Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Synthes USA HQ v. Pennsylvania
This case centered upon how Appellee Synthes USA HQ, Inc. should apportion its income between Pennsylvania and other states in order to calculate its Pennsylvania corporate net income tax. The two issues presented were: (1) does the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) have the authority to represent the Commonwealth in this litigation, where it asserted an interpretation of the relevant tax provision contrary to the reading forwarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (“Department”); and (2) whether the allocation of a corporation's sales of services between Pennsylvania and other states for purposes of calculating the corporation’s income that was taxable in Pennsylvania. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Attorneys Act permitted the OAG to take a position on behalf of the Commonwealth that was inconsistent with the position adopted by the Department, but the Court ultimately rejected the OAG’s reading of the relevant tax provision in favor of the interpretation presented by the Department. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court remanding this case to the Board of Finance and Revenue for calculation and issuance of a tax refund by the Department to Synthes for the 2011 tax year. View "Synthes USA HQ v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
Clean Air Council, et al. v. Dept. Env. Prot. et al.
An agency's self-imposed limitation at issue in these cases consolidated for argument was the Environmental Hearing Board’s rule that no private party to an appeal could be compelled to reimburse another party unless it has pursued or defended the appeal in bad faith or for an improper purpose. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the to-all-appearances per se bad-faith standard that the Board applied to any effort to recover fees against a private party was incompatible with the intent embodied in the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”). The Board justified its contrary view with an overbroad reading of Pennsylvania case law, relying upon an assumed equivalency between permit applicants and citizen objectors that the Supreme Court could not reconcile with the parties’ respective roles and incentives in pursuing or defending such appeals under the CSL. The Supreme Court further concluded that the Department of Environmental Protection should stand on an equal footing with all other parties at the outset of a fee-shifting inquiry, subject to disparate treatment only when it bears disparate responsibility for whatever prompted a successful appeal. View "Clean Air Council, et al. v. Dept. Env. Prot. et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law
Myers v. Pennsylvania
This direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on the efforts of Appellee John Myers to obtain a refund of 38 cents in sales tax he paid on purchases he made with redeemed coupons at BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. (BJ’s). The parties petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to interpret Section 33.2(b) of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Code, which excluded “from the taxable portion of the purchase price, if separately stated and identified." A vendor owes the state sales tax on the full price of the item unless it can establish a “new purchase price” of the item, which may be established where “both the item and the coupon are described on the invoice or cash register tape.” The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Board of Appeals (BOA) relied on Section 33.2, which permitted amounts represented by coupons to establish a new purchase price “if both the item and the coupon are described on the invoice or cash register tape.” The BOA concluded that the coupons were not adequately described on the receipts, and nothing indicated which items the coupons were related. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s order and found Appellee was entitled to a refund of overpaid sales tax. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, finding none of the receipts at issue here satisfied subsection 33.2(b)(2)’s description requirement. Because it was Appellee’s burden to prove that he was entitled to a refund of sales tax, he did not meet his burden. View "Myers v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
Ball, et al. v. Chapman, et al.
The Pennsylvania Election code stated that a voter who submits an absentee or mail-in ballot must complete, date and sign a declaration printed on the envelope in which the ballot is returned. Petitioners contended that failure to comply with this instruction rendered a ballot invalid, and they challenged guidance from the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth that instructed county boards of elections to canvass and pre-canvass “[a]ny ballot return-envelope that is undated or dated with an incorrect date but that has been timely received by the county.” Petitioners asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: (1) to declare that absentee and mail-in ballots which were “undated or incorrectly dated” could not be included in the pre-canvass or canvass of votes; (2) to segregate such ballots; and (3) to direct the Acting Secretary to withdraw her guidance. For the November 8, 2022 election, the Supreme Court ordered the county boards of elections to refrain from counting any absentee or mail-in ballots that arrived in undated or incorrectly dated envelopes. The Court also directed county boards to segregate and preserve such ballots. And the Court dismissed Voter Petitioners from the case for lack of standing. The Court was evenly divided on the issue of whether failing to count undated or incorrectly dated ballots violated federal law, and accordingly issued no decision on that question. The Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning from its November 1 per curiam order. View "Ball, et al. v. Chapman, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: Nomination Papers of Kosin & Avery
Caroline Avery (“Avery”) filed nomination petitions to run as a Republican candidate for Representative of the Pennsylvania First Congressional District in the May 2022 primary election, and Brittany Kosin (“Kosin”) filed nomination petitions to run as a candidate in the same primary election as a Republican for the Pennsylvania General Assembly seat representing the 178th District. However, both candidates withdrew their primary election nomination petitions by way of Commonwealth Court orders. Avery and Kosin subsequently submitted nomination papers seeking to run as third-party candidates in the November 2022 general election for the same offices that they initially sought to fill as Republican candidates in the 2022 primary election. Various citizens petitioned to set aside these nomination petitions, primarily on grounds that the candidates were barred from appearing on the general election ballot by the Election Code, Subsection 976(e) of the Code, 25 P.S. § 2936(e). In response, both potential candidates argued that they were entitled to participate in the 2022 general election based upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion in Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), and in In re Cohen for Office of Philadelphia City Council-at-Large, 225 A.3d 1083 (Pa. 2020) (“Cohen”). Although neither Avery nor Kosin withdrew their primary election nomination petitions pursuant to Section 914, they argued that, in Cohen, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended Packrall to allow a candidate to run in a general election in the circumstances presented in their cases. The Commonwealth Court rejected this argument, concluding that, in Cohen, a majority of Justices held that the Supreme Court’s decision in Packrall was limited to the particular circumstances of that case and did not apply to the case on appeal here. The Supreme Court issued orders affirming the Commonwealth Court on September 22, 2022; the Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning. View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Kosin & Avery" on Justia Law
Central Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. Hawkins, et al.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred when it applied the plurality’s analysis in Easton Area School District v. Miller, 232 A.3d 716 (Pa. 2020) (Easton Area II) and ordered redaction and disclosure of the school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 2016, Valerie Hawkins, on behalf of Fox 43 News (collectively, Requester), submitted a Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) request to Central Dauphin School District (the District), seeking a copy of school bus surveillance video which captured an incident between a 17-year-old member of a District high school basketball team (the student), and a parent of another player (the adult), who allegedly grabbed the student’s wrist during their interaction. The incident occurred in a parking lot outside the high school’s gymnasium, while the players and school staff were boarding the school bus following a basketball game. The adult involved received a summary citation for harassment related to the incident. Requester attached a copy of the citation notice from the magisterial district court record to the record request; the notice identified the adult and student by name as the defendant and victim, respectively. Karen McConnell, the District’s open records officer, denied the request for access to the video, explaining it was an education record containing “personally identifiable information directly related to a student or students,” which, according to the District, protected the video from release under FERPA, and consequently precluded its disclosure under the RTKL as well. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err when it applied the analysis articulated in Easton Area II and ordered the mandatory redaction and disclosure of a school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to FERPA. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order with instructions to the District to reasonably redact the students’ personally identifiable information prior to disclosure. View "Central Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. Hawkins, et al." on Justia Law
Gibraltar Rock v. Dept. of Env. Protection
This matter involved permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (the Department) to Gibraltar Rock, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation seeking to operate a quarry on a 241-acre property in New Hanover Township (the Township). The Environmental Hearing Board (Board) rescinded the permits finding that their issuance was inconsistent with statutory and regulatory requirements. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s decision for reasons that were never raised by the parties, including that the Board’s opinion effectuated an unconstitutional taking. Based on its review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Commonwealth Court erred in considering issues not raised by Gibraltar and then by reversing the Board’s rescission of the permits. The Court therefore vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for the Commonwealth Court to consider the issue raised in Gibraltar’s petition for review. View "Gibraltar Rock v. Dept. of Env. Protection" on Justia Law
McGuire v. City of Pittsburgh
In late 2012, 16-year-old Shane McGuire and a group of his friends smashed pumpkins and stacked bricks on the doorstep of a home in McGuire’s neighborhood. The teens were still on the property when the homeowner, City of Pittsburgh Police Officer Colby Neidig, arrived home with his wife and children. McGuire watched the family’s reaction to the vandalism and then banged on the front door and ran away, accidentally tripping over his own brick boobytrap in the process. Neidig saw McGuire running, and gave chase, catching McGuire, knocking him to the ground and punching McGuire in the face. Neidig was not wearing his police uniform at the time, nor did he identify himself as a police officer. Neidig called 911 and restrained McGuire until Officer David Blatt, an on-duty City of Pittsburgh police officer, arrived. Two years later, McGuire filed a federal lawsuit against Neidig, Blatt, and the City of Pittsburgh, asserting excessive use of force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 19833 and state law assault and battery claims. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in McGuire’s favor, finding that Neidig used unreasonable force against McGuire while acting under color of state law under Section 1983, and that Neidig was liable for McGuire’s assault and battery claims as well. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved whether the City of Pittsburgh had a statutory duty to indemnify one of its police officers for the judgment entered against him in a federal civil rights lawsuit. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that a federal jury’s finding that a police officer acted “under color of state law” for purposes of Section 19831 necessarily constituted a “judicial determination” that he also acted within the “scope of his office or duties” for purposes of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Thus, the judgment was affirmed. View "McGuire v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Government & Administrative Law
Rehabilitation & Community Providers Association, et al. v. Dept. Human Svcs
The underlying dispute before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case involved the adequacy of state funding for community participation support ("CPS") services, which were designed to help individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities live independently. The primary issue on appeal related to the exhaustion requirement. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS") issued ODP Announcement 19-024, indicating it intended to change the rate structure for CPS services provided under the Home and Community Based Services (“HCBS”) waivers. Petitioners filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging the legality of the new fee schedule and alleged the new reimbursement rates were too low to sustain the provision of CPS services to eligible recipients. Pertinent here, the Commonwealth Court agreed with one of DHS' preliminary objections that Petitioners failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, as required by case precedent, before seeking judicial review. The court acknowledged a narrow exception to the exhaustion requirement whereby a court may consider the merits of a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief if a substantial constitutional question is raised and the administrative remedy is inadequate. It clarified, however, that the exception only applied where the plaintiff raises a facial constitutional challenge to the statute or regulation in question, as opposed to its application in a particular case. Here, the court concluded, the Petitioners were attacking the fee schedule in the Final Notice, which was produced by application of the legal authority cited in that notice, and not advancing a facial constitutional challenge. The court also found Petitioners failed to demonstrate the administrative remedy was inadequate. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s order insofar as it sustained the preliminary objection asserting that the Petitioners failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, and dismissed the Petition as to those parties. The order was vacated in all other respects, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Rehabilitation & Community Providers Association, et al. v. Dept. Human Svcs" on Justia Law
Bell, et al. v. Wilkinsburg Sch. Dist.
In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether Appellant, Wilkinsburg School District, was required to obtain prior approval from the Department of Education before changing the mode of transportation for charter school students, from school buses to public transportation. After review of the governing statutes and administrative regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education, the Supreme Court concluded the District was not required to obtain such approval and, therefore, reversed the Commonwealth Court decision and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Bell, et al. v. Wilkinsburg Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
Posted in: Education Law, Government & Administrative Law