Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
McCloskey v. PUC
In consolidated cases, the Commonwealth Court reversed determinations of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”), holding that Section 1301.1(a) required public utilities to revise their DSIC calculations to include income tax deductions and credits to reduce rates charged to consumers. Several public utilities sought to add or adjust DSICs to recover expenses related to repairing, improving, or replacing their distribution system infrastructure, and the Office of Consumer Advocate (“OCA”), through Acting Consumer Advocate Tanya McCloskey, raised challenges to these DSIC computations seeking to add calculations to account for income tax deductions and credits and thereby reduce the rates charged to consumers. The parties disputed whether and, if so, how the addition of Section 1301.1(a) into Subchapter A of Chapter 13 of the Code, requiring inclusion of “income tax deductions and credits” in rate calculations, should apply to the DSIC rate adjustment mechanism of Subchapter B of Chapter 13, 66 Pa.C.S. sections 1350- 1360. Broadly, the PUC and the public utilities argued: (1) ambiguity existed as to whether the General Assembly intended Section 1301.1 to apply to the DSIC mechanism; and, assuming for argument that it did apply; (2) that the Commonwealth Court’s application of Section 1301.1(a) improperly created conflicts with the statutory provisions governing the DSIC calculation; and/or (3) that certain existing DSIC statutory provisions could be read to satisfy the requirements of Section 1301.1(a). Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court differed in its reasoning, it affirmed the outcome of the Commonwealth Court's judgment. View "McCloskey v. PUC" on Justia Law
Gregg v. Ameriprise Financial, et al.
In 1999, Gary and Mary Gregg sought the expertise of Robert Kovalchik, a financial advisor and insurance salesperson for Ameriprise Financial, Inc. Engaging in what the trial court concluded was deceptive sales practices, Kovalchik made material misrepresentations to the Greggs to induce them to buy certain insurance policies. The Greggs ultimately sued Ameriprise Financial, Inc., Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., Riversource Life Ins. Co., and Kovalchik (collectively, Ameriprise) under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“CPL”). The Greggs’ complaint also asserted, inter alia, common law claims for negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent misrepresentation. The case proceeded to a jury trial on the common law claims, resulting in a defense verdict. The CPL claim proceeded to a bench trial. After the trial court ruled in favor of the Greggs on that CPL claim, Ameriprise filed a motion for post-trial relief arguing (among other points) that the Greggs failed to establish that Kovalchik’s misrepresentations were, at the very least, negligent, a finding that Ameriprise asserted was required to establish deceptive conduct under the CPL. The trial court denied relief, and the Superior Court affirmed. Like the trial court, the Superior Court concluded that the Greggs were not required to prevail on the common law claims of fraudulent misrepresentation or negligent misrepresentation in order to succeed on their CPL claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether, as the Superior Court held, a strict liability standard applied to the Greggs’ CPL claim. The Court determined the relevant statutory provision lead it to conclude deceptive conduct under the CPL was not dependent in any respect upon proof of the actor’s state of mind. "The Superior Court’s holding is consistent not only with the plain language of the CPL, but also with our precedent holding that the CPL is a remedial statute that should be construed broadly in order to comport with the legislative will to eradicate unscrupulous business practices." View "Gregg v. Ameriprise Financial, et al." on Justia Law
Woodford v. PA Insurance Dept.
In a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether Section 310.74(a) of the Insurance Department Act of 1921 prohibited a licensed insurance producer from charging fees in addition to commissions in non-commercial, i.e. personal, insurance transactions. During its investigation, the Department discovered that, between March 2011 and October 2015, appellants charged a non-refundable $60- $70 fee to customers seeking to purchase personal insurance products. These fees were collected from the customers before appellants prepared the insurance policy applications. One consumer complaint indicated appellants kept an “un- refundable broker application fee” when the consumer declined to buy a policy. The Department’s investigation also revealed appellants paid a “one-time” $50 referral fee to car dealership sales personnel when they referred their customers in need of insurance. The Department concluded appellants’ fee practices included improper fees charged to consumers “for the completion of an application for a contract of insurance” and prohibited referral payments to the car dealerships. The Supreme Court held lower tribunals did not err when they determined Section 310.74(a) of the Act did not authorize appellants to charge the $60-$70 non-refundable fee to their customers seeking to purchase personal motor vehicle insurance. The Commonwealth Court’s decision upholding the Commissioner’s Adjudication and Order was affirmed. View "Woodford v. PA Insurance Dept." on Justia 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