Articles Posted in Government Law

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Appellant Lebanon Valley Farmers Bank (LVFB) is a Pennsylvania chartered bank, and a subsidiary of Fulton Financial Corporation, which merged with Keystone Heritage Group, Inc. The merger made Fulton the parent company of Lebanon Valley National Bank, which merged with Farmers Bank as part of the transaction, thereby forming LVFB. Prior to the merger, both Farmers Bank and National Bank were "institutions" subject to the Shares Tax. For the 2002 tax year, LVFB filed a Bank Shares Tax return, which included National Bank's pre-merger value in its calculation of its six-year average share value, as required by the combination provision. However, in 2005, LVFB filed a petition with the Board of Appeals, seeking a refund of the portion of its 2002 tax payment attributable to National Bank’s pre-merger share value. It claimed disparate treatment because the combination provision was inapplicable when mergers involved out-of-state banks or banks less than six years old. The Commonwealth Court has held, under the plain language of the statute, the combination provision applied only to combinations of "institutions" (i.e., banks with Pennsylvania locations). The trial court held LVFB, as the survivor of the merger of two Pennsylvania banks, should have reported a taxable share value which averaged the combined share value of each constituent institution over the past six years and was, therefore, not entitled to a refund. However, the court ordered the Commonwealth "to provide meaningful retrospective relief" to cure LVFB’s non-uniform treatment. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Board of Finance and Revenue's classification of the merged LVFB and the 2002 tax assessment. After careful review, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Commonwealth Court's decision and reversed for further proceedings. View "Lebanon Valley Farmers Bank v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Issues of constitutional import stemming from cross-appeals taken from the Commonwealth Court's ruling on expedited challenges to Act 13 of 2012 were before the Supreme Court in this case. Act 13 contained sweeping legislation affecting Pennsylvania’s environment particularly the exploitation and recovery of natural gas in Marcellus Shale. The litigation was accelerated in part because the legislation itself was designed to take effect quickly and imposed obligations which required the challengers to formulate their legal positions swiftly; and in part in recognition of the economic importance of the legislation to the Commonwealth and its citizens. Following careful deliberation, the Supreme Court's decision found several challenged provisions of Act 13 were unconstitutional. Madame Justice Todd, and Mr. Justice McCaffery, found that several core provisions of Act 13 violated the Commonwealth’s duties as trustee of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources under the Environmental Rights Amendment; other challenges lacked merit; and several issues required further Commonwealth Court proceedings. Mr. Justice Baer, concurred in the mandate, and joined the majority in all but Parts III and VI(C); Justice Baer would have found the "core constitutional infirmity" sounded in substantive due process. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Robinson Township, et al v. Pa. Public Utility Commission and Attorney General -" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned the Sunshine Act and whether meetings between an agency and outside entities, including those involved in ongoing litigation with that agency, were “deliberations” that should have been open to the public where the subject of the meetings was the same as that of the litigation. The agency claimed the meetings were held for information-gathering purposes only. The court of common pleas ruled in favor of the agency. After review of that court's record, the Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed. View "Smith v. Richmond Township" on Justia Law

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PPM Atlantic Renewable (“PPM”) unsuccessfully requested that the Fayette County Zoning Board grant it numerous special exceptions and variances for it to build 24 windmill turbines on leased land. This matter involved whether an objector must comply with a county court order to post bond as a condition of appealing to the Commonwealth Court, where the developer was the appellant in the county court. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court should not have quashed the objector's merits appeal based on the the objector's failure to post bond. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "PPM Atlantic Renewable v. Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was the interpretation of Section 602 of the Real Estate Tax Sale Law, which concerned the notice requirements for an upset tax sale for non-payment of delinquent taxes. Specifically, the issue centered on whether the Commonwealth Court correctly held that “proof of mailing” in subsection 602(e)(2) referred exclusively to United States Postal Service Form 3817 (a Certificate of Mailing). Upon review of the facts of this case, the Supreme Court concluded that although the Washington County Tax Claim Bureau did not obtain a Certificate of Mailing, it did proffer other documents from the USPS as evidence to establish “proof of mailing.” The Court held that these USPS documents satisfied the statutory mandate for “proof of mailing” in subsection 602(e)(2).View "Horton v. Washington County Tax Claim Bureau" on Justia Law

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Appellees (husband and wife) created The Dorothy M. Miller Family Irrevocable Trust, naming Mrs. Miller as settlor, and her and her husband as co-trustees. The sole beneficiaries of the trust were appellees and their only child. Appellees transferred title to their house and farm to the trust, but did not pay realty transfer tax on the transfer, claiming it was an excluded transaction under the Realty Transfer Tax Act as a transfer to a "living trust." The Department of Revenue issued a Realty Transfer Tax Notice of Determination providing the transfer was subject to realty transfer taxes, plus applicable interest and fees. Appellees unsuccessfully petitioned for redetermination with the Department’s Board of Appeals. The Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that Mrs. Miller's testimony that she intended the Trust to be a substitute for her will was sufficient to define it as a living trust. The Commonwealth appealed. The Supreme Court found the Miller Trust failed to meet the statutory definition of a living trust or will substitute. As such, the Court reversed and remanded for calculation of transfer tax. View "Miller v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Appellant Annette Shoap sustained a work-related injury in the nature of a left shoulder injury while working as an employee of Phoenixville Hospital. She began receiving temporary total disability benefits pursuant to a Notice of Compensation Payable dated 2003. The treatment for Appellant’s injury included three surgeries and physical therapy. In 2007, the employer filed a modification petition alleging both that Appellant’s physical condition had improved and that work was generally available to her within her physical restrictions in the relevant geographical area, as demonstrated by two labor market surveys. Appellant denied the material allegations of Employer’s petition, and a hearing was held before a Workers’ Compensation Judge. After the WCJ ruled in the employer's favor, Appellant unsuccessfully appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board and Commonwealth Court. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Appellant asserted that the Commonwealth Court erred by concluding that “substantial gainful employment existed” for purposes of granting a modification of her compensation benefits pursuant to Section 306(b) of the Workers' Compensation Act, despite the fact that her application for the specific jobs involved failed to result in any offers of employment. Secondarily, Appellant argued that the Commonwealth Court, even if correct in its interpretation of Section 306(b), erred by not remanding the case for further evidentiary development based on its interpretation of Section 306(b), which Appellant contended represented a change in the standard for evaluating cases under that statute. After careful review, the Supreme Court agreed with Appellant's second contention, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Phoenixville Hospital v. WCAB (Shoap, Aplt)" on Justia Law

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In November 2002, Appellee Beverly Roethlein, an Allentown taxpayer, filed a class action complaint against Portnoff Law Associates, Ltd., and Michelle Portnoff, Esquire (the firm's sole shareholder) seeking recovery for unjust enrichment and violations of Section 502 of Act 6, Pennsylvania’s Loan Interest and Protection Law. Portnoff serves as a private tax collector for various municipalities and school districts, and had contracts with 22 municipalities to represent them in the collection of delinquent real estate taxes. Taxpayers would be charged $150 for the opening of a file and preparation of a demand letter; $150 for the filing of a lien and preparation of a second letter; and $150 for preparation and filing of a writ of scire facias. The contracts required the municipalities to enact an ordinance or resolution authorizing Portnoff to impose legal fees upon the delinquent taxpayer. From the time a file was sent to her for collection, Portnoff began charging 10% interest on the principal. The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the Loan Interest and Protection Law provided taxpayers with a cause of action to challenge costs imposed for the collection of delinquent taxes or to seek damages and attorneys’ fees for improperly-imposed costs. Furthermore, at issue was whether Section 7103 of the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act authorized a municipality to recover the administrative costs it incurs in collecting delinquent taxes. After review, the Court concluded that Act 6 does not provide a cause of action for claims which do not involve the loan or use of money. Furthermore, the Court concluded Section 7103 of the MCTLA allows a municipality to recover fees it pays to a third-party tax collector for the purpose of collecting delinquent taxes. In light of these conclusions, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court, and remanded the case to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "Roethlein v. Portnoff Law Assoc." on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth Department of Public Welfare (DPW) and the Wyoming County Human Services appealed a Commonwealth Court order reversing DPW’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals’ order refusing to expunge an indicated report of child sexual abuse relating to a father’s alleged abuse of his four-year-old daughter. The questions before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the admissibility of a videotape of the daughter’s allegations under the relevant hearsay exception for child victims and, if admissible, whether that videotape constituted the requisite substantial evidence for denying the father’s request to expunge. Upon careful review of the record, the Supreme Court concluded that the father in this case waived any challenge to the admissibility of the videotape by failing to object before the Administrative Law Judge both when he was unrepresented on the first day of the hearing and when he was represented by counsel on the second day of the hearing. Furthermore, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s determination that DPW failed to present substantial evidence to support the indicated report of sexual abuse under the Child Protective Services Law. View "R.A. v. DPW & Wyoming County Human Services" on Justia Law