Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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City of Lancaster (“the City”) enacted a measure (“Ordinance 16-2013”) that sought to superimpose municipal requirements upon state-regulated utilities that used the City’s rights-of-way to deliver services. PPL Electric Utilities Corp. (“PPL”) challenged the Ordinance, contending, inter alia, that it intruded upon, and thus was preempted by, the Code. The Commonwealth Court largely agreed, upholding PPL’s challenge with regard to all but one of the challenged provisions of the Ordinance. The provision that the Commonwealth Court upheld authorized the City to impose an “annual occupancy fee” upon utilities that utilize its municipal rights-of-way. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that all of the provisions challenged by PPL, including the annual occupancy fee, were preempted by the Code. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s decision except with respect to its allowance for the annual occupancy fee, which latter ruling was reversed. View "PPL Elec. Utilities v. City of Lancaster, et al -" on Justia Law

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Sarah DeMichele, M.D., was a board-certified psychiatrist licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania. From August 2011 through February 2013, Dr. DeMichele provided psychiatric care to M.R. M.R. struggled with suicidal ideations and engaged in a pattern of self-harming behavior, which she discussed regularly with Dr. DeMichele. In December 2012, M.R.’s self-inflicted injuries necessitated emergency medical treatment. M.R. ultimately was transferred to a Trauma Disorders Program in Maryland. In the program, M.R. was treated by psychiatrist Richard Loewenstein, M.D., and psychologist Catherine Fine, Ph.D. During the course of his treatment of M.R., Dr. Loewenstein obtained M.R.’s medical records from Dr. DeMichele. In 2014, Dr. Loewenstein submitted a complaint to the Professional Compliance Office of Pennsylvania’s State Board of Medicine (“Board”), in which he alleged that Dr. DeMichele’s care of M.R. was professionally deficient. Dr. Loewenstein’s complaint prompted an investigation and, ultimately, the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against Dr. DeMichele. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (“Bureau”) filed an order directing Dr. DeMichele to show cause as to why the Board should not suspend, revoke, or restrict her medical license, or impose a civil penalty or the costs of investigation. In advance of the hearing, Dr. DeMichele requested that the hearing examiner issue subpoenas for the testimony of M.R. and the medical records of Dr. Loewenstein, Dr. Fine, the program, and M.R.’s former treating psychologist, April Westfall, Ph.D. Relying upon the authority provided under 63 P.S. 2203(c), the hearing examiner issued the requested subpoenas. However, when served with the subpoenas, all of M.R.’s treatment providers refused to release their records absent a court order or M.R.’s authorization. M.R. subsequently refused to authorize the release of her records. In this direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to consider the enforceability of the subpoenas, as well as related questions regarding the scope and applicability of numerous statutes that protect a patient’s medical information. The Commonwealth Court granted the physician’s petition to enforce the subpoenas. Because the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to decide the issue, it vacated that court’s order. View "In Re: Enforcement of Subpoenas b/f the Bd of Med." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Plaintiffs William DeForte and Evan Townsend were employed as police officers with the Borough of Worthington (the “Borough”). Neither officer was salaried or received benefits. Instead, they were paid hourly wages and, moreover, were simultaneously employed by other police forces. The Borough’s police force consisted of four part-time officers, including Plaintiffs. On November 5, 2012, the Borough terminated Plaintiffs’ employment without affording any process. Plaintiffs brought separate actions (which were consolidated) against the Borough at the federal district court. Plaintiffs asserted, inter alia, that the Borough Code or the Tenure Act conferred a constitutionally-protected property interest in their continued employment, and the lack of any process associated with their dismissal violated their federal due process rights. They requested relief under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The Borough moved for summary judgment. In ruling on the motion, the district court considered whether Plaintiffs were entitled to civil-service protections in connection with their dismissal under either the Police Tenure Act, or the Borough Code, The Supreme Court, answering the two-part question forwarded by the Third Circuit: (1) the civil service protections embodied in the Borough Code and the Tenure Act were broadly in pari materia insofar as they were intended to govern all borough police forces; and (2) when calculating the size of a borough police force in any given case, the same test should be used. More particularly, the “normal working hours” criterion contained in the Borough Code should be employed to determine how many members a borough police force has for purposes of deciding whether the Tenure Act’s two-officer maximum or the Borough Code’s three-officer minimum was implicated. View "Deforte v. Boro of Worthington" on Justia Law

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In this case, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Commonwealth Court disregarded the law when it vacated a grievance arbitration award based on its independent interpretation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). Millcreek Township Educational Support Personnel Association (the “Association”) and Millcreek Township School District (the “District”) were parties to a CBA that became effective on July 1, 2011, and was set to expire on June 30, 2016. Negotiations for a successor CBA began January 26, 2016 when the Association offered its initial proposal to the District. Approximately one month later, the District presented a counter proposal in which it sought, among other items, to eliminate a no subcontracting provision. The Association rejected this proposal. On March 29, 2016, with successor CBA negotiations ongoing between the Association and the District, the District issued a request for proposals (“RFP”) seeking quotes from prospective bidders for the provision of custodial labor services. On April 7, 2016, upon learning that the District had issued an RFP to subcontract the bargaining unit’s work, the Association filed a grievance with the District. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decisions under the Public Employee Relations Act (“PERA”), a reviewing court had to apply the highly deferential two-prong “essence test” to grievance arbitration awards: (1) the court had to decide whether the issue was encompassed by the CBA; and (2) the court had to uphold the arbitrator’s award if the arbitrator’s interpretation could rationally be derived from the CBA. Subject to a narrow exception for awards that violate a dominant public policy, proper application of the essence test prohibits a court from vacating an arbitrator’s award unless “the award indisputably and genuinely is without foundation in, or fails to logically flow from, the [CBA].” The Supreme Court had "no trouble" concluding that the award in this case drew its essence from the CBA and because no public policy would be violated by its enforcement, it reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Millcreek Twp SD v. Millcreek Twp ESPA" on Justia Law

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In 2015 the Pittsburgh City Council passed and Mayor William Peduto (collectively, “the City”) signed the Paid Sick Days Act (“PSDA”) and the Safe and Secure Buildings Act (“SSBA”). Plaintiff-appellees (collectively, “Challengers”) filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging the PSDA’s and SSBA’s validity on the basis that the HRC precluded the City from imposing the burdens those ordinances entailed upon local employers. The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas considered the challenges to both laws, and found, in separate decisions issued within four days of each other, that both ordinances were ultra vires as impermissible business regulations pursuant to Section 2962(f) of the Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law (“the HRC”). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to consider whether these ordinances ran afoul of the qualified statutory preclusion of local regulations that burden business. The Court held that the PSDA did not exceed those limitations, but that the SSBA did. View "Pa. Rstrnt & Lodging v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether Subsection 508(4)(i) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), which protected pending land development applications filed with a municipality’s governing body, extended to zoning applications submitted to its zoning hearing board that were: (1) related to the land development application; and (2) filed with the zoning hearing board during the pendency of the land development application and after an adverse zoning change. The Court concluded that Subsection 508(4)(i)’s protection did indeed extend to zoning applications under these circumstances. View "In Re: ZHB of Cheltenham Twp 12-16-15 Decision" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Business Privilege and Mercantile Tax (“BPT”) imposed by Appellee the City of York (“City”), had to be paid by Appellant, S & H Transport, Inc. (“S & H”), a freight broker, on the total yearly amount of money S & H receives from its customers for arranging shipping of commercial goods with freight carriers on their behalf, where, after deducting its commission, S & H remits the remaining money to the freight carriers as payment of their shipping fees. After careful review, the Supreme Court found that the amount of money S & H collected and passed on to freight carriers for their fees was excluded from taxation under the City’s BPT. View "S & H Transport v. City of York" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether Section 614 of Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. section 10614, which set forth the powers of a zoning officer, provided sufficient basis to determine, absent evidence of actual job duties, if a zoning officer was a management-level employee under the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA). Because the Supreme Court held that Section 614 did not render a zoning officer a management-level employee, the Court held that such evidence was required, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Exeter Twp. v. PLRB, Teamsters Local Union" on Justia Law

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In late 2016, then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, pursuant to the Investigating Grand Jury Act, for an order to convene a multicounty investigating grand jury having statewide jurisdiction to investigate organized crime or public corruption or both. This appeal concerned a motion for return of property filed by several Lackawanna County governmental entities (“County”) relative to materials seized by the Office of Attorney General (“OAG”). The OAG seized the County’s property pursuant to search warrants issued by the Supervising Judge of the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. After the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury was empaneled and an investigation was ongoing, an OAG Special Agent and a Pennsylvania State Trooper applied to Judge Sarcione for four warrants to search and seize certain property belonging to the County. Approximately a year later, the County moved for return of property. Notably, the County filed its motion in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, which comprised the 45th Judicial District. In its motion, the County advanced a threefold argument to support its claim of entitlement to lawful possession of the seized materials: (1) the underlying search warrants were unconstitutionally general and overbroad; (2) the seizing of judicial and other governmental officials’ property infringed upon various privacy interests and legal privileges; and (3) the search warrants were invalid under Pa.R.Crim.P. 200. Without confirming or denying the existence of a grand jury investigation due to secrecy concerns, the OAG nevertheless challenged the lower court’s jurisdiction to hear the motion for return. The Supreme Court determined that the judge overseeing the Grand Jury, was empowered to issue search warrants in any judicial district, provided that the warrants related to an investigation of the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. Because there was no dispute the search and seizure warrants for the County’s property related to such an investigation, the supervising judge was authorized to issue them. Further, because the County’s motion for return of property challenged the validity of those search warrants, it related to the work of the 41st Statewide Investigating Grand Jury and had to be presented to the Supervising Judge, who had to adjudicate the motion or conclude it did not raise grand jury secrecy concerns. As the lower court reached the opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated its order and remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re: Return of Seized Property of Lackawanna Cty" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Appellee City of Lebanon (the “City”) was considering creation of a business improvement district (a “BID”), a type of Neighborhood Improvement District (“NID”) to revitalize its downtown area. After a hearing, at which citizens voiced their comments, the City accepted a plan devised by City officials and hired consultants as final and sent another letter to property owners and lessees within the proposed BID, advising how to file an objection, or to vote against the establishment of the Lebanon BID. Appellant Edward Schock, the owner of a non-exempt property in the Lebanon BID, filed suit at the county court under the caption: “Complaint for Declaratory Judgment to Declare Bid Dead.” In the complaint, Appellant advanced the position that, under NIDA, “the objection threshold is 40% of the assessed parcels,” as opposed to forty percent of all parcels within the geographic boundaries of a BID. Given that, by his calculus, only the owners of 280 properties within the geographic boundaries of the BID were eligible to vote, Appellant concluded that the final plan had been vetoed by the 132 negative votes. The City filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, contending that the term “affected property owners,” in Section 5(f)(2), unambiguously encompasses all of the owners of properties within the geographic boundaries of a BID, regardless of whether they will be subject to or exempt from monetary assessments. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found, as did the court of common pleas, there were substantial, competing policy considerations in the design of the voting scheme pertaining to the establishment of NIDs. “Ultimately, although we find the shifting terminology within the Act to be awkward and ambiguous, we conclude that the statute’s veto provisions pertaining to final NID plans concern only assessed property owners.” The order of the Commonwealth Court was reversed and the matter remanded for entry of declaratory judgment reflecting the Supreme Court’s opinion. View "Schock. v. City of Lebanon" on Justia Law