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In a direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, appellant Tam Le challenged the death sentence he received following his conviction by jury on two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of conspiracy, and three counts each of kidnapping and robbery. The charges stemmed from the deaths of Vu “Kevin” Huynh and his younger brighter Viet Huynh. After a review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded there was no reversible error such that appellant was entitled to relief, and affirmed his conviction and sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Le" on Justia Law

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A jury found that Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) Trooper Joseph Lombardo was acting outside the scope of his employment based on his use of force in an incident following a routine traffic stop. Accordingly, Trooper Lombardo was unable to benefit from the protections of sovereign immunity and judgment was entered against him and in favor of Shiretta Justice. The trial court affirmed, denying Trooper Lombardo’s post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”) and a new trial. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed, concluding that Trooper Lombardo’s conduct fell within the scope of his employment and remanded for the entry of JNOV in favor of Trooper Lombardo. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that because the jury’s determination was reasonably inferable from the facts, the Commonwealth Court erred in disturbing the verdict. The matter was remanded back to the Commonwealth Court to consider the trial court’s denial of Trooper Lombardo’s motion for a new trial. View "Justice v. Lombardo" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on the question of whether a municipality, in addressing a natural gas extraction company’s conditional use application for the construction and operation of a well site, could consider as evidence the testimony of residents of another municipality regarding the impacts to their health, quality of life, and property which they attribute to a similar facility constructed and operated by the same company in their municipality. After careful review, the Supreme Court held such evidence could be received and considered by a municipality in deciding whether to approve a conditional use application, and, thus, vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order, and remanded this matter to that court, with instructions to remand this matter to the trial court for further consideration. View "EQT Production v. Boro of Jefferson Hills" on Justia Law

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An en banc panel of the Superior Court ruled that Appellant Molly Hlubin’s stop and arrest at a sobriety checkpoint in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania, conducted by a task force that included police officers from a number of other municipalities operating outside of their primary jurisdictions, was lawful. According to the Superior Court, formation of the task force did not require compliance with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act (“ICA”), as the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (“MJPA”) contained exceptions to the general limitation on police activities outside of an officer’s primary jurisdiction. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed: the checkpoint at issue here equired compliance with the ICA, as none of the exceptions in the MPJA authorized the extraterritorial police activities performed here. View "Pennsylvania v. Hlubin" on Justia Law

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The longstanding dispute between UPMC; UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, “Highmark”); and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) is again before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This time, the issue centered on the parties’ rights and obligations under a pair of Consent Decrees that, since 2014, governed the relationship between UPMC and Highmark with regard to the provision and financing of certain healthcare services to their respective insurance subscribers. The Consent Decrees were scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2019. Following the Supreme Court's decision in "Shapiro I," on February 7, 2019, OAG filed a four-count petition at Commonwealth Court to Modify Consent Decrees (“Petition”), thus commencing the underlying litigation. OAG argued the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Shapiro I controlled this case, and in so doing, misapplied the applicable principles of contract law. Highmark argued the Commonwealth Court erred in imposing a “materiality” limitation upon the Modification Provision, observing that nothing therein precluded modification of “unambiguous” and “material” terms of the Consent Decrees, as the Supreme Court characterized the termination date in Shapiro I. UPMC counters that OAG’s proposed use of the Modification Provision is contrary to the parties’ intent, in that the intent of the Consent Decrees, UPMC contends, was to establish a five-year transition period for UPMC and Highmark to wind down their contractual relationships, and thereby to minimize disturbance to the health care industry and to avoid sudden disruption of health care consumers’ expectations. The Supreme Court agreed with OAG and Highmark that the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding this case was controlled by Shapiro I. Further, the Court determined OAG and Highmark have set forth a plausible construction of the Modification Provision. The Court remanded this matter back to the Commonwealth Court to interpret the contested provision, and to reconsider the question of extension of the Consent Decrees. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al." on Justia Law

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In a case brought in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, Petitioner Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC, challenged a recent amendment to Pennsylvania gaming law in which casinos paid a supplemental assessment on slot-machine revenue, and the funds are then distributed primarily to underperforming slot-machine facilities to be used for marketing and capital development. Sands alleged that the amendment violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement of uniform taxation, its mandate that all enactments have a public purpose, and its rule against special legislation. Sands also claimed the scheme violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded the amendments were indeed unconstitutional, and the offending parts could be severed from the rest of the statute. Any assessment monies paid to the Commonwealth pursuant to the amended gaming law were ordered to be refunded. View "Sands Bethworks Gaming v. PA Dept of Revenue et al" on Justia Law

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This case arose due to the failure of a New Jersey couple to pay for their adult son’s stay at a Pennsylvania nonprofit residential facility. It primarily raised a choice-of-law issue in relation to the two states’ filial-support statutes. Alexander Schutt (“Alex”), born in 1986, had severe mental and physical disabilities, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Alex's parents lived in New Jersey. In 2001, Alex was placed at Melmark, a non-profit residential care facility for intellectually and physically disabled persons, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Once Alex turned 21, the Princeton Regional School District stopped paying for his care at Melmark; at that point, payment for his care shifted to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (NJ-DDD). In July 2011, NJ-DDD informed the Parents Alex would have to be relocated because the agency disapproved Melmark’s rates. NJ-DDD stated that the Parents, as guardians, should pick Alex up at Melmark and NJ-DDD would provide him with an emergency placement pursuant to New Jersey law. Parents did not retrieve Alex from Melmark. In December 2011, NJ-DDD wrote to Parents, stating it would fund Alex’s residence on a permanent basis at an identified facility in New Jersey beginning in January 2012. Unsatisfied, the Parents asked NJ-DDD instead to continue paying for Alex’s care at Melmark. NJ-DDD denied the request and advised the Parents it would stop paying Melmark as of December 31, 2011. Parents filed an administrative appeal in New Jersey in an effort to keep Alex at Melmark. NJ-DDD granted extensions of time to allow for Alex’s transfer to a New Jersey facility, but the agency ultimately informed Parents it would make no further payments to Melmark after March 31, 2012. When that date arrived, neither Parents nor NJ-DDD accepted custody of Alex, leaving Melmark to care for him uncompensated. Nevertheless, Parents continued to pay for off-campus speech classes, art classes, and equestrian therapy for Alex, all of which took place in Pennsylvania. In addition, Parents continued to visit Alex at Melmark almost every weekend even after NJ-DDD’s payments ceased. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's resolution of the choice-of-law issue vitiated the trial court's basis for concluding the parents did not, in the individual capacity, appreciate Melmark's services. "[I]n weighing the equities, we conclude that it would be inequitable for Parents to retain the benefits they received from Melmark without paying for them. Thus, Melmark has established all three prerequisites for its equitable claims." As such, the Court held the Superior Court erred in finding the trial court properly denied relief on Melmark's equitable claims. View "Melmark, Inc. v. Schutt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Health Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether, under Pennsylvania’s recidivist sentencing statute, 42 Pa.C.S. 9714, a second-strike offender could receive separate mandatory minimum sentences for a conspiracy conviction and a conviction for the offense underlying that conspiracy, when both offenses were separately listed as “crimes of violence” subject to the sentencing enhancement. Appellant Tyrice Griffin and a cohort, Juan Garcia, committed three armed robberies of restaurants/bars over the span of approximately one month beginning in October 2013. The Supreme Court found that robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery were crimes of violence as defined in subsection 9714(g). Because all six of Appellant’s robbery and conspiracy convictions constituted crimes of violence, both the trial court and Superior Court correctly determined that Appellant, as a second-strike offender, was to receive a sentencing enhancement for each conviction. View "Pennsylvania v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether a zoning ordinance that defined “family” as requiring “a single housekeeping unit” permitted the purely transient use of a property located in a residential zoning district. This question arose based on the increasingly popular concept of web-based rentals of single-family homes to vacationers and other short-term users (usually for a few days at a time). The Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to its prior decisions in Albert v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of N. Abington Twp., 854 A.2d 401 (Pa. 2004), and In re Appeal of Miller, 515 A.2d 904 (Pa. 1986), the purely transient use of a house is not a permitted use in a residential zoning district limiting use to single-family homes by a "single housekeeping unit." View "Slice of Life, et al v. Hamilton Twp ZHB" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from four separate, yet substantively similar, lawsuits filed by the county recorders in Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Berks Counties, Pennsylvania, and their respective Counties (collectively, the Recorders). The Recorders sued appellees, MERSCORP, Inc., its wholly-owned subsidiary, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), and several financial institutions who are members of MERS (collectively, MERSCORP). The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Commonwealth Court correctly determined that 21 P.S. 351, “Failure to record conveyance,” did not create a mandatory duty to record all mortgages and mortgage assignments in a county office for the recorder of deeds. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s decision and held Section 351 did not create a mandatory duty to record all land conveyances. Relying on the Third Circuit’s decision, MERSCORP filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to the Recorders’ complaints at state court, seeking dismissal on the basis that Section 351 did not provide a duty to record, and the Recorders did not have authority to enforce Section 351 in any event. The court overruled the preliminary objections, and denied MERSCORP’s request to certify its interlocutory order for an immediate appeal. MERSCORP then filed a petition for review in the Commonwealth Court; a divided Commonwealth Court reversed. The majority agreed with the Third Circuit’s conclusion in the Federal Action, specifically ruling “Section 351 does not issue a blanket command that all conveyances must be recorded; it states that a conveyance ‘shall be recorded’ in the appropriate place, or else the party risks losing his interest in the property to a bona fide purchaser.” The majority observed the plain language of Section 351 did not specify which party to a transaction must record a conveyance, nor did it state when recording must take place. The majority also recognized Pennsylvania courts have consistently interpreted Section 351 and other provisions of Title 21 as intended to protect subsequent mortgages and purchasers, and that the failure to record inherently provides a limited consequence — the loss of a priority interest. The majority found further support for its conclusion in precedent recognizing as valid even unrecorded interests in land. The majority noted the Recorders have a ministerial duty to the public to record and safeguard records presented to them for recording, but that duty does not confer standing to file actions to protect the public from “inaccurate” records in the MERS(r) system. The Recorders appealed, but finding no reversible error with the Commonwealth Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "MERSCORP, et al v. Delaware Co., et al." on Justia Law