Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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The appellant property owners (“Taxpayers”) allowed billboards to be placed their lands. The appellee local taxing authorities, Chester-Upland School District and Chichester School District (the “School Districts”), filed 22 assessment appeals relating to the subject properties for tax years 2014 and forward. In their appeals, the School Districts sought to increase the assessed value based on the presence of the billboards. After relief was denied by the county assessment board, the School Districts appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. Separately, four property owners also appealed to that court after their properties were reassessed due to the presence of billboards. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the presence of a billboard on a property could affect the valuation of that property, such as where the landowner was entitled to ongoing payments pursuant to a lease with the billboard company. The Supreme Court found the Pennsylvania General Assembly has directed that billboards and their supporting structures were not real estate for tax assessment purposes. Here, the Court concluded the Commonwealth Court appropriately concluded that, although a billboard’s value may not itself be considered when assessing the underlying real property’s value, any increase in such value attributable to the billboard’s presence could be considered. View "In Re: Consol Apl of Chester-Upland SD, et al -" on Justia Law

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Appellants Fred and Jolene Fouse owned two parcels of land in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, identified which they used as their primary residence from the time they acquired the two parcels in 1976 and 1987, respectively. Eventually, the Fouses fell behind in paying their property taxes. As mandated by the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL), the Huntington County Tax Claim Bureau scheduled an upset tax sale. Appellees Saratoga Partners, LP submitted the highest bid. Three months later, in December 2016, the Fouses filed a “petition to redeem property sold at tax sale,” even though Huntington County, a sixth class county, prohibited post-sale redemptions. Instead, the Fouses asserted, inter alia, a right to redeem under section 7293 of the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act (MCTLA), by paying the amount paid by Saratoga at the tax sale. In their brief, the Fouses acknowledged that the MCTLA applied only to first and second class counties, but the absence of a right of redemption provision in the RETSL resulted in citizens of second class A through eighth class counties being treated less favorably than citizens of first and second class counties, in violation of the equal protection provisions of the federal and state constitutions. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the General Assembly’s decision to omit the right of post-sale redemption from the RETSL was constitutional because it was rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order upholding the denial of the Fouses' petition for redemption. View "Fouse v. Saratoga Partners, et al" on Justia Law

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Appellant SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (the “JRA”) was a joint authority formed pursuant to the MAA, governed by a sixteen member Board, with each of the eight member counties appointing two members. In addition to the MAA, the Board’s operations were governed by the JRA’s bylaws and a code of conduct. Appellee Susquehanna Union Railroad Company (“SURC”) was a third-party rail line operator. The JRA began the process to award a new operating agreement. At an October 2014 Board meeting, the JRA’s counsel announced because the Board had sixteen members, a nine-vote majority was required for the Board to act. Carload Express received twenty-four points, SURC received twenty-three, and Northern Plains Railroad received thirteen. A roll call vote was taken on the motion to award the contract to Carload and, of the ten voting Board members, seven voted in favor and three against. When certain Board members questioned the nine vote requirement for action, the Board voted unanimously to table the decision to award the operating agreement to Carload pending further review of the JRA’s bylaws and the applicable law. After the meeting, Carload submitted its position to the JRA, arguing that it had been awarded the operating agreement based upon the seven-to-three vote. The JRA responded by filing an action requesting a declaration upholding its use of the nine vote requirement. The Supreme Court granted discretionary appeal to determine whether Section 5610(e) of the Pennsylvania Municipality Authorities Act's use of the phrase “members present” abrogated the common law rule that a simple majority (a majority vote of the voting members who make up the quorum of a municipal authority) carried a vote. Because the Court concluded that it did not, it affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Seda-Cog Joint Rail Auth v. Carload Express et al" on Justia Law

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John Sivick, a Lehman Township Supervisor, wanted his son to have a job, and hoped to arranged a position for his son with the Township. After leaning on his fellow Supervisors, Sivick successfully found work for his son on a Township road crew. Following an ethics complaint and an investigation, the State Ethics Commission found Sivick violated the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act in several respects. As the lone sanction relative to this aspect of the ethics complaint, the Commission imposed $30,000 in restitution. Sivick filed a petition for review of the Commission’s adjudication and restitution order in the Commonwealth Court, challenging, inter alia, the Commission’s adjudication of a conflict of interest violation as well as the legal authority to impose restitution. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Commission's decision, and Sivick appealed further to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court reversed on both points. The Court found the Commission’s adjudication identified three distinct but interrelated actions as violating Subsection 1103(a) without making clear whether each cited basis was sufficient by itself, or whether the violation was based upon aggregating the cited wrongdoing into one course of conduct. "This creates a degree of uncertainty that is only exacerbated by the Commission's imposition of a single sanction. It is exacerbated further still, now, by this Court’s determination that the lone sanction imposed lacked a statutory basis - and was, in a sense, an illegal sentence." The case was remanded for further proceedings, including, in the Commission's discretion, the entry of a new adjudication, and if appropriate, the imposition of any sanction available under the Act. View "Sivick v. State Ethics Commission" on Justia Law

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Appellant Aquil Johnson claimed he was entitled to a refund of monies deducted from his inmate account pursuant to Act 84 because no procedural safeguards were in place when the deductions began. Recent decisions by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, certain safeguards had to be applied before the first Act 84 deduction was made in connection with a given criminal sentence. The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case was whether relief was available where the first deduction was made before those decisions were announced. The Supreme Court found that due process mandated the Department of Corrections afford post-deprivation process analogous to the pre-deprivation procedures required by Bundy v. Wetzel, 184 A.3d 551 (2018). Further development was required to determine whether the Department already supplied Appellant with adequate post-deprivation process. The Court found Appellant failed to set forth a valid basis to implicate an administrative ability-to-pay hearing. The Commonwealth Court was affirmed insofar as it dismissed Appellant’s claims relating to negligence and the administrative ability-to-pay hearing; it was vacated to the extent it dismissed Appellant’s claim relating to due process. The matter is remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Wetzel" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Democratic Party and several Democratic elected officials and congressional candidates, some in their official capacity and/or as private citizens (collectively, “Petitioner”), filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief relating primarily to five issues of statutory interpretation involving Act 77 of 2019 and the Election Code, 25 P.S. sections 2600-3591. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court exercised Extraordinary Jurisdiction to address these issues and to clarify the law of the Commonwealth in time for the 2020 General Election. Petitioner requested: (1) declaratory relief to confirm Act 77 permitted local election boards “to provide secure, easily accessible locations ... where appropriate, mobile or temporary collection sites, and/or drop-boxes for the collection of mail-in ballots; (2) an injunction to “lift the deadline in the Election Code across the state to allow any ballot postmarked by 8:00 p.m. on Election Night to be counted if it is received by the Boards” by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 10, the deadline for ballots to be received under the Federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act or to allow boards discretion to extend deadlines to 21 days after the voter's ballot is mailed by the county; (3) an injunction requiring boards to contact electors whose mailed-in ballots are incomplete or incorrectly completed; (4) a declaration there was no no statutory authority to set aside an absentee or mail-in ballot solely for failure to place it into the "secrecy envelope"; and (5) a declaration that the “Election Code’s poll watcher residency requirement does not violate the United States Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments, its Equal Protection Clause, or the Equal Protection and Free and Equal Elections Clauses of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” The Supreme Court granted relief on counts 1, 2 and 5 of the petition; the Court denied relief sought on counts 3 and 4. View "PA Dem Party. v. Boockvar, et al : Boockvar" on Justia Law

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Between March and August 2020, the Green Party of Pennsylvania (“Green Party”) circulated signature pages for a nomination paper pertaining to a slate of five candidates for federal and state office: Elizabeth Faye Scroggin for President of the United States; Neal Taylor Gale for Vice President of the United States; Timothy Runkle for Treasurer of Pennsylvania; Olivia Faison for Auditor General of Pennsylvania; and Richard Weiss for Attorney General of Pennsylvania. On August 3, the deadline for filing nomination papers, Runkle presented the nomination paper at issue in this appeal. Runkle appended to the nomination paper notarized candidate affidavits for himself, Faison, and Weiss, but he did not submit affidavits for Scroggin or Gale. Instead, Runkle’s submission included a notarized candidate affidavit for Howie Hawkins and a non-notarized affidavit for Angela Walker (“Candidates”), who were nominated as the Green Party’s candidates for President and Vice President, respectively, at the national Green Party Convention in July 2020. On August 10, the Green Party filed two Substitute Nomination Certificates, seeking to replace Scroggin and Gale with Hawkins and Walker. The certificates, which were signed and notarized on August 6 (for Hawkins) and 7 (for Walker), indicated that the cause of each vacancy was “[r]esignation,” and that the substitutions of Hawkins and Walker were made by the Green Party on August 2, the day before Runkle presented the nomination paper in the filing office designated by the Department. Objectors filed a petition to set aside the Green Party candidates’ nomination paper as to the entire slate as well as to the purported substitutions and candidacies of Hawkins and Walker. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court erred in dismissing Objectors’ petition to set aside Scroggin’s nomination, and Hawkins’ substitution, as the Green Party’s candidate for President of the United States. The Court found Scroggin failed to comply with the Election Code’s strict mandate that she append an original affidavit to her nomination paper, and the party’s use of Hawkins’ affidavit while presenting a nomination paper in which he was not “named therein” did not suffice to cure that error. "That defect was fatal to Scroggin’s nomination and, therefore, to Hawkins’ substitution." Accordingly, the Secretary of the Commonwealth was directed to remove Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker from the general election ballot as the Green Party’s nominees for President and Vice President. View "In Re: Nom Papers of Scroggin; Appeal of Stefano" on Justia Law

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On October 25, 2011, Appellant Nicole B.’s then-eight-year-old son N.B. was sexually assaulted by three of his male fourth-grade classmates in a bathroom at his public elementary school in the City of Philadelphia. According to Appellant, N.B. had endured two months of pervasive physical and verbal harassment at school leading up to the sexual assault. During that time, both Appellant and N.B. reported the harassment to his teacher and to school administrators, to no avail. In November 2011, Appellant withdrew N.B. from the elementary school after learning of the attack. Over two years later, in 2014, Appellant filed an administrative complaint with the Human Relations Commission against the Philadelphia School District (“District”) in her individual capacity and on N.B.’s behalf, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of gender and race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The Human Relations Commission rejected Appellant’s complaint as untimely, because it was filed beyond the 180-day time limit. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether principles of equitable tolling found in PHRA, or Pennsylvania’s Minority Tolling Statute (“Minority Tolling Statute”), applied to an otherwise untimely complaint. After review, the Supreme Court found the PHRA’s equitable tolling provision applied to a minor whose parent failed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations for filing an administrative complaint prior to the minor reaching the age of majority. By this finding, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al." on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, the issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was the appropriate test to determine whether a claimant who is otherwise entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits due to a separation from employment becomes ineligible for those benefits as a result of being self-employed pursuant to Section 402(h) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (the Act, known as the self-employment exclusion). The Court held that Section 4(l)((2)(B), 43 P.S. section 753(l)(2)(B), contained the appropriate test for determining whether or not an individual is in self-employment. If an individual was not in “self-employment,” then he remained eligible for benefits. Applying that test to the facts of this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's ruling that the claimant was not self-employed. View "Lowman v. Unemp. Comp. Bd. of Review" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether application of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) to the judicial branch of our tripartite form of government violated separation of powers principles. On April 3, 1989, the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas (“CCP”) Office of Adult Probation hired Appellant Michael Renner as a Parole Officer. In July 2011, Appellant informed Lehigh County Chief Probation Officer John Sikora that he had been diagnosed with a serious mental health condition and was hospitalized; he was subsequently absent from work for 4 to 6 weeks. During Appellant’s absence, Sikora telephoned him numerous times to confirm the legitimacy of Appellant’s condition. Upon his return to work, Appellant alleged Sikora and Lehigh County Benefits Manager Mark Surovy, both of whom supervised Appellant, pressured Appellant to resign or take a leave of absence. Appellant confronted Sikora about his hostilities towards him, but Sikora refused to discuss the matter. Subsequently, in March 2014, Sikora terminated Appellant for failing to administer a urine test to an offender under his supervision. Appellant claimed the test was not required and that the reason for his termination was pretextual. Appellant protested his termination to then-President Judge of the CCP Carol McGinley, but Judge McGinley refused to take any action. As a result, Appellant claimed he could not obtain other employment in any other court system, and, in 2014, he filed a charge of unlawful discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was dual-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), against Lehigh County Adult Probation, Sikora, and Surovy. Thereafter, Appellant completed training as a municipal officer, and, subsequently, was offered a police officer position by Northampton and Fountain Hill Boroughs. Appellant alleged that the CCP and Lehigh County learned that Appellant was offered employment as a police officer, and caused an order to be issued banning Appellant from possessing a firearm or taser in the Lehigh County Courthouse, Old Courthouse, and Government Center. As a result, Northampton and Fountain Hill Boroughs rescinded their employment offers. Appellant eventually got his gun possession ban lifted, but as a condition, the CCP and Lehigh County required him to undergo a medical exam, which Appellant contended was a violation of the PHRA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that application of the PHRA to the judiciary would violate separation of powers principles, and thus, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Renner v. CCP of Lehigh Co., et al" on Justia Law