Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether Appellant’s legal malpractice claims against Appellees, her former attorneys, were barred under the Court’s decision in Muhammad v. Strassburger, McKenna, Messer, Shilobod & Gutnick, 587 A.2d 1346 (Pa. 1991), which held that a plaintiff could not sue his attorney on the basis of the adequacy of a settlement to which the plaintiff agreed, unless the plaintiff alleged the settlement was the result of fraud. Appellant, Dr. Ahlam Kahlil, owned a unit in the Pier 3 Condominiums in Philadelphia; the unit was insured by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”). The Pier 3 Condominium Association (“Pier 3”) was insured under a master policy issued by Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”). In May 2007, Appellant sustained water damage to her unit as a result of a leak in the unit directly above hers, which was owned by Jason and Anne Marie Diegidio. Due to the water damage, Appellant moved out of her unit and stopped paying her condominium fees. Appellant filed suit against State Farm and Travelers, alleging breach of contract and bad faith, and against the Diegidios, alleging negligence. A year later, Pier 3 filed a separate lawsuit against Appellant for her unpaid condominium fees and charges. In affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court, the Supreme Court found that by finding Appellant’s claims were barred under Muhammad, the lower courts ignored other averments in Appellant’s complaint which did not allege fraud, but, rather, alleged legal malpractice by Appellees in allowing Appellant to enter into a settlement agreement in the Water Damage Case that subsequently precluded her from raising her desired claims in the Fees Case, while repeatedly advising Appellant that the settlement agreement would not preclude those claims. "[A]s our review of Appellant’s complaint demonstrates that she was not merely challenging the amount of her settlement in the Water Damage Case, but rather alleged that Appellees provided incorrect legal advice regarding the scope and effect the Travelers Release, we hold that Muhammad’s bar on lawsuits based on the adequacy of a settlement is not implicated in this case." View "Khalil v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law

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In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court properly calculated the “cost” of steel products under the Steel Products Procurement Act (“Steel Act” or “the Act”), which required that “75% of the cost of the articles, materials and supplies [of a steel product] have been mined, produced or manufactured” in the United States. G. M. McCrossin, Inc. (“McCrossin”), a contracting and construction management firm, served as the general contractor for the Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority (“Authority”) on a project known as the Montoursville Regional Sewer System Waste Water Treatment Plan, Phase I Upgrade (“Project”). In July 2011, McCrossin entered into an agreement with the Authority to supply eight air blower assemblies, which move air from one area to another inside the waste treatment facility. United Blower, Inc. (“UBI”), became a subcontractor on the Project. UBI was to supply the eight blowers required by the original specifications and was to replace the three digestive blowers as required by a change order. UBI prepared a submittal for the blowers which McCrossin in turn submitted to the Authority’s Project engineer, Brinjac Engineering (“Brinjac”). As part of the submittal, McCrossin provided Brinjac and the Authority with a form, which verified that 75% of the cost of the blowers was attributable to articles, materials, and supplies (“AMSs”) that were mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States. The total amount McCrossin paid UBI for the blower assemblies and digestive blowers was $239,800. The amount paid by the Authority to McCrossin for these items was $243,505. Authority employees began to question whether McCrossin and UBI provided products that complied with the Steel Act. The Supreme Court held the Commonwealth Court improperly calculated the cost of the steel products at issue, thereby reversing and remanding for further proceedings. View "United Blower, et al. v Lycoming Water & Sewer" on Justia Law

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The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court involving the state's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In July 2015, Corey Donovan (“Corey”) suffered significant injuries due to a collision between a motorcycle, which he owned and was operating, and an underinsured vehicle. He recovered the $25,000 limit of coverage available under the policy insuring the underinsured vehicle as well as the $50,000 per person limit of UIM coverage available under Corey’s policy insuring the motorcycle, issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company. Corey then sought coverage under a policy issued by State Farm to his mother, Linda Donovan (“Linda”), under which he was insured as a resident relative. Linda’s Auto Policy insured three automobiles but not Corey’s motorcycle. Linda’s policy had a UIM coverage limit of $100,000 per person, and Linda signed a waiver of stacked UIM coverage on her policy which complied with the waiver form mandated by Section 1738(d) of the MVFRL. First, the Pennsylvania Court considered whether an insured’s signature on the waiver form mandated by 75 Pa.C.S. 1738(d) resulted in the insured’s waiver of inter-policy stacking of UIM coverage where the relevant policy insured multiple vehicles. To this, the Supreme Court held the waiver invalid as applied to inter-policy stacking for multi-vehicle policies in light of its decision in Craley v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 895 A.2d 530 (Pa. 2006). The Court then determined whether the policy’s household vehicle exclusion was enforceable following its decision in Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Company, 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. 2019). Finally, after concluding that the household vehicle exclusion was unenforceable absent a valid waiver of inter-policy stacking, the Court addressed the third question posed by the Court of Appeals regarding the applicability of the policy’s coordination of benefits provision for unstacked UIM coverage. After review, the Supreme Court held that the policy’s coordination of benefits provision for unstacked UIM coverage did not apply absent a valid waiver of inter-policy stacking. Having answered these questions of law, the matter was returned to the Third Circuit. View "Donovan, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants William "Billy" King, and Melanie (Frantz) King ("the Kings"), hired appellee Terra Firma Builders, LLC ("TF") to perform construction work in the backyard of their home. In December 2012, TF was removed from the project before completion due to a dispute about the work performed up to that point. In 2013, TF filed two lawsuits for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, a mechanics’ lien claim for alleged unpaid labor and materials. TF effectuated service of the mechanics’ lien on the Kings by sheriff, however a month later, TF withdrew the lien and filed a new one for the same amount of the discontinued lien; this lien was assigned a new docket number. TF did not file the required affidavit of service for this lien claim. The Kings answered the suit with their own counterclaim alleging breach of contract; they did not challenge TF’s failure to file an affidavit of service at this time. In 2015, TF sought to enforce and obtain judgment on its lien. The Kings did not file preliminary objections or otherwise raise TF’s failure to file an affidavit of service at this time. In 2017, the trial court consolidated TF’s mechanics’ lien and breach of contract actions and proceeded to a bench trial. The parties agreed that TF failed to complete the project but disputed the amount of work remaining unfinished and the quality of the work completed. The court ultimately found in favor of the Kings on all claims, including the Kings’ counterclaim, and awarded the Kings monetary damages. TF moved for a new trial, which was ultimately granted. At the conclusion of the second trial, the court again found in favor of the Kings on the merits, but did not award damages. In 2018, while the post-trial motions were pending, the Kings moved to strike the mechanics’ lien because TF’ failed to file an affidavit of service to perfect the lien. TF argued the Kings had waived their right to object to the lien when they accepted service of the complaint to enforce, never filed preliminary objections, and appeared in court to defend the action. The trial court granted the petition to strike. On appeal, a divided three-judge panel of the Superior Court reversed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the lien remained unperfected and invalid, "and the applicable statutes quite logically do not specify a time limit for objection to such a thing." View "Terra Firma Builders, LLC v. King, et al.." on Justia Law

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Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. (“PLS”) was a third-party logistics provider that arranged the shipping of its customers’ freight with selected trucking companies. Beemac Trucking (“Beemac”) was a shipping company that conducted non-exclusive business with PLS. In 2010, PLS and Beemac entered into a one-year Motor Carriage Services Contract (“the Contract”), which automatically renewed on a year to year basis until either party terminated it. The Contract contained both a non-solicitation provision and the no-hire provision. In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether no-hire, or “no poach,” provisions that were ancillary to a services contract between business entities, were enforceable under the laws of the Commonwealth. While the Contract was in force, Beemac hired four PLS employees. PLS sued Beemac, alleging breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, and a violation of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. PLS also sued the four former employees, alleging they had breached the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions of their employment contracts. The trial court held the worldwide non-compete clauses in the employees' contracts were “unduly oppressive and cannot be subject to equitable modification.” With respect to the contract between the companies, the trial court held the pertinent no-poach clause was void against public policy. “If additional restrictions to the agreement between employer and employee are rendered unenforceable by a lack of additional consideration, PLS should not be entitled to circumvent that outcome through an agreement with a third party.” Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgments, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pgh. Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking, et al." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of the “replacement cost coverage” policies at issue, the insurer was permitted to withhold from any actual cash value (“ACV”) payment general contractor’s overhead and profit (“GCOP”) expenses, unless and until the insureds undertook repairs of the damaged property, even though the services of a general contractor were reasonably likely to be needed to complete the repairs. Appellants Konrad Kurach and Mark Wintersteen (“Policyholders”) each purchased identical “Farmers Next Generation” insurance policies from Appellee Truck Insurance Company (“Insurer”), to cover their Pennsylvania residential dwellings. Subsequent to the purchase of these policies, both Policyholders sustained water damage to their houses in excess of $2,500, and both filed claims with Insurer under the policies. Thus, where, as here, the cost of repairing or replacing a policyholder’s damaged property exceeds $2,500, Insurer was first required to pay the ACV of the property at the time of the loss to the policyholder (“step one”). Once the repair or replacement of the damaged property is commenced, Insurer was then obligated (in “step two”) to pay the depreciated value of the damaged property and also the expense of hiring a general contractor, “unless the law of [Pennsylvania] requires” payment of GCOP as part of ACV. After careful review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court, which found the insurer was entitled to withhold such costs. View "Wintersteen v. Truck Ins. Exchange" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, a covenant not to compete was executed by an employee after the first day of employment. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the employer could enforce that provision in the post-employment timeframe although no new consideration was supplied in connection with its execution. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly denied a motion for a preliminary injunction: there was no evidence suggesting that, as of the commencement of the employment relationship, there was a meeting of the minds as to the noncompete agreement (NCA), or that the employee otherwise manifested his assent to provisions of the NCA that he was given, or an intent to be bound by them. View "Rullex Co., LLC. v. Tel-Stream, Inc." on Justia Law