Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in determining a school bus surveillance video sought in a request for public records pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) was not exempt from disclosure under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. 1232g. Rudy Miller, on behalf of The Express Times (collectively, Requester), submitted a RTKL request to the District. Therein, Requester sought information in connection with an incident involving an elementary school teacher who, according to Requester, had roughly physically disciplined a child on a school bus outside of the school. Although its rationale departed from the analysis of the Commonwealth Court, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s order, with instructions to redact students’ images from the video prior to disclosure. View "Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller" on Justia Law
Gass et al. v. 52nd Judicial District
At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was a challenge to a local judicial district’s policy prohibiting the use of medical marijuana by individuals under court supervision, such as probationers. Relevant here, the applicable statutory authority, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act, contained an immunity provision protecting patients from government sanctions. In September 2019, the 52nd Judicial District -- comprised of the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas (the “District”) -- announced a “Medical Marijuana Policy” under the issuing authority of the president judge. The Policy prohibited “the active use of medical marijuana, regardless of whether the defendant has a medical marijuana card, while the defendant is under supervision by the Lebanon County Probation Services Department.” Petitioners were individuals under the supervision of the Lebanon County probation agency who filed suit in the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction to challenge the validity of the Policy in light of the MMA's immunity provision. Separately, Petitioners filed an application for special relief in the nature of a preliminary injunction. Soon thereafter, the Commonwealth Court proceeded, sua sponte, to transfer the case to this Court, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. The District then filed its response in this Court opposing preliminary injunctive relief. It claimed, among other things, that Petitioners were unlikely to prevail on the merits, arguing, inter alia, that the General Assembly didn’t intend the MMA to override the courts’ ability to supervise probationers and parolees. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Petitioners' request for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Policy was deemed to be contrary to the immunity accorded by the MMA, and as such, should not be enforced. "[N]othing impedes a revocation hearing or other lawful form of redress, where there is reasonable cause to believe that a probationer or other person under court supervision has possessed or used marijuana in a manner that has not been made lawful by the enactment." View "Gass et al. v. 52nd Judicial District" on Justia Law
Dana Holding Corp. v. WCAB (Smuck)
In Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School District), 161 A.3d 827 (2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a statutory regime per which the duration of workers’ compensation benefits could be curtailed was invalid, since integral terms of the enactment yielded an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. The issue this case presented for the Court's review concerned the retroactive application of Protz to a scenario in which the pertinent constitutional challenge to the statute was advanced during the course of direct appellate review. In 2000, Appellee David Smuck (“Claimant”) suffered a work-related back injury, for which he received total disability benefits since 2003. Appellant Dana Holding Corporation (“Employer”) requested an IRE pursuant to the then-extant impairment rating regime. Claimant appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (the “WCAB” or the “Board”), and the proceedings before the Board were stayed at Employer’s behest pending the Protz decsion. Ultimately, Claimant's total disability status was reinstated as of the date of the disputed IRE. The Employer appealed, but the Commonwealth Court affirmed, finding Protz did not apply retroactively. The Supreme Court agreed: "a disability modification is not vested when it remains subject to a preserved challenge pursued by a presently aggrieved claimant." View "Dana Holding Corp. v. WCAB (Smuck)" on Justia Law
ACLU of PA v. PA State Police
In March of 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) filed a Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”) request with the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) seeking disclosure of PSP’s “complete, un-redacted AR 6-9 regulation, which established policies and procedures for PSP personnel when using social media monitoring software.” The PSP provided the ACLU with “a heavily-redacted nine-page document entitled ‘AR 6-9 Real-Time Open-Source-Based Investigation and Research’” (hereinafter, “the Policy”). On April 3, 2017, ACLU filed an appeal and brief with the Office of Open Records ("OOR"), asserting that PSP had not provided a sufficient basis for its invocation of the public safety exception. After an in camera review, OOR characterized the Policy as “describ[ing] best practices, authorization procedures, purposes and limitations for PSP Troopers when using internet resources— including, but not limited to, sites commonly described as ‘social media’ sites—in a professional capacity.” OOR characterized PSP as contending that “the disclosure of the record would be reasonably likely to threaten public safety because knowledge of the restrictions and techniques under which PSP Troopers work could permit third parties to more easily evade PSP’s online efforts and hinder PSP’s attempts to investigate criminal matters or perform background checks.” The Commonwealth Court overturned OOR's "reasoned decision", but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, holding only that the lower court did not conduct an "equally careful inquiry" as OOR: "The Commonwealth Court unnecessarily denied itself the opportunity to conduct the fact-finding that the RTKL asks of it. But because the Commonwealth Court is the ultimate finder of fact under the RTKL, it would be inappropriate for us to step into its place. On remand, the court at a minimum should compare the Affidavit to the provisions of the unredacted Policy that the Affidavit describes. In keeping with its authority under the RTKL, the court also retains discretion to further develop the record." Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "ACLU of PA v. PA State Police" on Justia Law
In the Interest of: D.R.
D.R. (Father) and J.R. (Mother) (collectively, Parents) resided in Greene County, Pennsylvania with their five children, ranging in age from six to sixteen years old. Father was an attorney who, as part of his private practice, represented parents under investigation by Greene County Children and Youth Services (CYS). On October 29, 2018, Greene County CYS received a report that on October 12, 2018, Father was observed to be impaired or under the influence while in the presence of one of his children. Because Father was a practicing attorney in Greene County, and to avoid a conflict of interest, the matter was referred to Fayette County CYS (the Agency). The Agency received three reports regarding Father, one of which was an allegation of abuse towards Mother (criminal charges were dropped because she refused to testify). The Agency thereafter moved to compel Parents' cooperation with a General Protective Services Assessment. Following a hearing, orders directing Parents to permit the Agency into their home to assess the living conditions of the children, and directing Parents to cooperate with the Agency were issued. The court also ordered Father to submit observed urine samples for purposes of drug and alcohol assessments. The orders further noted that Parents’ failure to comply would subject them to sanctions. Parents appealed, and a superior court reversed, finding no link between the alleged abuse and conditions in the home. Further, though there were reports of Father's intoxication, there was no specificity as to the type of impairment or whether such impairment caused the children to be abused or neglected. The Agency argued on appeal that the Superior Court erred in holding that it was without authorization to require urine samples as part of its duty to investigate reports of suspected child abuse. Finding no reversible error in the superior court judgment, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Interest of: D.R." on Justia Law
N Berks Reg. Police Comm. v. Berks Co. FOP
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Northern Berks Regional Police Commission’s petition for appeal in this Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (Act 1111) grievance arbitration appeal. An arbitrator reinstated Officer Charles Hobart to the Northern Berks Police Department, but the trial court vacated the award based on a finding that the award required the Department to commit an illegal act. The trial court’s ruling was based on factual developments occurring after Hobart’s termination. The Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that Hobart had not yet exhausted administrative remedies that would theoretically remove the purported illegality. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the arbitrator's award was not illegal, and therefore reversed the Commonwealth Court. View "N Berks Reg. Police Comm. v. Berks Co. FOP" on Justia Law
Ladd et al v. Real Estate Commission, et al.
Appellant Sara Ladd, a New Jersey resident, owned two vacation properties on Arrowhead Lake in the Pocono Mountains. Ladd started renting one of these properties in 2009 and the other in 2013 to supplement her income after being laid off from her job as a digital marketer. Eventually, some of her Arrowhead Lake neighbors learned of her success and asked her to manage rental of their own properties. Ladd considered “short-term” vacation rentals to be rentals for fewer than thirty days, and limited her services to such transactions only. Ladd acted as an “independent contractor” for her “clients” and entered into written agreements with them related to her services. In January 2017, the Commonwealth’s Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs (the Bureau), charged with overseeing the Commission’s enforcement of Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act (RELRA), called Ladd to inform her she had been reported for the “unlicensed practice of real estate.” Ladd reviewed RELRA and concluded her short-term vacation property management services were covered by the statute, and she would have to obtain a real estate broker license to continue operating her business. As Ladd was sixty-one years old and unwilling to meet RELRA’s licensing requirements, she shuttered PMVP to avoid the civil and criminal sanctions described in the statute. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the Commonwealth Court's holding that the RELA's broker licensing requirements satisfied the heightened rational basis test articulated in Gambone v. Commonwealth, 101 A.2d 634 (Pa. 1954), and thus do not violate Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution when applied to a self-described “short-term vacation property manager.” The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in so holding, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ladd et al v. Real Estate Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Carr v. PennDOT
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether a government employer properly terminated a probationary employee based on messages she posted to a social networking website. After review, the Court concluded the Commonwealth Court failed to engage in the required balancing of interests, and therefore erred when it reversed the adjudication and order of the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission (Commission) dismissing the probationary employee’s challenge to her termination. View "Carr v. PennDOT" on Justia Law
Friends of Danny DeVito, et al v. Wolf
Petitioners were four Pennsylvania businesses and one individual who sought extraordinary relief from Governor Wolf’s March 19, 2020 order compelling the closure of the physical operations of all non-life-sustaining business to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”). The businesses of the Petitioners were classified as non-life-sustaining. In an Emergency Application for Extraordinary Relief, Petitioners raised a series of statutory and constitutional challenges to the Governor's order, contending the Governor lacked any authority to issue it and that, even if he did have such statutory authority, it violates various of their constitutional rights. Petitioners asserted the exercise of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s King’s Bench jurisdiction was not only warranted but essential given the unprecedented scope and consequence of the Executive Order on businesses in the Commonwealth. Exercising King's Bench jurisdiction, the Supreme Court concluded Petitioners could not establish any constitutional bases for their challenges. The claim for relief was therefore denied. View "Friends of Danny DeVito, et al v. Wolf" on Justia Law
In re: H.R.
On September 20, 2010, at age of 13 appellant, H.R., was adjudicated delinquent for indecent assault of a complainant less than 13 years of age. Appellant was placed on official probation and, pursuant to Section 6352 of the Juvenile Act, was ordered to undergo inpatient treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility. Appellant remained in treatment when he turned 20 in February 2017 and he was assessed pursuant to Section 6352, the results of which found that involuntary treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility pursuant to the Court-Ordered Involuntary Treatment of Certain Sexually Violent Persons Statute (Act 21) was still necessary. On January 4, 2018, following a hearing, a trial court denied appellant's motion to dismiss and granted the petition for involuntary treatment, determining appellant was an sexually violent delinquent child (SVDC) and committing him to one year of mental health treatment. On appeal, appeal, appellant argued: (1) Act 21 was punitive in nature, and this its procedure for determining whether an individual was an SVDC was unconstitutional; and (2) retroactive application of amendments to Act 21 made effective in 2011, was also unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly determined the relevant provisions of Act 21 were not punitive, were constitutional, thus, affirming the trial court's order. View "In re: H.R." on Justia Law