taxes. In light of these conclusions, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court, and remanded the case to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "Roethlein v. Portnoff Law Assoc." on Justia Law
Basil. v. H & R Block, et al.
At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the common pleas court appropriately decertified a class based on its conclusion that a necessary element of the plaintiffs' proof (the presence of a confidential relationship) was not amenable to class treatment. In 1993, Sandra J. Basile commenced a civil action against H&R Block, Inc., H&R Block Eastern Tax Services, Inc. and Mellon Bank. She alleged, among other things, that the Block companies maintained maintained and breached fiduciary duties in connection with their "Rapid Refund" program. Basile sought to assert claims on behalf of herself and others who were similarly situated. However, summary judgment subsequently was awarded in Block's favor on the ground that it had no fiduciary relationship with the plaintiffs. The common pleas court's conclusion, in this respect, was based on the premises that Block was not the plaintiffs' agent and that no confidential relationship otherwise existed between the parties. In the ensuing appellate litigation, the court's decision on the agency score ultimately was conclusively sustained. In 2001, the Superior Court overturned the common pleas court's summary-judgment award, finding that Ms. Basile had proffered sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of a confidential relationship. In 2003, upon consideration of the appellate rulings, the common pleas court determined that class treatment was no longer appropriate. The common pleas court found that the need for individualized inquiries on the dispositive question of trust precluded a finding that common issues predominated. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that that the common pleas court did not err in decertifying the class based on its conclusion that the presence of a confidential relationship was not amenable to class treatment. The order of the Superior Court was reversed, the common pleas court's decertification order was reinstated, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Basil. v. H & R Block, et al." on Justia Law
White v. Conestoga Title Insurance Co.
Alleging that Appellant Conestoga Title Insurance Company charged more for title insurance than its filed rates permitted, Appellee Nancy A. White asserted three claims against Conestoga in a class action complaint. The Supreme Court granted review to consider whether White was precluded from pursuing all of her claims because Article VII of the Insurance Department Act of 1921 provided her with an exclusive administrative remedy under Section 1504 of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed in part and affirm in part. Specifically, the Court reversed the Superior Court's order reversing the trial court's dismissal of White's common law claims for money had and received and for unjust enrichment, and the Court affirmed (albeit on different grounds) the Superior Court's order reversing the trial court's dismissal of White's statutory claim brought under Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. View "White v. Conestoga Title Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Jones v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Ins. Co.
Appellant Brenda Jones was involved in an automobile accident with another driver that caused damage to her vehicle. Appellant's insurance policy with Nationwide Property and Casualty Company (Nationwide) included collision coverage for the vehicle involved, subject to a $500 deductible. The policy also provided Nationwide with the right of subrogation. Nationwide paid Appellant for all damage to the vehicle, reduced by the $500 deductible. Nationwide then filed a subrogation claim against the other driver and recovered under the other driver's liability coverage. The recovery, while in excess of Appellant's deductible, was only ninety percent of the amount Nationwide paid Appellant under the collision coverage policy. Nationwide paid Jones a pro rata share of the subrogation award by reimbursing her for ninety percent of her deductible, which amounted to $450. Appellant filed a class action against Nationwide claiming that Nationwide's uniform practice of pro rating reimbursements of deductibles violated the "made whole" doctrine. All claims were based upon Appellant's conclusion that Nationwide should have reimbursed her for her entire $500 deductible, despite the provision in the policy granting Nationwide subrogation rights. Appellant also sought injunctive relief to stop Nationwide's practice of pro rata deductible reimbursement. The Supreme Court concluded that the "made whole" doctrine did not apply to the collision coverage at issue in this case, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Appellant's class action. View "Jones v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc.
Appellant Kia Motors America, Inc. unsuccessfully defended a class action lawsuit for breach of express warranty. It appealed a superior court's decision to affirm certification of the class by the trial court, and the amount of damages and litigation costs awarded to the class. Costs included a significant legal fee, entered pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act (MMWA). Appellee Shamell Samuel-Bassett, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated filed this class action lawsuit in January 2001, alleging that her Kia had an unsafe manufacturing defect in the braking system. In 2005, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of the class for breach of express warranty, and awarded damages in the amount of $600 per class member. The court molded the verdict to account for the 9,402 class members to which the parties had stipulated and recorded a $5.6 million verdict. Represented by new counsel, Kia filed an unsuccessful post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or for a new trial. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether the class was properly certified; (2) whether evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (3) whether the jury’s verdict was properly molded to account for the 9,402 members of the class; (4) whether the trial court had authority to award attorneys’ fees after Bassett entered judgment on the class verdict; and (5) whether the risk multiplier was properly applied to an award of counsel fees under the MMWA. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the trial court's decision. The Court reversed the trial court to the extent that its order provided for enhancement of the attorneys' fees award beyond the amount permitted in the MMWA. View "Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law
Petty v. Hospital Service Assoc. of NE Penna.
Appellant Robert Petty is sole owner of Co-Appellant R.G. Petty Masonry. Appellants contracted with Respondent Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (Blue Cross), a nonprofit hospital corporation that provides health insurance coverage for its employees. Appellants are covered under the group policy as subscribers. Appellants filed a four-count class action suit against Blue Cross, alleging that it violated the state Nonprofit Law by accumulating excessive profits and surplus well beyond the "incidental profit" permitted by statute. The second count alleged Blue Cross breached its contract with Appellants by violating the Nonprofit Law. The third count alleged Blue Cross owed appellants a fiduciary duty by virtue of their status as subscribers, and that duty was breached when it accrued the excess surplus. The fourth count requested an inspection of Blue Cross' business records. The trial court found Appellants lacked standing to challenge Blue Cross' alleged violations of the Nonprofit Law and dismissed the suit. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court. Upon careful consideration of the briefs submitted by the parties in addition to the applicable legal authorities, the Supreme Court found that Appellants indeed lacked standing under the Nonprofit Law to challenge Blue Cross by their four-count complaint. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions and dismissed Appellants' case. View "Petty v. Hospital Service Assoc. of NE Penna." on Justia Law