Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Kneebone v. Lutz
Appellants Patrick and Pamela Lutz (“Homeowners”) owned a single-family, detached home on a half-acre lot along Kesslersville Road in Plainfield Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. The property was located in a farm and forest district under the township’s zoning code. Single-family dwellings were permitted in that district but, per the zoning code, they are subject to setback requirements. Homeowners decided to add onto the back of their home. The design called for an addition to extend to the building envelope in the back: to 50 feet shy of the rear property line, with a raised, covered deck extending 18 feet into the rear setback area. When Homeowners submitted their plan to the township for approval, the zoning officer sent them written notice that the deck would not be allowed because it intruded into 50-foot setback area. He observed Homeowners could seek relief from the zoning hearing board (the “Board”) in the form of a dimensional variance. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed appeal to consider whether the Commonwealth Court correctly applied its standard of appellate review relative to the grant of a dimensional zoning variance. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was evenly divided; by operation of law, the Commonwealth Court’s judgment was thus affirmed. View "Kneebone v. Lutz" on Justia Law
Carter, et al. v. Chapman, et al.
Due to Pennsylvania's loss of population relative to the nation as a whole, Pennsylvania’s allotted number of congressional representatives declined from eighteen to seventeen. As a result, Pennsylvania required a new congressional districting plan drawn with only seventeen districts for the May 17, 2022, Primary Election. Because the General Assembly and the Governor failed to agree upon a congressional redistricting plan, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was tasked with that “unwelcome obligation.” After deliberating and affording due consideration to a Special Master’s findings and recommendation and reviewing de novo the relative merit of the submitted congressional plans, the Court respectfully declined to adopt the Special Master’s analysis and ultimate plan selection. Rather, on February 23, 2022, the Supreme Court entered a per curiam order, directing that the Pennsylvania primary and general elections for seats in the United States House of Representatives commencing in 2022 would be conducted in accordance with the plan submitted to the Special Master by the Carter Petitioners. The Court's order indicated that an opinion would follow, and this opinion was filed in accordance therewith. View "Carter, et al. v. Chapman, et al." on Justia Law
In the Interest of: N.W.-B.
Mother J.B., lived with her two young children (“Y.W.-B” and “N.W.-B”) and the children’s father (“Father”) in Philadelphia. In 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (“DHS”) allegedly received a general protective services report (“GPS report”) from an unidentified source alleging possible neglect by Mother. Although DHS referenced this GPS report several times at the evidentiary hearing and used it to refresh its sole witness’s recollection, it inexplicably never introduced it into evidence. The proceedings revealed the allegation suggested Mother was homeless and failed to feed one of her children during a single eight-hour period. DHS used this allegation as grounds to enter and inspect the family residence. The issue for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether DHS established sufficient probable cause for the trial court to issue the order permitting entry into the home without consent. To this, the Court concluded DHS did not establish probable cause, and thus reversed the order of the Superior Court holding to the contrary. View "In the Interest of: N.W.-B." on Justia Law
Corman, J., et al. v. Beam
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted expedited review of this direct appeal to decide whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam (“the Secretary”) lacked the power under existing law and Department of Health regulations to require individuals to wear facial coverings while inside Pennsylvania’s schools as a means of controlling the spread of COVID-19. Having determined that the Secretary exceeded her authority in issuing that directive, by per curiam order on December 10, 2021, the Court affirmed the lower court’s decision nullifying the mandate, and published this opinion expounding on its reasoning. View "Corman, J., et al. v. Beam" on Justia Law
Metal Green Inc. v. City of Phila, et al.
The issue this appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved the proposed redevelopment of a 90-year-old abandoned two-story industrial building, consisting of approximately 14,000 square feet, formerly used as a garage/warehouse facility. In 2013, Appellant Metal Green Inc. purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale for approximately $90,000. In August 2016, Mt. Airy USA, a local nonprofit, commenced a legal action against Metal Green pursuant to the 2008 Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act (“Act 135”). A court declared the property to be blighted and abandoned and ordered Metal Green to remediate the hazards that the property posed to the community. While the court possessed the authority to order the demolition of the building, it held such action in abeyance, allowing Metal Green to not only make necessary repairs, but to pursue redevelopment of the property. The Department of Licenses and Inspections denied Metal Green’s application for a building permit to convert the warehouse to apartments. The Supreme Court considered the proper legal standard to be applied when considering an application for a “use variance” under the Philadelphia Zoning Code, as well as the appropriate standard of review for such determinations. The Court held that the minimum variance requirement, as set forth in the Philadelphia Zoning Code, applied to use variances. Additionally, in determining the entitlement to a use variance, the Court concluded considerations of property blight and abandonment were more properly evaluated under the Code’s unnecessary hardship requirement, rather than under the minimum variance requirement. Finally, the Court reaffirmed its traditional abuse of discretion or error of law standard of review with respect to a court’s review of a variance determination; however, as a component thereof, the Court allowed for review for a capricious disregard of the evidence under certain circumstances. View "Metal Green Inc. v. City of Phila, et al." on Justia Law
General Motors Corp. v. Pennsylvania
General Motors was a Delaware corporation engaged in the sale of motor vehicles in Pennsylvania, and subject to Pennsylvania’s corporate income tax. GM contested the calculation of its 2001 Tax Year corporate income tax, after filing a report of change in its federal taxable income in March 2010. In February 2012, GM timely filed a petition for refund with the Department of Revenue’s (“Department”) Board of Appeals. It claimed that the cap on the net loss carryover (NLC) resulted in a “progressive effective tax rate” which violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. It explained that “a taxpayer conducting business on a larger scale in Pennsylvania pays a higher effective tax rate than a similarly situated taxpayer conducting business on a smaller scale.” In Nextel Communications of the Mid-Atlantic, Inc. v. Commonwealth, Department of Revenue, 171 A.3d 682 (Pa. 2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the NLC deduction applicable to corporate income tax for the tax year ending December 31, 2007 (“2007 Tax Year”), violated the Uniformity Clause. Here, the Court applied Nextel and considered GM's constitutional challenges to the NLC provisions applicable to corporate income tax in the tax year ending December 31, 2001 (“2001 Tax Year”). The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that Nextel applied retroactively to this case, however, it reversed the Commonwealth Court to the extent it remedied the violation of the Uniformity Clause by severing the $2 million NLC deduction cap, which would have resulted in an unlimited NLC deduction. Instead, the Supreme Court severed the NLC deduction provision in its entirety, resulting in no NLC deduction for the 2001 Tax Year. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s order to the extent it directed the Department to recalculate GM’s corporate income tax without capping the NLC deduction and issue a refund for the 2001 Tax Year, which the Court concluded was required to remedy the due process violation of GM’s rights pursuant to McKesson Corp. v. Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, Department of Business Regulation of Florida, 496 U.S. 18 (1990). View "General Motors Corp. v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
Energy Transfer v. Friedman
In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the Office or Open Records (“OOR”) has the authority to review the denial of an individual’s request for records pursuant to the Right to Know Law (“RTKL”), where a public utility has designated records responsive to the request as confidential security information (“CSI”) under the Public Utility Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act. The Supreme Court held that the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) had exclusive authority to review such requests and, therefore, the OOR erred in exercising jurisdiction over the CSI-designated records. View "Energy Transfer v. Friedman" on Justia Law
Whalen v. Public School Empl. Ret Board
The question in this case was whether a lump-sum payment that a school district made to settle a principal’s age-discrimination claim should have been included in that employee’s retirement benefit calculation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court disregarded the Retirement Code’s statutory definition of “compensation” and instead deferred to the intent of the settling parties to treat the payment as retirement-covered compensation. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Whalen v. Public School Empl. Ret Board" on Justia Law
Keystone Rx v. Bureau. of Workers’ Compensation
The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office (“Hearing Office”) concluded that, in the fee review setting, a non-treating healthcare provider, like a pharmacy, could not challenge a utilization review (“UR”) determination that medications prescribed by a treating healthcare provider, such as a physician, but dispensed by the non-treating entity, were unreasonable and unnecessary for the treatment of a claimant’s work-related injury. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Hearing Office’s order. However, after reaching this result, the intermediate court held that for UR procedures occurring in the future, when an employer, insurer or an employee requests UR, non-treating providers, such as pharmacies, had to be afforded notice and an opportunity to establish their right to intervene in the UR proceedings. While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s result, it rejected its prospective holding that non-treating healthcare providers had to be given notice and an opportunity to intervene in UR proceedings. View "Keystone Rx v. Bureau. of Workers' Compensation" on Justia Law
Lorino v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA)
Appellant Vincent Lorino worked as an equipment operator for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“Employer”) when he slipped on the running board of the truck he used for work and fell backwards, injuring his lower back and left hip. Employer accepted liability for a low back sprain/tear and a left hip sprain/tear pursuant to two medical-only notices of compensation payable (“NCP”). In February 2017, Employer referred Appellant for an independent medical examination (“IME”). The IME examiner determined Appellant had fully recovered from his injuries, that any pain Appellant experienced was the result of pre-existing degenerative disc disease, and that Appellant required no further treatment. As a result, Employer filed a petition to terminate Appellant’s treatment. Appellant retained counsel for the hearing on Employer’s termination petition. At the hearing, Appellant testified he had been receiving treatment from Dr. Shivani Dua, who administered epidural steroid injections to alleviate the pain in his back and left hip. Appellant explained that while the steroid injections would alleviate his pain for a few months, the pain would slowly return, at which point he would need to return for additional injections. Appellant indicated he received his most recent injection approximately two to three weeks before the IME. At the conclusion of the hearing, Appellant requested, in addition to continued medical benefits, attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 440 of the Workers' Compensation Act, asserting that, because he received only medical benefits, he was unable to retain the services of an attorney based on a traditional contingent fee arrangement, and instead was required to enter into an hourly-rate fee agreement. At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the propriety of the Commonwealth Court’s construction of Section 440 of the Act as precluding an award of attorney’s fees to a claimant when an employer established a reasonable basis for seeking a termination of benefits. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court’s interpretation of Section 440 was contrary to the statute’s express language, and, therefore, reversed in part and remanded. View "Lorino v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA)" on Justia Law