Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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A former West Point cadet could not qualify for veterans’ preference on applications for Commonwealth civil service jobs. Appellee Scott Blake attended West Point for three years, but did not graduate, was not obliged to perform any military service, and was honorably discharged prior to his third year. The Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission informed Blake he did not qualify for the preference because his time at West Point was not “creditable as ‘time in service.’” Blake maintains the CSC had made an erroneous determination and cited two federal statutory provisions as evidence that cadet time is considered both “active duty,” and “active service.” After reviewing the relevant statutory language, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the General Assembly did not intend to bestow a veterans’ preference to someone who was a cadet at a military academy, but never obligated himself to perform, or otherwise undertook, any subsequent military service. View "Blake v. Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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This appeal raised a question of whether the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution permitted a taxing authority to selectively appeal only the assessments of commercial properties, such as apartment complexes, while choosing not to appeal the assessments of other types of property – most notably, single-family residential homes – many of which were under-assessed by a greater percentage. The common pleas court sustained the preliminary objections and dismissed the complaint, finding Appellants’ claims failed as a matter of law because the School District (the taxing authority) was not the entity that set assessments, and the applicable statute gave it a clear statutory right to appeal tax assessments set by the County. In rejecting Appellants’ argument relating to discriminatory treatment, the Court indicated that “[t]he filing of selective appeals does not result in a uniformity violation, and it is not deliberate discrimination.” In this regard, the court ultimately concluded “the Uniformity Clause does not require equalization across all subclassifications of real property.” The Commonwealth Court affirmed in a published decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts, finding Appellants’ complaint set forth a valid claim that the School District’s appeal policy violated the Uniformity Clause. View "Valley Forge Towers v. Upper Merion SD" on Justia Law

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Section 306(a.2) of the Workers' Compensation Act allowed employers to demand that a claimant undergo an impairment -rating evaluation (IRE), during which a physician must determine the "degree of impairment" that is due to the claimant's compensable injury. In order to make this assessment, the Act required physicians to apply the methodology set forth in "the most recent edition" of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. In consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether this mandate violated the constitutional requirement that all legislative power "be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." In 2007, Mary Ann Protz sustained a work -related knee injury. Her employer, Derry Area School District (Derry), voluntarily began paying temporary total disability benefits. An IRE physician evaluated Protz and assigned to her a 10% impairment rating based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (the Guides). Because Protz's impairment rating was less than 50%, Derry filed a modification petition seeking to convert Protz's disability status from total to partial -the effect of which would be to limit the duration that Protz could receive workers' compensation benefits. A Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the petition. Protz appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, arguing that the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated to the AMA the authority to establish criteria for evaluating permanent impairment. The Board rejected Protz's constitutional argument and affirmed the WCJ's decision. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board, finding that the Act lacked "adequate standards to guide and restrain the AMA's exercise" of its delegated power to create a methodology for grading impairment. Derry and Protz appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the Pennsylvania Constitution prevented the General Assembly from passing off to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's holding that Section 306(a.2) violated the non-delegation doctrine, however, found that Section 306(a.2) was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cross-appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review to consider whether three statutory provisions, the “Donated or Dedicated Property Act” (“DDPA”), the “Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act” (“Project 70 Act”), and the Eminent Domain Code, allow Appellant Downingtown Borough (“Borough”) to sell four parcels of land to private housing developers , Appellants Progressive Housing Ventures, LLC and J. Loew and Associates, Inc. (“Developers”). The four parcels comprised a public community park owned and maintained by the Borough, and were held by the Borough as trustee. After review, the Court vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court with respect to the Borough’s proposed sale to Developers of two southern parcels, reversed the order regarding the proposed sale by the Borough to Developers of two northern parcels, and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court involving the Borough’s grant of easements to Developers over all parcels. The Borough was required to obtain court approval before selling the parcels, and easements over the land would have subordinated public rights to the parcels to private rights. View "Downingtown Borough (Friends of Kardon Park, Aplts)" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court examined the contours of the 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution in light of a declaratory judgment action brought by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“Foundation”) challenging, inter alia, the constitutionality of statutory enactments relating to funds generated from the leasing of state forest and park lands for oil and gas exploration and extraction. Because state parks and forests, including the oil and gas minerals therein, were part of the corpus of Pennsylvania’s environmental public trust, the Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth, as trustee, had to manage them according to the plain language of Section 27, which imposed fiduciary duties consistent with Pennsylvania trust law. The Court further found that the constitutional language controlled how the Commonwealth may dispose of any proceeds generated from the sale of its public natural resources. View "PA Env. Defense Fdn. v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the language of the utility service facilities exception ("Utility Exception") to governmental immunity contained in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act ("Tort Claims Act"). The Commonwealth Court concluded that where a dangerous condition of the facilities of a utility system is created by the negligent action or inaction of a local agency or its employees, the Utility Exception did not apply. Because the Commonwealth Court misconstrued both the Utility Exception and the gravamen of the lawsuit in question, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Metropolitan Edison v. City of Reading" on Justia Law

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SugarHouse HSP Gaming ("SugarHouse"), the holder of a Category 2 slot machine license for a casino it operated in Philadelphia, and Market East Associates, L.P. ("Market East"), an unsuccessful applicant for the Category 2 license awarded to Stadium Casino, LLC (“Stadium”), both filed petitions for review ofa Supplemental Adjudication issued by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, in which the Board awarded the last remaining Category 2 license. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court dismissed SugarHouse's petition for review, finding it was not entitled to intervene in the proceedings on remand. In Market East's petition for review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board's determination that Watche Manoukian, an individual who is an affiliate of Stadium, was not eligible to apply for a Category 1 slot machine license at the time of Stadium's application for its Category 2 license, and, thus, that Section 1304(a)(1) of the Gaming Act would not be violated by the issuance of a Category 2 license to Stadium. However, the Court reversed the Board's determination of what constitutes a "financial interest" as that term was used in Section 1330, and defined that term in this opinion. Because the Board admitted that it did not determine the nature of the specific "equity infusion" Manoukian would supply post-licensure to the trust which has an ownership interest in Stadium, the Court could not affirm the Board's conclusion that Manoukian would not be in violation of Section 1330's 33.3% limit on the possession of a financial interest in a Category 2 slot machine licensee by another slot machine licensee. Thus, the Court again remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Market East Assoc. v. PA Gaming Control Bd." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter was whether a recently terminated employee was an "employee" and, thus, entitled to inspect her personnel file, according to the Inspection of Employment Records Law ("the Personnel Files Act" or "the Act"). Reading the Personnel Files Act according to its plain terms, the Court concluded that former employees, who were not laid off with re-employment rights and who are not on a leave of absence, have no right to access their personnel files pursuant to the Act, regardless of how quickly following termination they request to do so. The Court reversed the contrary holding of the Commonwealth Court. View "Thomas Jefferson Univ Hosp v. Dept of Lab. & Ind." on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged as unconstitutional certain restrictions imposed upon attorneys who were employed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (Board), and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The Board filed preliminary objections, asserting petitioner lacked standing to pursue her claim, her claim was not yet ripe, and in any event, her claim failed on the merits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled the Board’s preliminary objections as to standing and ripeness, but nevertheless concluded petitioner was not entitled to relief on the merits as the restrictions included in the Gaming Act were constitutionally sound. View "Yocum v. PA Gaming Control Board" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether a home rule municipality could amend its home rule charter to eliminate mandatory subjects of bargaining as defined by the Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act ("Act 111"), the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act ("PLRA"), and applicable case law. Appellant, the Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (“FOP”) was the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the police officers of Appellee, the City of Pittsburgh (“City”), pursuant to Act 111 and the PLRA. The City was subject to the Policemen’s Civil Service Act, which requires officer applicants be residents of the city at the time of application and throughout their term of employment. The General Assembly repealed the residency mandate in 2012. The parties met to bargain the residency issue, but were unable to reach an agreement. The matter went to arbitration, and pending those proceedings, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution to place a referendum on the upcoming general election ballot asking the voters whether the City’s home rule charter should be amended to require all City employees and officials, including police and fire personnel, to maintain their domicile within the City. Voters approved the home rule charter amendment in 2013. The arbitration panel issued a Supplemental Interest Arbitration Award, which provided that the City-only residency requirement would immediately discontinue and be replaced with a different residency requirement: officers would be required to reside within a twenty-five air-mile radius from the Pittsburgh City-County Building. The City sought review with the court of common pleas, seeking to vacate the arbitration supplemental award. The Supreme Court found that to ensure that home rule municipalities would not abrogate the right of police and firefighters to collectively bargain, the General Assembly enacted Section 9 of Act 111, specifically providing that the act was applicable to every political subdivision in the Commonwealth, regardless of its adoption of a home rule charter. Because the home rule charter amendment changed or modified Act 111 by removing residency as a subject of collective bargaining, it violated Section 2962(e) of the Home Rule Charter law. Thus, based strictly on Section 2962 of the Home Rule Charter Law, the FOP was entitled to relief. The trial court affirming the supplemental interest arbitration award directing officers be required to reside within a twenty-five mile radius from the City-County Building was reinstated. View "City of Pittsburgh v. Fraternal Order of Police Ft. Pitt Ldg. 1" on Justia Law