Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this appeal centered on whether producers of natural gas from certain vertical wells were subject to assessment of a yearly impact fee established by Chapter 23 of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act (“Act 13”). The vertical wells that at issue used the hydraulic fracturing process ("fracking") to extract natural gas through a vertical well bore from Marcellus Shale. Specifically, the issue centered on whether an impact fee would be assessed whenever a vertical well’s production exceeded an average of 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day for even one month of the year, or whether the well must exceed this production threshold in every month of the year, for the fee to be imposed. After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded that, under the relevant provisions of Act 13, the impact fee would be imposed on such wells if their production exceeds 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day for even one month of the year, as found by the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”). Therefore, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order, which had reversed the PUC; the PUC's order was reinstated. View "PA Independent Oil & Gas Assoc. v. PUC" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether an exception to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act applied ― the real property exception to governmental immunity ― and, in particular, whether the absence of padding on a gym wall, into which a student ran during gym class, causing injury, fell within the exception. In 2012, then-nine-year-old Jarrett Brewington ran in a relay race during gym class at Walter G. Smith Elementary School in Philadelphia. While Jarrett was running, he tripped and fell, causing him to propel into the wall at the end of the gym, hit and cut his head, and lose consciousness. No padding covered the gym wall, which was made of concrete. Jarrett was later diagnosed with a concussion, was absent from school for one to two months after the incident, and continued experiencing headaches and memory problems years later. In 2013, Jarrett’s mother, Syeta Brewington, brought an action against Walter G. Smith Elementary School and the School District of Philadelphia (collectively, the “School”), alleging Jarrett’s injuries occurred because of a defective and dangerous condition of the premises, namely, the concrete gym wall, and that the School was negligent in failing to install padded safety mats to cushion the wall. In response, the School filed, inter alia, a motion for summary judgment, raising the defense of governmental immunity, and claiming that the real property exception to governmental immunity under the Act did not apply. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the lack of padding of a gym wall could constitute negligence in the care, custody, and control of real property, and, thus, fell within the Act’s real estate exception. View "Brewington v. Phila. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Appellant the School District of Lower Merion challenged a Commonwealth Court decision to quash its appeal of the grant of an injunction. Appellees were residents and taxpayers of Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who filed a multi-count, putative class action complaint against Appellant which asserted grievances about “proliferate spending and tax increases.” Appellees sought money damages in excess of $55,000,000 and the appointment of a trustee to undertake the responsibilities of the school board members. The amended complaint also contained a count seeking equitable relief, primarily in the form of court-supervised modifications of the procedures employed by the District’s administrators. Appellees submitted a “Petition for Injunctive Relief” seeking “immediate relief because without this [c]ourt’s intervention, the District will raise taxes and the bills for the same will go out July 1, 2016 to some 22,000 taxpayers.” Significantly, consistent with the prayer for immediate relief, the petition reflected criteria associated with a preliminary injunction, including an assertion of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. In its written response, the District made clear -- consistent with the procedural posture of the case, the request for immediate relief, and the assertion of irreparable harm -- that it believed that Appellees were seeking a preliminary injunction, and the District proceeded to address Appellees’ petition on such terms. The dispute before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether a post-trial motion was required, or whether the appellant was entitled to proceed with an interlocutory appeal as of right under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). The Supreme Court determined the common pleas court did not dispose of all claims for relief in its “Decision/Order”; therefore, “the decision” of the case was not rendered for purposes of Rule 227.1, and no post-trial motions were implicated under that rule. Rather, the District enjoyed the right to lodge an interlocutory appeal as of right under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's judgment holding to the contrary, and remanded this case for consideration of the merits of the District's interlocutory appeal filed as of right. View "Wolk v. Lower Merion SD" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter was whether sales or use taxes must be paid in relation to two distinct items: the purchase of a closed-circuit horse-racing simulcasting system, and the payment of royalties for intellectual property used in conjunction with the operation of video poker machines. For the Taxpayer's off-track wagering locations, it used video poker machines. Taxpayer entered into a service contract with Teleview Racing Patrol, Inc., pursuant to which Teleview supplied equipment such as screens, satellite dishes, and closed-circuit television feeds. These items were used to provide live displays at each OTW facility of races occurring at Pocono Downs and other tracks across the country. Teleview provided the equipment for this system and, per the agreement, it also supplied personnel to install, maintain, and operate that equipment. In relation to the video poker games, Taxpayer purchased machines from International Gaming Technologies, PLC (“IGT”), on which it paid taxes which are not in dispute. In accordance with a separate intellectual property agreement, Taxpayer also paid IGT royalty fees for intellectual property associated with the various different “themes,” i.e., different poker games that would run on the machines. After a Pennsylvania Department of Revenue audit, Taxpayer was assessed approximately $340,000 in unpaid sales and use taxes, mostly stemming from Taxpayer’s payments to Teleview under the service contract. In challenging the assessment, Taxpayer concluded it had erroneously paid the $13,000 in taxes on its payment of royalty fees to IGT; thus, it sought a refund of those monies. After the Department denied relief, Taxpayer sought review of both matters in the Commonwealth Court, which consolidated the appeals. The court found Teleview consolidated taxable and nontaxable charges on its invoices. The panel thus concluded that Taxpayer had failed to present documentary evidence specifying which portions of the billed amounts were nontaxable, as required by departmental regulations. The Court also rejected Taxpayer's request for a refund on taxes it paid for IGT's royalty fees. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's order insofar as it upheld the Board of Finance and Revenue's determination relative to the IGT contract, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Downs Racing, LP v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Appellees were suburban common carriers which, pursuant to certificates of public convenience, were authorized to provide hail or call taxicab services, known in the industry as “call or demand services,” in the Commonwealth. Appellees were also authorized to provide call or demand services in limited portions of the City, while being prohibited from providing call or demand service to the City’s business or tourist districts, Philadelphia International Airport, 30th Street Station, or City casinos. Taxicabs which were authorized to provide call or demand service throughout the City were known as “medallion taxicabs,” while appellees operated what were known as “partial rights taxicabs.” Prior to 2004, PUC was responsible for regulating all taxicab service in the Commonwealth. Medallion taxicabs were regulated pursuant to the Medallion Act, and all other taxicabs, including those operated by appellees, were regulated pursuant to the Public Utility Code and PUC regulations. Appellants, the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), appealed a Commonwealth Court order invalidating a jurisdictional agreement between PPA and PUC and concluding certain PPA regulations were invalid and unenforceable as to partial rights taxicabs operating in the City of Philadelphia (City). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order in part (with regard to amended Count IV of the Amended Petition for Review), and affirm it in part (with regard to Counts V-VIII). The Court found the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding the Jurisdictional Agreement violated appellees’ substantive due process rights. The purpose of the Jurisdictional Agreement was to clarify whether PPA, PUC, or both agencies would regulate a trip which is subject to dual jurisdiction, and the Agreement simply states that where dual jurisdiction exists PUC cedes jurisdiction to PPA. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court in all other respects. View "Bucks Co. Svc., et al. v. PPA" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to address two issues associated with workers’ compensation claims by firefighters suffering from cancer. First, the Court had to determine the evidentiary requirements for a claimant to demonstrate that he or she has an “occupational disease,” as that term is defined in Section 108(r) of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”). Second, the Court had to decide whether epidemiological evidence may be used by an employer to rebut the evidentiary presumption that the claimant’s cancer is compensable as set forth in Section 301(f) of the Act. With respect to the first issue, the Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to Section 108(r), the claimant has an initial burden to establish that his or her cancer is a type of cancer that is capable of being caused by exposure to a known IARC Group 1 carcinogen. With respect to the second, the Court concluded that epidemiological evidence was not sufficient to rebut the evidentiary presumption under Section 301(f). View "City of Phila. FD v. WCAB; Appeal of: Sladek, S." on Justia Law

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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

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This appeal involved a constitutional challenge to a provision of the City of Philadelphia's Property Maintenance Code that required owners of vacant buildings that were a “blighting influence” to secure all spaces designed as windows with working glazed windows and all entryways with working doors. Appellees, owners of a vacant property that was cited for violating this ordinance challenged the provision, largely contending that it was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power. The City’s Board of License and Inspection Review (“Board”) rejected Owners’ arguments; however, the trial court agreed with Owners and deemed the ordinance unconstitutional. The Commonwealth Court affirmed, concluding that the ordinance was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power because it was concerned with the aesthetic appearance of vacant buildings, not the safety risks posed by blight. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth Court and trial court erred in this regard, and vacated their orders and remanded the matter to the trial court for consideration of Owners’ remaining issues. View "Rufo v. City of Phila." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a proceeding in which parental rights were involuntarily terminated. Throughout the termination proceedings, up to and including the hearing on the termination petition, an attorney guardian ad litem represented the best interests of the children involved. The primary issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the common pleas court erred in failing to appoint a separate attorney to represent their legal interests. The Court held a child’s statutory right to appointed counsel under Section 2313(a) of the Adoption Act was not subject to waiver. During contested termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, where there is no conflict between a child’s legal and best interests, an attorney-guardian ad litem representing the child’s best interests can also represent the child’s legal interests. As illustrated by the facts of this case, if the preferred outcome of a child is incapable of ascertainment because the child is very young and pre-verbal, there can be no conflict between the child’s legal interests and his or her best interests; as such, the mandate of Section 2313(a) of the Adoption Act that counsel be appointed “to represent the child,” 23 Pa.C.S. 2313(a), is satisfied where the court has appointed an attorney-guardian ad litem who represents the child’s best interests during such proceedings. View "In Re: T.S., E.S., minors, Apl. of: T.H.-H. -" on Justia Law

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In November 2014, officers from the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (Bureau) conducted an investigation regarding underage persons present inside appellee Jet-Set Restaurant, LLC (Jet-Set), a licensed establishment located in Reading, Berks County. Bureau officers identified four underage females inside Jet- Set. The officers observed three of the four females enter Jet-Set after providing a doorman with identification that showed they were underage. Bureau officers also observed one of the females purchase a bottle of beer inside Jet-Set and another one of the females consume two bottles of beer purchased by another customer. Bureau officers subsequently learned one of the females had been inside Jet-Set before. The Bureau cited Jet-Set for: (1) permitting minors to frequent the premises in violation of Section 4-493(14) of the Liquor Code (frequenting count); and (2) furnishing alcohol to underage minors in violation of Section 4-493(1) of the Liquor Code, 47 P.S. 4-493(1) (furnishing count). The Bureau appealed the dismissal of the frequenting count, but both the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Berks County Court of Common Pleas affirmed the dismissal on the basis that “frequent” means “to visit often or to resort to habitually or to recur again and again, or more than one or two visits” and the Bureau had not established a violation based on the isolated occurrence observed by Bureau officers in November 2014. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the definition of “frequent” set forth in Appeal of Speranza, 206 A.2d 292 (Pa. 1965) continued to apply to Section 4-493(14) of the Liquor Code, 47 P.S. 4-493(14), in light of subsequent amendments to the statute. The Court concluded Speranza still controlled and, accordingly, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Pa. St. Police v. Jet-Set Restaurant, LLC" on Justia Law