Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative 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
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
In Re Charlestown Outdoor, LLC
Charlestown Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, enacted a zoning ordinance that permitted outdoor billboards in a particular district. A statewide regulation concerning roadside billboards promulgated by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) had the practical effect of barring that use. Charlestown Outdoor, LLC, (“Outdoor”) sought nonetheless to erect a billboard on property it leased in that zoning district. In pursuit of that objective, Outdoor filed a substantive-validity challenge to Charlestown Township’s ordinance, asserting that it was de facto exclusionary. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found it wasn't the zoning ordinance, but rather the statewide regulation, that precluded the proposed use. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the challenged zoning ordinance was not de facto exclusionary. It therefore affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s rejection of Outdoor’s validity challenge. View "In Re Charlestown Outdoor, LLC" on Justia Law
Povacz, et al. v. PUC, et al.
In 2008, Act 129 amended the Pennsylvania Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act for the purpose of promoting an energy efficiency and conservation (“EE&C”) program in Pennsylvania. This case centered around a provision in Act 129 that directed electric distribution companies (“EDCs”) in the Commonwealth to “furnish” smart electric technology to their customers. Several electric customers instituted legal action against the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) to prevent the installation of smart meters at their homes. They contended a customer had the ability to opt-out of the installation of smart meters by EDCs. They also claimed that smart meters caused health problems and their installation constituted unsafe or unreasonable service under Section 1501 of the Public Utility Code. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded Act 129 indeed mandated that EDCs furnish smart meters to all electric customers within an electric distribution service area and did not provide electric customers the ability to opt out of having a smart meter installed. An electric customer with concerns about smart meters may seek an accommodation from the PUC or EDC, but to obtain one ,the customer must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that installation of a smart meter violated Section 1501. In this case, the Court held the electric customers did not prove that installation of a smart meter at their premises violated Section 1501; therefore, the PUC was not required to prescribe any remedial action. Having so concluded, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s ruling that Act 129 did not mandate the installation of smart meters. Additionally, the Supreme Court clarified the use of the conclusive causal connection standard for proving a violation under Section 1501 and held that a preponderance of the evidence was the standard that applied to claims brought under Section 1501. View "Povacz, et al. v. PUC, et al." on Justia Law
O’Neill v. SERS
Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act (“Act 140”) mandated the forfeiture of the pension of a public official or public employee when he or she was convicted of certain Pennsylvania crimes related to public office or public employment, or was convicted of federal offenses that were “substantially the same” as the forfeit-triggering state crimes. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether a federal conviction for false statements to a federal agent, 18 U.S.C. § 1001 was “substantially the same” as the Pennsylvania crime of false reports to law enforcement authorities, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4906, for purposes of Act 140. The Supreme Court concluded that the two offenses were not “substantially the same,” and, thus, the Commonwealth Court erred in affirming the forfeiture of the pension of Appellant, former Municipal Court of Philadelphia County Judge Joseph O’Neill. View "O'Neill v. SERS" on Justia Law
PA Enviro Defense Fdn, Aplt. v. Commonwealth
The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“PEDF”) challenged for the third time, the use of proceeds from oil and gas leasing on the Commonwealth’s forest and park lands as violative of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. (“Section 27” or “ERA”). In previous trips before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, PEDF challenged several 2009-2025 budgetary provisions enacted challenging the use of proceeds from oil and gas leasing on the Commonwealth’s forest and park lands as violative of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. (“Section 27” or “ERA”). In the first two cases, PEDF challenged several 2009-2015 budgetary provisions enacted in the wake of dramatic increases in oil and gas revenue resulting from Marcellus Shale exploration in Pennsylvania. Applying trust principles, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the budgetary provisions violated Section 27 by utilizing the oil and gas revenue for non-trust purposes via transfers to the General Fund. PEDF v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF II”); PEDF v. Commonwealth, 255 A.3d 289 (Pa. 2021) (“PEDF V”). The underlying case here was one for a declaratory judgment, and named the Commonwealth and Governor as parties. Here, PEDF raised numerous constitutional challenges to provisions of the General Appropriations Act of 2017 and 2018, as well as the 2017 Fiscal Code amendments, all of which were enacted after the Supreme Court’s decision in PEDF II. After review , the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, whilst rejecting that court;s analysis derived from PEDF III. View "PA Enviro Defense Fdn, Aplt. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law