Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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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 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

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding appellant Daniel Harmon was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to Section 402.6 of the Unemployment Compensation Law. Appellant was a part-time employee at Brown’s Shop Rite beginning February 14, 2013. By December, he was convicted of driving with a suspended license and sentenced to a term of 60 days’ imprisonment to be served on 30 consecutive weekends, beginning March 14, 2014 and ending August 7, 2014. Appellant’s employment with Brown’s Shop Rite was terminated on March 24, 2014 due to a violation of company policy, which was unrelated to his incarceration. He then filed for benefits and received them for the week ending March 29, 2014 through the week ending July 26, 2014. This period included weeks when appellant was serving his sentence of weekend incarceration. The Supreme Court held appellant was not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Harmon v. UCBR" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly transferred regulatory authority over Philadelphia taxicabs to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (“Authority”) through Act 94. The Act also created a budget submission process for the Authority to follow, and prescribed a formula that the Authority uses to ascertain assessments imposed upon Philadelphia taxicabs. In 2013, the Commonwealth Court found certain portions of Act 94 to be unconstitutional. The General Assembly then enacted Act 64 to cure the constitutional shortcomings identified by the Commonwealth Court. Partial rights taxicab owners in Philadelphia challenged the new scheme on constitutional grounds. The Commonwealth Court granted relief, finding that Subsection 5707(c) of the Parking Authorities Law, 53 Pa.C.S. 5707(c), violated the substantive due process rights of partial rights taxicab owners. Furthermore, the Commonwealth Court found that the budget submission process prescribed in 53 Pa.C.S. sections 5707(a) and 5710 constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in both respects: (1) subsection 5707(c) did not impair the substantive due process rights of partial rights taxicab owners; (2) subsections 5707(a) and 5710 did not amount to unconstitutional delegations of legislative power. View "Germantown Cab Co., et al. v. P.P.A." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case concerned whether counties could advance common law claims seeking legal redress against telecommunications companies for alleged deficiencies in their administration of fees associated with 911 emergency communication services. The Supreme Court concluded the Legislature balanced counties’ interests against those of other co-participants enlisted under the 911 Act and provided sufficient indicia evincing its intention to centralize enforcement authority in the relevant state agency. "Although we realize that the County may have been disadvantaged by PEMA’s apparent failure to act, this unfortunate circumstance does not control the judicial construction of a legislative enactment." Thus, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, and reinstated the order of the court of common pleas. View "Co. of Butler v. Centurylink, et al.." on Justia Law

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On May 16, 2017, by write-in vote, Christine Rossi won the Republican nomination for Tax Collector of Nether Providence Township (“the Township”). On June 2, 2017, the Delaware County Bureau of Elections (“the Bureau”) notified Rossi that she was certified as the Republican nominee. The Bureau instructed Rossi to submit a Statement of Financial Interests ("SOFI") to the Bureau and to the Township by June 30, 2017, in order to have her name appear on the November 2017 general election ballot. On June 30, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Bureau, but failed to file it with the Township. On September 6, 2017, based upon a Right-to-Know Law request submitted to the Township, Christine Reuther and Ani Marie Diakatos (collectively, “Objectors”) discovered that Rossi had not filed her SOFI with the Township. On September 13, 2017, Objectors filed an emergency petition for relief to the Court of Common Pleas, stressing that Subsection 15.3(e) of the State Ethics Commission’s regulations required write-in candidates to file their SOFIs with the appropriate authorities within thirty days of the certification of the election results. Because Rossi failed to file her SOFI with the Township within that period of time, Objectors asserted that, pursuant to Subsection 1104(b)(3) of the Ethics Act, her failure constituted a fatal defect to her candidacy, and her name was required to be stricken from the general election ballot. On September 14, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Township. Because the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act (“Ethics Act”) imposed this consequence only upon candidates who petition to appear on the ballot, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it is inapplicable to write-in candidates. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Reuther v. Delaware County Bureau of Elections" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (“DCED”) designated the City of Pittsburgh as a financially distressed municipality under the Municipal Financial Recovery Act (“Act 47”). The City’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Appellant Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (the “Union”) expired on December 31, 2014. As the parties were unable to reach consensus on a new CBA, they entered into interest arbitration governed by the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”). After an evidentiary hearing encompassing ten days of testimony before an Act 111 arbitration panel, the panel issued a final award covering years 2015-2018. The Award contained numbered factual findings one of which included a list of itemized findings relating to the City’s population, income, housing vacancy rate, and, most relevantly, the City’s police officer compensation as measured against other economically and demographically comparable subdivisions. The Union’s financial expert had testified in a prior matter in 2014 that the City’s police pay was above the median of a comparison group; the City’s police officers paid substantially lower contributions toward health insurance than other City employees for the same coverage level; and the Union’s own financial expert believed City police officers were paid competitively. The Union filed an appeal in the Commonwealth Court, contending that the Award deviated from the Plan by failing to ensure competitive compensation for police officers as required by the Plan. The Union argued that the court had jurisdiction to rule on its appeal per Section 252(e) of Act 47. Te Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court properly held that the Union’s challenge to the Award fell outside the scope of Section 252(e). Accordingly, that court’s order quashing the parties’ appeals was affirmed. View "FOP Fort Pitt v. City of Pgh" on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this appeal centered on whether producers of natural gas from certain vertical wells were subject to assessment of a yearly impact fee established by Chapter 23 of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act (“Act 13”). The vertical wells that at issue used the hydraulic fracturing process ("fracking") to extract natural gas through a vertical well bore from Marcellus Shale. Specifically, the issue centered on whether an impact fee would be assessed whenever a vertical well’s production exceeded an average of 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day for even one month of the year, or whether the well must exceed this production threshold in every month of the year, for the fee to be imposed. After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded that, under the relevant provisions of Act 13, the impact fee would be imposed on such wells if their production exceeds 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day for even one month of the year, as found by the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”). Therefore, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order, which had reversed the PUC; the PUC's order was reinstated. View "PA Independent Oil & Gas Assoc. v. PUC" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether an exception to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act applied ― the real property exception to governmental immunity ― and, in particular, whether the absence of padding on a gym wall, into which a student ran during gym class, causing injury, fell within the exception. In 2012, then-nine-year-old Jarrett Brewington ran in a relay race during gym class at Walter G. Smith Elementary School in Philadelphia. While Jarrett was running, he tripped and fell, causing him to propel into the wall at the end of the gym, hit and cut his head, and lose consciousness. No padding covered the gym wall, which was made of concrete. Jarrett was later diagnosed with a concussion, was absent from school for one to two months after the incident, and continued experiencing headaches and memory problems years later. In 2013, Jarrett’s mother, Syeta Brewington, brought an action against Walter G. Smith Elementary School and the School District of Philadelphia (collectively, the “School”), alleging Jarrett’s injuries occurred because of a defective and dangerous condition of the premises, namely, the concrete gym wall, and that the School was negligent in failing to install padded safety mats to cushion the wall. In response, the School filed, inter alia, a motion for summary judgment, raising the defense of governmental immunity, and claiming that the real property exception to governmental immunity under the Act did not apply. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the lack of padding of a gym wall could constitute negligence in the care, custody, and control of real property, and, thus, fell within the Act’s real estate exception. View "Brewington v. Phila. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Appellant the School District of Lower Merion challenged a Commonwealth Court decision to quash its appeal of the grant of an injunction. Appellees were residents and taxpayers of Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who filed a multi-count, putative class action complaint against Appellant which asserted grievances about “proliferate spending and tax increases.” Appellees sought money damages in excess of $55,000,000 and the appointment of a trustee to undertake the responsibilities of the school board members. The amended complaint also contained a count seeking equitable relief, primarily in the form of court-supervised modifications of the procedures employed by the District’s administrators. Appellees submitted a “Petition for Injunctive Relief” seeking “immediate relief because without this [c]ourt’s intervention, the District will raise taxes and the bills for the same will go out July 1, 2016 to some 22,000 taxpayers.” Significantly, consistent with the prayer for immediate relief, the petition reflected criteria associated with a preliminary injunction, including an assertion of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. In its written response, the District made clear -- consistent with the procedural posture of the case, the request for immediate relief, and the assertion of irreparable harm -- that it believed that Appellees were seeking a preliminary injunction, and the District proceeded to address Appellees’ petition on such terms. The dispute before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether a post-trial motion was required, or whether the appellant was entitled to proceed with an interlocutory appeal as of right under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). The Supreme Court determined the common pleas court did not dispose of all claims for relief in its “Decision/Order”; therefore, “the decision” of the case was not rendered for purposes of Rule 227.1, and no post-trial motions were implicated under that rule. Rather, the District enjoyed the right to lodge an interlocutory appeal as of right under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's judgment holding to the contrary, and remanded this case for consideration of the merits of the District's interlocutory appeal filed as of right. View "Wolk v. Lower Merion SD" on Justia Law