by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to determine when the statute of limitations begins to run on an uninsured motorist (UM) claim under an insurance policy. Specifically, the issue reduced to whether the statute of limitations begins to run on an insured’s ability to initiate a court action to enforce a UM claim in a policy containing an arbitration agreement. The Superior Court held that, for the purpose of UM and underinsured motorist (UIM) claims, the statute of limitations begins to run when a claimant injured in an automobile accident first learns that the other driver is uninsured or underinsured. However, the Supreme Court determined this conclusion was not adequately grounded in the pertinent statutory text, prevailing statute of limitations doctrine, or significant public policy concerns. Accordingly, the Court held that statute of limitations principles attending contract claims apply, and that the running of the statute was commenced upon an alleged breach of a contractual duty, which in this case would be occasioned by the insurer’s denial of coverage or refusal to arbitrate. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court’s order to the contrary. View "Erie Insurance Exchange v. Bristol" on Justia Law

by
This appeal by allowance involved the automatic suspension of a nursing license based on a felony drug conviction. The question raised was whether, under the applicable statute, reinstatement of the license was precluded for a fixed period of ten years, or was instead permitted at an earlier date subject to the discretion of the state nursing board. Appellee held a license to practice professional nursing in Pennsylvania. In 2013, she pled guilty to one count of felony drug possession in violation of the Controlled Substance Act and received a sentence of probation without verdict. The Commonwealth then petitioned the Board to impose an automatic suspension of Appellee’s nursing license pursuant to Section 15.1(b) of the Nursing Law. As for the length of the suspension, the Board referenced two aspects of the Nursing Law reflecting different time periods. It first observed that Section 15.2 of the law prescribes a five-year minimum period. The Board then referred to Section 6(c) of the Nursing Law, which provided for a ten-year period with regard to the issuance of a new license. After quoting these provisions, the Board, without explanation, indicated that Appellee’s license would be automatically suspended for ten years. Appellee filed exceptions arguing that the ten-year suspension period was improper. Thereafter, the Board entered a final adjudication affirming the notice and order. A divided Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s holding. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed: “it is not illogical that the General Assembly would provide for discretionary reinstatement of an automatically suspended license while also requiring a ten-year waiting period for a convicted felon who has never held a license. In the former case the Board has a record of interaction in which the licensee previously demonstrated the requisite skills, knowledge, and moral character to become a licensed professional, and has additionally fulfilled any continuing requirements for licensure over a period of time. … nothing in our decision prevents the Board from seeking revocation of a license, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Nursing Law, following a conviction under the Controlled Substances Act. … If an automatically-suspended license is ultimately revoked, reinstatement would then be governed by Section 15.2.” View "McGrath v. Bur. of Prof. & Occ. Affairs" on Justia Law

by
In 2015, WPXI, Inc. (a television news station) was investigating allegations of improper relationships between several teachers and students at the high school in the Plum Borough School District. In connection with this inquiry, WPXI filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings of the 2014 Allegheny County Investigating Grand Jury to gain access to unsealed documents, specifically, a search warrant and a related court order. In the motion, WPXI relied upon decisions concerning the common law right of access to public judicial records. The grand jury supervising judge denied relief on the motion, reasoning the general presumption that judicial records were open to the public, this presumption did not extend to grand jury proceedings. In the course of her opinion, the supervising judge commented that “an individual who accepted a grand jury subpoena may have provided one media outlet with a copy of [the search warrant].” WPXI appealed, which was dismissed by a panel of the Superior Court upon its sua sponte invocation of the mootness doctrine. WPXI argues that public disclosure of judicial records does not moot a request for access from an official source. The Commonwealth, as appellee, concurs with WPXI that the issues raised on appeal in the Superior Court were not moot. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the Superior Court acted on insufficient information to support a sua sponte mootness determination and, accordingly, should have proceeded to the merits. View "In Re: 2014 Allegheny County, Appeal of: WPXI" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

by
This case was a direct appeal in a judicial discipline case that resulted in Appellant Dawn Segal's removal from office as a municipal court judge in Philadelphia. In 2014, amidst a federal investigation encompassing electronic surveillance of telephone conversations in which she participated, Appellant reported to the Judicial Conduct Board (the “Board”) that she had ex parte communications with then-fellow- Municipal Court Judge Joseph Waters about several cases that were pending before her. FBI agents and federal prosecutors interviewed Appellant on several occasions, ultimately playing tapes of the intercepted conversations. The Board, which had already opened an investigation into the matter, proceeded to lodge a complaint against Appellant in the Court of Judicial Discipline (the “CJD”). The Board asserted violations of the then-prevailing Canons of Judicial Conduct, including Canon 2B, Canon 3A(4), Canon 3B(3), and Canon 3C(1). A federal prosecution of Waters was initiated, and he entered a negotiated guilty plea to mail fraud, and honest service wire fraud. Shortly thereafter, Appellant (through counsel) self-reported to the Board that she and Waters had had ex parte communications concerning pending cases. The correspondence stated that Appellant had not previously made these disclosures to the Board on account of a request from federal authorities to maintain confidentiality. In March 2015, the Board filed its complaint with the CJD. Finding the sanction imposed by the CJD as lawful, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined it lacked authority to disapprove it. As such, the CJD's decision was affirmed. View "In Re: Dawn Segal, Judge" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Angeles Roca served as a common pleas judge in the family division of the First Judicial District, Philadelphia County. Her term overlapped with those of former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judges Joseph Waters and Dawn Segal. During this period, the FBI was investigating Waters’ activities; the investigation included wiretap surveillance of his telephone communications. Several conversations between Waters and Appellant were recorded in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Appellant asked Waters for advice on how her son, Ian Rexach, should proceed relative to a tax judgment. Appellant learned that Segal would not be presiding over these types of petitions after June 29, 2012; seeking to ensure that Segal presided over her son’s petition, Appellant called Waters to encourage him to intervene. Segal reviewed the petition for reconsideration and issued a rule to show cause why the relief requested should not be granted. Although Segal did not preside over Rexach’s case thereafter, she called Waters to advise him that she “took care of it” and to “tell her it’s done.” Waters called Appellant and discussed the matter, confirming that it had been “taken care of” by Segal. A default judgment against Rexach was ultimately vacated and the case against him was withdrawn upon his payment of $477 in taxes. In 2015, the Judicial Conduct Board sent Appellant informal letters of inquiry concerning her contacts with other judges. At the time, Appellant was unaware that her conversations with Waters had been recorded. In her written responses, Appellant made several representations which were inconsistent with the content of the recorded phone conversations. In 2016, the Board filed an amended complaint with the CJD alleging that Appellant had violated Article V, Sections 17(b) and 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as well as several provisions of Pennsylvania’s former Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”). On appeal, Appellant alleged that the CJD’s removal-and-bar sanction was unduly harsh under the circumstances. She requestd a lesser penalty. In this respect, Appellant maintained, first, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was not bound by a state constitutional provision, which limited the Court's review of the sanction imposed by the CJD to whether it was lawful. In the alternative, Appellant proffered that the punishment was not lawful because it was inconsistent with prior decisions in cases where the misconduct was not extreme. The Supreme Court found the penalty imposed by the CJD was lawful. That being the case, the Court lacked authority to overturn it. View "In Re: Angeles Roca, Judge" on Justia Law

by
In 2002, David Chmiel was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of three elderly siblings. At Chmiel’s 2002 trial, the Commonwealth relied upon the testimony of a state police forensic examiner, who opined that hair found at the crime scene was microscopically similar to Chmiel’s hair. In 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) issued a press release admitting, for the first time, that testimony by FBI analysts regarding microscopic hair analysis in criminal trials was erroneous in the vast majority of cases. Furthermore, the FBI admitted that it had, over the course of twenty-five years, conducted multiple training courses for state and local forensic examiners throughout the country that incorporated some of the same flawed language that the FBI examiners had used in lab reports and trial testimony. Chmiel filed a petition pursuant to the PCRA, asserting that his conviction and death sentence rested upon unreliable microscopic hair comparison evidence. Recognizing that his petition facially was untimely, Chmiel asserted that the FBI press release constituted a newly discovered fact that satisfied the timeliness exception set forth in 42 Pa.C.S. 9545(b)(1)(ii). The PCRA court rejected Chmiel’s reliance upon the FBI press release as a newly discovered fact, and dismissed the petition as untimely. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found two newly discovered facts upon which Chmiel’s underlying claim is predicated, both of which were made public for the first time in a Washington Post article and the FBI press release. With these newly discovered, material facts, the FBI press release indicated that a testifying expert's trial testimony may have exceeded the limits of science and overstated to the jury the significance of the microscopic hair analysis. The Court concluded the FBI’s repudiation and disclosure about its role in training state and local forensic examiners satisfied Section 9545(b)(1)(ii), and entitled Chmiel to a merits determination of his underlying claim. View "Pennsylvania v. Chmiel" on Justia Law

by
In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court applied the correct statute of limitations for a survival action in a medical professional liability case. In 2005, Elise Dubose was admitted to Albert Einstein Medical Center (Einstein) after she fell in her home and sustained severe head injuries, including anoxia and a brain injury. She was transferred to Willowcrest Nursing Home where Mrs. Dubose suffered malnourishment, dehydration, conscious pain from bedsores, a bone infection, and a sepsis systemic infection. An ulcers located at the sacral region of the spine which Mrs. Dubose developed during her initial hospitalization, gradually increased in size. The sacral ulcer became infected with bacteria from contact with feces. This infection caused sepsis in Mrs. Dubose in September 2007, and she was admitted to Einstein with sepsis. On October 18, 2007, Mrs. Dubose died from sepsis and multiple pressure sores. On August 13, 2009, Robert Dubose, as administrator for Mrs. Dubose's estate, filed a complaint against Willowcrest and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (collectively Appellants) sounding in negligence and alleged wrongful death. The Supreme Court concluded the statute of limitations for medical professional liability cases in the form of wrongful death or survival actions was two years from the time of the decedent’s death. View "Dubose v. Willowcrest Nur. Home" on Justia Law

by
In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether, in the context of a grievance arbitration award, an arbitrator has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a dispute between a union and a municipality arising out of a surviving spouse’s pension benefit, where the benefit was afforded to the surviving spouse statutorily and incorporated into the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Pamela Cimino’s husband, Thomas J. Cimino, was a police officer for the City of Arnold, Pennsylvania (City) from July 1, 1990 until April 4, 2002. On April 4, 2002, Officer Cimino died off-duty of natural causes. At the time of his death, Officer Cimino had completed 11.77 years of service. The City issued Mrs. Cimino 142 consecutive monthly death benefit payments, from May 1, 2002 to February 1, 2014. However, in a 2014 compliance audit, the Commonwealth Auditor General’s Office determined that the City was incorrectly administering the death benefit. According to the Auditor General’s compliance audit, the City had been paying Mrs. Cimino twice as much as it should have under its interpretation of the applicable statute. The Wage Policy Committee of the City of Arnold Police Department (Union) initiated a grievance on behalf of Mrs. Cimino to dispute the 50% reduction in her death benefit pension payments. The Union followed the grievance procedure contained in the CBA between the City and the Union. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a dispute as here was arbitrable under the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”), 43 P.S. secs. 217.1-217.10, because the surviving spouse’s pension benefit was incorporated into the CBA. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court which held to the contrary. View "City of Arnold v. Wage Policy Committee" on Justia Law

by
In 2011, when she was sixteen years old, the victim, C.S., reported that she had been raped and otherwise sexually abused repeatedly by her stepfather, Appellee Kenneth Maconeghy, Jr. C.S. related that the assaults had occurred in the home that she shared with her mother, Appellee, and several siblings, during the summer months of 2005, when she was eleven years old. Appellee was arrested and charged with various sexual crimes, including rape by forcible compulsion and rape of a child. The question presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review concerned whether, in a criminal prosecution, a sexual abuse evaluator may testify to his opinion that a child was sexually assaulted, where there was no physical evidence of abuse, and the opinion was premised upon the expert’s apparent acceptance of the child’s reporting and description. The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court, as well as the wide body of decisions from other jurisdictions, that expert testimony opining that a child has been sexually abused (which is predicated on witness accounts and not physical findings) is inadmissible. The Court’s decision was limited according to the terms of this opinion, i.e., the Court did not presently assess whether, or under what circumstances, such evidence may be appropriate in light of physical findings or as fair response on redirect examination or in rebuttal. View "Pennsylvania v. Maconeghy" on Justia Law

by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider what constituted a “compelling reason” for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pennsylvania Rule of Juvenile Court Procedure 632. At the time of the May 2014 delinquency termination hearing at issue herein, D.C.D. was an intellectually low-functioning and socially immature twelve-year-old boy who was a victim of sexual abuse. He originally entered the delinquency system in the fall of 2012, at age ten, due to allegations that he committed indecent assault against his five-year-old sister. Rather than formally adjudicating him delinquent at that time, the juvenile court entered a consent decree pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. 6340, which allowed for the suspension of delinquency proceedings prior to formal adjudication, and placed D.C.D. in a specialized foster care program administered by Pressley Ridge. In subsequent years, D.C.D. would be placed in multiple foster homes, removed each time for sexual harassment against foster family members, and for trying to start fires in the homes. Some residential treatment facilities (RTF) were unwilling to accept children who had incidents of fire-starting, and others could not provide services for his level of intellectual functioning. Given the available options, the parties agreed that D.C.D. should be moved to the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital - Choices Program (Southwood), a RTF which had a bed immediately available and which focused specifically upon his cohort: intellectually low-functioning, sexual offenders. Despite the parties’ agreement to place D.C.D. at Southwood, Southwood informed them that it could not accept him due to his adjudication of delinquency for a sexual offense. However, the director stated that they could accept D.C.D. if the delinquency supervision was terminated. As a result, D.C.D.’s counsel filed a motion for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pa.R.J.C.P. 632 to which the York County District Attorney objected and requested a hearing. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court properly determined that the juvenile court acted within its discretion in granting early termination to the juvenile in this case to allow him to obtain necessary and immediate treatment, after properly taking into account the three aspects of balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) embodied in the Juvenile Act and incorporated into the Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure. View "In Re: D.C.D." on Justia Law