Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts

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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

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At the times relevant to this litigation, the appellants, Baer Buick GMC and Grata Chevrolet (“Dealers”), and the appellee, General Motors, LLC, were parties to dealer sales and service agreements, per which Dealers sold and serviced vehicles manufactured by General Motors. Under the contractual terms, Dealers committed to performing repairs required by limited warranties extended by General Motors upon sales with no additional charge to customers (albeit that the projected cost of such repairs was factored into the purchase price for new vehicles). General Motors was then required to reimburse Dealers in accordance with a Service Policies and Procedures Manual (the “SPPM”). Through the SPPM, General Motors agreed to pay dealers at large for labor during warranty work under either of two options, denominated “Option A (Retail Rate) and Option C (CPI-based).” Option C, apparently, was the preferred option among dealers for labor reimbursement. General Motors’ standard reimbursement policy for parts installed in connection with warranty repairs was to pay one hundred and forty percent of the dealers’ costs. Apparently, both labor reimbursement alternatives, Options A and C, were initially made available to all dealers regardless of whether they sought reimbursement for parts under the standard contractual methodology or invoked an alternative rate, presumably under a governing regulatory statute. In 2012, however, General Motors instituted a policy effectively rendering any dealer pursuing an alternative reimbursement methodology for calculating warranty parts reimbursement ineligible for contractually-based Option C reimbursement for labor. Dealers, along with several other franchise dealers, lodged a protest with the State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespersons (the “Board”), claiming that General Motors violated Section 9(a)(3) of the Board of Vehicles Act by contractually changing the manner in which it reimbursed dealers for warranty labor, when Dealers had merely exercised their statutory rights concerning reimbursement for warranty parts. They also challenged General Motors’ ability to impose a surcharge on dealers that elect the statutory retail reimbursement rate for warranty parts but not labor. In response, General Motors contended that nothing in the Act guaranteed dealers the right to participate in Option C, which was purely a matter of contract. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court as it related to Section 9(a), and reversed as concerned Section 9(b.4)(1)(i). View "General Motors, LLC v. St Brd/Vehicle Manufacturer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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This case arose due to the failure of a New Jersey couple to pay for their adult son’s stay at a Pennsylvania nonprofit residential facility. It primarily raised a choice-of-law issue in relation to the two states’ filial-support statutes. Alexander Schutt (“Alex”), born in 1986, had severe mental and physical disabilities, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Alex's parents lived in New Jersey. In 2001, Alex was placed at Melmark, a non-profit residential care facility for intellectually and physically disabled persons, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Once Alex turned 21, the Princeton Regional School District stopped paying for his care at Melmark; at that point, payment for his care shifted to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (NJ-DDD). In July 2011, NJ-DDD informed the Parents Alex would have to be relocated because the agency disapproved Melmark’s rates. NJ-DDD stated that the Parents, as guardians, should pick Alex up at Melmark and NJ-DDD would provide him with an emergency placement pursuant to New Jersey law. Parents did not retrieve Alex from Melmark. In December 2011, NJ-DDD wrote to Parents, stating it would fund Alex’s residence on a permanent basis at an identified facility in New Jersey beginning in January 2012. Unsatisfied, the Parents asked NJ-DDD instead to continue paying for Alex’s care at Melmark. NJ-DDD denied the request and advised the Parents it would stop paying Melmark as of December 31, 2011. Parents filed an administrative appeal in New Jersey in an effort to keep Alex at Melmark. NJ-DDD granted extensions of time to allow for Alex’s transfer to a New Jersey facility, but the agency ultimately informed Parents it would make no further payments to Melmark after March 31, 2012. When that date arrived, neither Parents nor NJ-DDD accepted custody of Alex, leaving Melmark to care for him uncompensated. Nevertheless, Parents continued to pay for off-campus speech classes, art classes, and equestrian therapy for Alex, all of which took place in Pennsylvania. In addition, Parents continued to visit Alex at Melmark almost every weekend even after NJ-DDD’s payments ceased. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's resolution of the choice-of-law issue vitiated the trial court's basis for concluding the parents did not, in the individual capacity, appreciate Melmark's services. "[I]n weighing the equities, we conclude that it would be inequitable for Parents to retain the benefits they received from Melmark without paying for them. Thus, Melmark has established all three prerequisites for its equitable claims." As such, the Court held the Superior Court erred in finding the trial court properly denied relief on Melmark's equitable claims. View "Melmark, Inc. v. Schutt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Health Law

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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

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This case was one in a longstanding dispute between major health services providers operating in Western Pennsylvania: UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, Highmark) and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Highmark and UPMC separately entered into Consent Decrees with the Commonwealth's Office of Attorney General (OAG). In this case, an issue arose concerning the obligations imposed by the Consent Decrees relative to UMPC's attempt to terminate ten hospital Medicare Acute Care Provider Agreements it had with Highmark. Pertinent here, UPMC's Consent Decree required it to treat Highmark's Medicare Advantage Plan consumers as in-network through the end date of the Consent Decree. UPMC allowed Provider Agreements with Highmark to renew annually in satisfaction of its in-network obligation. UPMC informed Highmark in accordance with the notice provisions, it would terminate the Provider Agreements on December 31, 2018, but would nonetheless continue to comply with all terms and obligations of those agreements through June 30, 2019, pursuant to the Decree runout provision. Highmark filed for an injunction and to hold UPMC in contempt. The Commonwealth granted OAG's petition to enforce, rejecting UPMC's contention that the six-month runout provision of the Provider Agreements satisfied its obligation to remain in "contract" with Highmark. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the runout provision of the Provider Agreement satisfied UPMC's obligation to contract for in-network access to its facilities for Highmark's MA Plan subscribers through June 30, 2019. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al" on Justia Law

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Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law

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This matter arose from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Estate of Richard Eazor deriving from a motor vehicle accident. The Eazor Estate was represented by Attorney William Weiler, Jr., who entered his appearance in the matter in March 2005. By December 1, 2005, Weiler became associated with Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C. Weiler brought the Eazor Litigation with him and Meyer Darragh attorneys worked on the Eazor Litigation for over seventy hours over a nineteen-month period. In May 2007, Weiler resigned from Meyer Darragh. At that time, Meyer Darragh understood it would continue as lead counsel in the Eazor Litigation along with Weiler at his new firm. Written correspondence at the time of Weiler’s separation from Meyer Darragh indicated that Meyer Darragh would receive two-thirds of the attorneys’ fees arising out of the Eazor Litigation, and Weiler would retain one- third of the fees. In an earlier decision in this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held Meyer Darragh, as predecessor counsel, was not entitled to breach of contract damages against successor counsel, the Law Firm of Malone Middleman, P.C., where a contract regarding counsel fees did not exist between the two firms. The Supreme Court granted discretionary review nunc pro tunc to determine whether Meyer Darragh was entitled to damages in quantum meruit against Malone Middleman, where the trial court initially held such damages were recoverable, but the Superior Court reversed. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court and remanded to the trial court for reinstatement of its award of damages in quantum meruit to Meyer Darragh against Malone Middleman. View "Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C. v. Law Firm of Malone Middleman, P.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Legal Ethics

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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

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Appellant SCF Consulting, LLC lodged a civil complaint against Appellee, the law firm of Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, in the common pleas court. Appellant averred that it had maintained a longstanding oral consulting agreement with the law firm, which the firm purportedly breached in 2014. According to Appellant, the arrangement was for the solicitation of institutional investors to participate in securities class actions, and remuneration was to be in the form of a two-and-one-half to five-percent share of the firm’s annual profits on matters “originated” by Appellant’s principal or on which he provided substantial work. Appellant claimed the consulting agreement qualified as an express exception to the anti-fee-splitting rule for an employee “compensation or retirement plan, even though the plan is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement.” Alternatively, Appellant argued Appellee’s attempt to invoke public policy as a shield was an “audacious defense” which, if credited, would perversely reward the law firm by allowing it to profit from its own unethical conduct. The county court agreed with Appellee’s position concerning both the nonapplicability of the exception to Rule 5.4(a)’s prohibition and the unenforceability of the alleged agreement. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the ultimate outcome of this case might turn on factual findings concerning Appellant’s culpability, or the degree thereof, relative to the alleged ethical violation. The Court held only that the contract cause of action was not per se barred by the purported infraction on Appellee’s part and, accordingly, the county court’s bright-line approach to the unenforceability of the alleged consulting agreement should not have been sustained. View "SCF Consulting, LLC. v. Barrack Rodos & Bacine" 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