Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Sutton v. Dept. of Corr.
In February 2018, a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections prison guard died after an inmate attacked him and kicked him in the head with Timberland boots. Later that month, the Department suspended commissary sales of such boots. Thereafter, prison officials issued a memorandum to all inmates stating that, effective immediately, Timberland and Rocky boots could no longer be purchased by prisoners. In this direct appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the Department of Corrections acted permissibly in mandating that certain types of boots possessed by inmates be surrendered or sent home. The appellant alleged he owned a pair of Timberland boots, previously purchased through the prison’s commissary for approximately $99.00, which was deducted from his inmate account. He averred that, per the Memorandum’s requirements, his boots, and those of approximately 50,000 other inmates, would effectively be confiscated without a refund. Appellant characterized the killing of the prison guard as an isolated incident to which the Department overreacted, describing the seizure of his boots as constitutionally “arbitrary and irrational.” The Commonwealth Court determined Appellant failed to allege that the Department had engaged in any conduct prohibited by law, such as deceptive representation or the breach of a warranty; and the Department and its employees are protected by sovereign immunity from claims based on alleged intentional torts. The Supreme Court concurred with the Commonwealth Court and affirmed its order. View "Sutton v. Dept. of Corr." on Justia Law
Safe Auto v. Oriental-Guillermo
In 2013, Rachel Dixon was driving a car owned by her boyfriend, Rene Oriental-Guillermo (“Policyholder”), when she was involved in an accident with a vehicle in which Priscila Jimenez was a passenger, and which was owned by Iris Velazquez, and operated by Alli Licona-Avila. At the time of the accident, Dixon resided with Policyholder, who had purchased a personal automobile insurance policy (“Policy”) for his vehicle through Safe Auto Insurance Company (“Safe Auto”). The Policy contained an unlisted resident driver exclusion (“URDE”), which excluded from coverage any individuals who lived with, but were not related to, the policyholder, and whom the policyholder did not specifically list as an additional driver on the insurance policy. Jimenez and her husband Luis (collectively, “Appellants”) filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixon, Policyholder, and Licona-Avila. On May 13, 2015, Safe Auto filed a complaint against Dixon, Policyholder, and Appellants, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the enforceability of the URDE with respect to Dixon. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Safe Auto, finding the URDE unambiguous, valid, and enforceable, and concluding that Safe Auto had no duty under the Policy to defend or indemnify Dixon in the underlying personal injury lawsuit. Appellants timely appealed to the Superior Court, arguing: (1) the trial court erred in holding the URDE was valid and enforceable; (2) that the URDE violated the provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”); and (3) that the URDE violated public policy. The Superior Court affirmed the order of the trial court in a divided, published opinion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concurred the URDE at issue in this case was enforceable, and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Safe Auto v. Oriental-Guillermo" on Justia Law
JP Morgan Chase Bank v. Taggart
Kenneth Taggart appealed a superior court order affirming a trial court’s verdict on mortgage foreclosure in favor of Great Ajax Operating Partnership (“Great Ajax”). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded Great Ajax or its predecessors failed to provide pre-foreclosure notice before initiating a second mortgage foreclosure action as required by the Loan Interest and Protection Law, 41 P.S. sections 101-605 (“Act 6”). In reaching this conclusion, the Court held the purposes of Act 6 were served by requiring each action in mortgage foreclosure to be preceded by a separate pre-foreclosure notice. A lender may not recycle a stale pre-foreclosure notice that it issued in connection with a prior complaint in mortgage foreclosure. Because Great Ajax failed to provide a separate pre-foreclosure notice before initiating the second action, the superior court's judgment was reversed. View "JP Morgan Chase Bank v. Taggart" on Justia Law
Gallagher v. GEICO
This appeal required the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a “household vehicle exclusion” contained in a motor vehicle insurance policy violated Section 1738 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), 75 Pa.C.S. 1738, because the exclusion impermissibly acted as a de facto waiver of stacked uninsured and underinsured motorist (“UM” and “UIM,” respectively) coverages. In 2012, Appellant Brian Gallagher was riding his motorcycle when William Stouffer ran a stop sign in his pickup truck, colliding with Gallagher’s motorcycle, causing Gallagher to suffer severe injuries. At the time of the accident, Gallagher had two insurance policies with GEICO; one included $50,000 of UIM coverage, insured only Gallagher’s motorcycle; the second insured Gallagher’s two automobiles and provided for $100,000 of UIM coverage for each vehicle. Gallagher opted and paid for stacked UM and UIM coverage when purchasing both policies. Stouffer’s insurance coverage was insufficient to compensate Gallagher in full. Consequently, Gallagher filed claims with GEICO seeking stacked UIM benefits under both of his GEICO policies. GEICO paid Gallagher the $50,000 policy limits of UIM coverage available under the Motorcycle Policy, it denied his claim for stacked UIM benefits under the Automobile Policy. GEICO based its decision on a household vehicle exclusion found in an amendment to the Automobile Policy. The exclusion states as follows: “This coverage does not apply to bodily injury while occupying or from being struck by a vehicle owned or leased by you or a relative that is not insured for Underinsured Motorists Coverage under this policy.” According to Gallagher, by denying him stacked UIM coverage based upon the household vehicle exclusion, GEICO was depriving him of the stacked UIM coverage for which he paid. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the household vehicle exclusion violated the MVFRL, and vacated the Superior Court’s judgment, reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of GEICO, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Gallagher v. GEICO" on Justia Law
Commonwealth, AG Shapiro v. GGNSC LLC, et al
The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General (OAG), on behalf of the Commonwealth, filed suit against more than two dozen nursing homes and their parent companies (collectively, “Appellees”), alleging violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, (“UTPCPL”), and unjust enrichment. After consideration of Appellees’ preliminary objections, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the claims and this appealed followed. After its review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the dismissal of the UTPCPL claims was improper, but the dismissal of the unjust enrichment claim was proper because the claim was filed prematurely. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Commonwealth, AG Shapiro v. GGNSC LLC, et al" on Justia Law
Bayview Loan v. Lindsay
Appellant Rodger Lindsay, a debtor who, in response to a mortgage foreclosure complaint filed by Appellee Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC (“Bayview”), asserted as an affirmative defense in new matter Bayview’s failure to provide him with the required thirty days’ notice. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether, following Bayview’s discontinuance of the case, Lindsay was entitled to recover attorneys’ fees arising from the assertion of his affirmative defense. The Court concluded that to be entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees under section 503(a) of the Loan Interest and Protection Law (“Act 6”), the debtor must commence an “action” asserting a violation of section 403(a) and prevail. Because an affirmative defense was not an “action” for purposes of Act 6, under the facts and procedural history presented here, Lindsay was not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees. View "Bayview Loan v. Lindsay" on Justia Law
Danganan v. Guardian Protection Svc.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Appellant Jobe Danganan’s contracted with Appellee Guardian Protection Services (“Guardian”), a Pennsylvania-headquartered business, for home security equipment and services at his then-home in Washington, D.C. The contract signed by Appellant, a standardized form agreement employed by Guardian, contained, inter alia, a choice-of-law provision, stating that the “Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Pennsylvania.” Another clause required that any suit or legal proceeding pertaining to the Agreement be brought in the other party’s district or county of residence and mandated that the parties consent to jurisdiction in such venue. Prior to the expiration of the Agreement’s purported three-year initial term, Appellant moved to California and sold his Washington, D.C. house, notifying Guardian of his intent to cancel the contract and related home protection services. However, Guardian continued to bill Appellant, citing provisions of the Agreement that it claimed authorized ongoing charges through the contract’s term, regardless of cancellation attempts. Appellant filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on behalf of himself and a putative class of nationwide plaintiffs who were subject to the same form contract. His claims for relief were predicated exclusively on Pennsylvania statutory grounds, namely, the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") and Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act. The matter was removed to federal district court, and Guardian moved to dismiss, arguing that Appellant had not, pursuant to the UTPCPL, demonstrated a "sufficient nexus" between the Commonwealth and the improper conduct alleged in the complaint. In response to the first certified question, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a non- Pennsylvania resident may bring suit under the UTPCPL against a Commonwealth-headquartered business based on transactions that occurred out-of-state. Furthermore, the Court concluded that its answer to the first issue eliminated the predicate to the second question certified for review. The matter was thus returned to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. View "Danganan v. Guardian Protection Svc." on Justia Law
Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial
No fiduciary duty arises in a consumer transaction for the purchase of a whole life insurance policy based upon the advice of a financial advisor where the consumer purchasing the policy does not cede decision -making control over the purchase to the financial advisor. In 1995, Bryan Holland, a financial advisor for IDS Life Insurance Corporation, made an unsolicited telephone contact, a "cold call," to Eugene and Ruth Yenchi. At a subsequent meeting and for a fee of $350, Holland presented the Yenchis with a financial management proposal containing a notice that it had been prepared by "your American Express financial advisor" (Holland) and that "[alt your request, your American Express financial advisor can recommend products distributed by American Express Financial Advisors and its affiliates as investment alternatives for existing securities." The Proposal offered the Yenchis a number of general recommendations, including that they monitor monthly expenses, consolidate their debt, consider various savings plans, consolidate current life insurance policies into one policy, review long-term care coverage, keep accurate records for tax purposes (medical expenses and charitable contributions), transfer 401(k) funds into mutual funds, and continue estate planning with an attorney and their financial advisor. The Yenchis implemented some of these recommendations. In 2000, the Yenchis had their portfolio independently reviewed. Through this process, they were advised that Holland’s recommendations would be financially devastating to the Yenchis. In April 2001, the Yenchis sued Holland and his company, American Express Financial Services Corporation, American Express Financial Advisors Corporation, and IDS Life Insurance Company. The Yenchis' asserted claims of negligence/willful disregard, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), bad faith, negligent supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Of relevance here, with respect to the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the trial court held that no fiduciary relationship was established between the Yenchis and Holland because the Yenchis continued to make their own investment decisions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, consistent with its jurisprudence, no fiduciary duty arose in such a situation. Consequently, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision to the contrary. View "Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial" on Justia Law
Grimes v. Enterprise Leasing Co of Phila.
Appellee signed a contract in December 2010, to rent a car from Appellant Enterprise Leasing Company of Philadelphia, LLC (“Enterprise”). She agreed in the contract that she would pay for repairs for any damage the car incurred during the rental period, along with any administrative, loss-of-use, and diminishment-in-value fees. The contract set forth formulas for calculating the loss-of-use and diminishment-in-value fees. It also contained a power-of-attorney clause allowing Enterprise to request payment for any unpaid “claims, damages, liabilities, or rental charges” directly from Appellee’s insurance carrier or credit card company. When Appellee returned the car following the rental, an Enterprise employee informed her that she was responsible for a scratch on the car. Enterprise later sent Appellee a letter with an estimate for repairs and an invoice for administrative, loss-of-use, and diminishment-of-value fees, for a total of $840.42. Appellee, represented by counsel, sued Enterprise, filing a six-count complaint that included a claim for damages under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law's ("UTPCPL) “catchall” provision. Appellee’s complaint alleged that Enterprise had engaged in deceptive acts and had made misrepresentations by charging her unconscionable fees bearing no reasonable relationship to the costs of repairing the alleged damage to the car. The Superior Court reversed as to Appellee’s UTPCPL claim, concluding that Appellee had sufficiently pled an “ascertainable loss.” The court considered Enterprise’s alleged threats to collect the $840.42 from Appellee’s auto insurance carrier and her credit card issuer, and Appellee’s hiring counsel to file suit to halt Enterprise’s collection efforts, to be sufficient to satisfy the “ascertainable loss” requirement. The court also pointed out that Enterprise had stipulated that it would cease its collection efforts only if the trial court granted its motion. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Enterprise argued that merely retaining an attorney to commence suit cannot satisfy the UTPCPL’s “ascertainable loss” element. The Supreme Court concluded that Appellee’s construction of the “ascertainable loss” element as including attorney fees was unreasonable, and contradicted by the plain language of the statute. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Grimes v. Enterprise Leasing Co of Phila." on Justia Law
Milliken v. Jacono
In February, 2006, Konstantinos Koumboulis shot and killed his wife and himself inside his house. The murder/suicide was highly publicized in the local media and on the internet. The Jaconos purchased the property from the Koumboulis estate at auction in September, 2006, for $450,000. After investing thousands in renovations, the Jaconos listed the property for sale in June, 2007. They informed Re/Max, their listing agents, of the murder/suicide. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court for review was whether the occurrence of a murder/suicide inside a house constituted a material defect of the property, such that appellees' failure to disclose the same to the buyer of the house constituted fraud, negligent misrepresentation, or a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law's (UTPCPL). The Court concluded a murder/suicide does not constitute an actionable material defect. View "Milliken v. Jacono" on Justia Law