Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In October 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court order and directed that the name of Sherrie Cohen be placed on the November 5, 2019 ballot as an independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council-at-Large. Because the Board of Elections only had until the close of business on October 4, 2019 to add Cohen’s name to the ballot, the Supreme Court issued its order noting that an opinion would follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court forth its reasons for concluding that Cohen’s withdrawal as a candidate in the Democratic primary election for City Council-at-Large did not preclude her from running in the general election as an independent candidate. On August 16, 2019, the trial court issued an order granting the petitions to set aside Cohen’s nomination papers. In an opinion in support of the order, the court looked to Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that when a candidate withdraws his nomination petitions for a primary ballot “within the permitted period,” his subsequently filed nomination papers may be accepted. The trial court distinguished Cohen’s case from Packrall because “Cohen required Court intervention to leave the primary ballot.” The court determined this to be the decisive factor in concluding that she was “subject to the ‘sore loser’ provision.” Cohen filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. In a single-judge memorandum and order, the trial court was affirmed, holding “[w]hen a person withdraws of his or her own volition within the time for filing, it ‘undoes,’ ab initio, the filing because a person gets to choose whether he or she wants to go through the primary process to seek an office.” Cohen asserted on appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s order that that court erred by failing to consider withdrawal by court order under Election Code Section 978.4 to have the same effect as voluntary withdrawal pursuant to Section 914. The Supreme Court agreed with Cohen that “[t]he Commonwealth Court failed to acknowledge that the important dividing line in this area of the law is between voluntary withdraw[als] and candidates getting stricken from the ballot. … Because there is no principled reason to distinguish between the voluntariness of a withdrawal under Section 914 or Section 978.4, Cohen is entitled to relief from this Court.” View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Sherrie Cohen" on Justia Law

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Appellant Fraternal Order of Police ("FOP") sought the benefit of a grievance arbitration award that was overturned by an appeals court. The City of Pittsburgh hosts an annual marathon which, in 2016, was organized and administered by several large, private companies. About 100 police officers were needed to provide crowd control, road closures, and traffic management for the event. Initially, the Bureau of Police solicited volunteers from among those officers who would otherwise be off duty to work under a secondary employment arrangement. Numerous positions remained unfilled, and the Bureau asked approximately 70 officers to work on their "pass days." These officers were paid a minimum of four hours overtime at a time-and-a-half rate, plus additional overtime for any more hours worked. Pursuant to the terms of the CBA, the FOP filed a grievance asserting the City violated the bargaining agreement by “mandating officers work secondary employment when the CBA states it is strictly voluntary.” The City stressed that the CBA specifically established a rate of pay for scenarios in which officers are required to work outside of their regularly scheduled shifts, and that officers had been compensated by the City in strict conformity with this provision. An arbitrator ultimately ruled in favor of the FOP, but an appeals court reversed, finding "no authority within the four corners of the collective bargaining agreement to justify the award." Disagreeing with the Commonwealth Court's affirmance of the appeals court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for reinstatement of the arbitration award. View "City of Pgh v. Frat. Order of Police" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the evidence presented against mother E.A. was sufficient to establish she was a perpetrator of child abuse under the Child Protective Services Law ("CPSL"). In 2016, Mother presented to a Philadelphia emergency room with her six year old daughter, N.B.-A. ("Child"). Mother reported that Child had been experiencing vaginal discharge for three days. In response to questions by hospital staff, Mother indicated that she had no concerns that Child may have been sexually abused. Lab testing of the vaginal swabs revealed that Child had chlamydia, a sexually-transmitted infection. Although Mother told hospital staff no males lived in the home, Child stated that she lived with Mother, Grandmother, and three adult male “uncles.” In actuality, the males were Mother’s husband and Mother’s two stepsons. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that the evidence in this case was insufficient to establish Mother abused her child: "Applying the Section 6381(d) presumption to cases such as the one before us, where DHS presented no evidence that Mother was or should have been aware that Stepbrother posed a risk to Child, or that he or anyone else was abusing Child, would essentially allow a parent to be deemed a perpetrator of child abuse by omission in every case where a child is abused, placing the burden on the parent to prove that they had no reason to believe that their child was at risk." View "In the Interest of: N.B.-A." on Justia Law

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Changes to the Pennsylvania Human Services Code terminated a cash assistance program for certain low-income individuals administered by the Department of Human Services ("DHS"). Appellants, being aggrieved by the termination of Cash Assistance, filed in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction, a Class Action Petition for Review on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent that aspect of the law from taking effect until a final merits determination as to the constitutionality of the act as a whole could be reached. The Commonwealth Court denied the request. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not abuse its discretion in determining Appellants failed to carry their burden with regard to the likelihood-of-success-on-the-merits aspect of the standard for preliminary injunctive relief. That being the case, the Supreme Court did not not address whether the court erred in finding that Appellants failed to demonstrate irreparable harm. View "Weeks v. DHS" on Justia Law

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In September 2013, Tawny Chevalier filed a class action complaint against General Nutrition Centers, Inc., a Delaware corporation, and General Nutrition Corporation, a Pennsylvania corporation (collectively GNC). The case involved the calculation of overtime compensation for non-exempt salaried workers under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act of 1968 (PMWA), and the related regulations adopted by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (Pennsylvania Regulations). Specifically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether these statutory and regulatory provisions allowed for the usage of the Fluctuating Work Week method (FWW Method) for calculating overtime compensation for salaried employees working fluctuating hours. As explained in detail below, we affirm the Superior Court’s decision rejecting the use of the FWW Method under the PMWA and the Pennsylvania Regulations, which were distinguishable from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which overtly adopted the FWW Method for salaried employees working fluctuating hours. Chevalier had previously been employed by GNC as a store manager and senior store manager, earning a set weekly salary plus commissions, regardless of the number of hours she worked in a given week. GNC additionally paid her overtime for any hours worked in excess of forty hours in a week by utilizing the FWW Method explained below. Essentially, Chevalier argued that the FWW Method did not satisfy the PMWA’s requirement that employees “shall be paid for overtime not less than one and one-half times the employe[e]'s regular rate.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision to reject GNC’s use of the FWW Method for calculating Plaintiffs’ overtime compensation to the extent it used a 0.5 multiplier. View "Chevalier v. General Nutrition Centers" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether a requested change of beneficiary designation and plan option for benefits payable under the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) was effective upon mailing or upon receipt by SERS, where SERS did not receive the required change documentation until after the SERS member’s death. The Court held the change was not effective until receipt by SERS, the common law mailbox rule did not apply, and the Commonwealth Court erred in holding to the contrary. View "Estate of L. Wilson v. State Employees' Retirement Bd." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved an airline employee who was injured while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot after her shift ended. The question before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the employee’s injury can be said to have occurred on the airline’s premises for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act even though the City of Philadelphia owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court, Appeal Board, and WCJ correctly concluded that the lot in which the employee parked her vehicle was integral to the company’s business operations. The employee used the airport parking lot and shuttle service to enter and exit her workplace. As part of the airline’s business relationship with the airport, it clearly was aware that the Division of Aviation would make employee parking available to the airline’s employees. “Indeed, the evidence presented to the WCJ suggests that, had the Division not done so, US Airways would have been obligated under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants to reimburse flight attendants like Bockelman for the cost of airport parking.” View "US Airways, et al. v. WCAB (Bockelman)" on Justia Law

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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

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In February 2015, Appellant Joshua Prince (“Prince”) submitted a Right to Know Law (RTKL) request to the City of Harrisburg seeking records related to the Protect Harrisburg Legal Defense Fund (the “Fund”), which the City created to defray legal costs associated with defending challenges to local firearms ordinances. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to decide whether a spreadsheet created by the City to show the receipt of funds from donors to the Fund constituted a financial record as defined in the RTKL. The Supreme Court found that although records that would disclose the identity of individual donors were generally exempted from disclosure under the RTKL, if those records could be characterized as financial records, public access was statutorily required. The Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that the donor spreadsheet was not a financial record and reversed. However, in light of its decision in Pennsylvania State Educ. Ass’n v. Commonwealth, Department of Community and Economic Development, 148 A.3d 142 (Pa. 2016) (“PSEA II”), the Court held that this case had to be remanded for the performance of a balancing test to determine whether any of the donors’ personal information may be protected from access under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "City of Harrisburg v. Prince" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Appellee attended a fraternity party and consumed alcohol. Sometime thereafter, he encountered University of Pittsburgh police officers answering a call from dispatch that there was an intoxicated individual attempting to harm himself outside of one of the residence halls of the university. Officers observed though Appellee appeared to be intoxicated, he had sustained superficial cuts to his arm and wrist area, and that other officers found a small knife attached to a money clip on the ground near where Appellee was found. Appellee was transferred to a nearby psychiatric treatment facility wherein Appellee's attending psychiatrist applied to extend Appellee's stay for 20 days. Section 303 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) required the holding of a hearing on the application before a mental health review officer or a judge at the facility in which the involuntarily committed person was being housed, and also directed that counsel be appointed to represent the person at that hearing. At the 2015 expungement hearing, Appellee averred he was not advised of any hearing prior to involuntary commitment, nor was he appointed counsel. Over two years later, Appellee filed his expungement petition, broadly alleging there was no lawful basis for his commitment." The State Police argued to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the lower courts ruling on this petition lacked jurisdiction to order expungement. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed a superior court order that reversed a common pleas court's order dismissing Appellee's petition. View "In Re: J.M.Y." on Justia Law