Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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Section 306(a.2) of the Workers' Compensation Act allowed employers to demand that a claimant undergo an impairment -rating evaluation (IRE), during which a physician must determine the "degree of impairment" that is due to the claimant's compensable injury. In order to make this assessment, the Act required physicians to apply the methodology set forth in "the most recent edition" of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. In consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether this mandate violated the constitutional requirement that all legislative power "be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." In 2007, Mary Ann Protz sustained a work -related knee injury. Her employer, Derry Area School District (Derry), voluntarily began paying temporary total disability benefits. An IRE physician evaluated Protz and assigned to her a 10% impairment rating based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (the Guides). Because Protz's impairment rating was less than 50%, Derry filed a modification petition seeking to convert Protz's disability status from total to partial -the effect of which would be to limit the duration that Protz could receive workers' compensation benefits. A Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the petition. Protz appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, arguing that the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated to the AMA the authority to establish criteria for evaluating permanent impairment. The Board rejected Protz's constitutional argument and affirmed the WCJ's decision. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board, finding that the Act lacked "adequate standards to guide and restrain the AMA's exercise" of its delegated power to create a methodology for grading impairment. Derry and Protz appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the Pennsylvania Constitution prevented the General Assembly from passing off to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's holding that Section 306(a.2) violated the non-delegation doctrine, however, found that Section 306(a.2) was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Pertinent to this appeal, the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”) required insurers to offer insureds Underinsured Motorist coverage. Subsection 1731(c.1) of the MVFRL stated that any UIM coverage rejection form that does not “specifically comply” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL was void and that, if an insurer failed to produce a valid UIM coverage rejection form, then UIM coverage shall be equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability limits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to determine whether an insurer’s UIM coverage rejection form “specifically compl[ied]” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL if the insurer’s form was not a verbatim reproduction of the statutory rejection form found in Subsection 1731(c) of the MVFRL but, rather, differed from the statutory form in an inconsequential manner. The Court held that a UIM coverage rejection form specifically complies with Section 1731 of the MVFRL even if the form contains de minimis deviations from the statutory form. Because the Superior Court reached the proper result in this case, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Ford v. American States Ins." on Justia Law

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In October 2009, Appellees Richard and Joyce Rost filed suit against multiple manufacturers of asbestos, averring that exposure to the defendants’ asbestos containing products caused Richard to contract mesothelioma. Before trial, the Rosts settled their claims against all defendants except for Appellant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”). Over Ford’s objections, the trial court consolidated the case for trial with two other mesothelioma cases. Trial commenced in September 2011, at which time the trial court reminded the parties of a pre-trial ruling, precluding any expert from offering testimony that “each and every breath” of asbestos may constitute an evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the defendant’s product was a substantial cause of mesothelioma. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” criteria in asbestos product liability litigation, seeking to provide further illumination on the principles set forth in its decisions in this area. After review, the Court concluded the trial court and the Superior Court properly applied those principles in this case, and thus affirmed the judgment entered in favor of Appellees. View "Rost v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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A representative of Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc., d/b/a Havencrest Nursing Center (Extendicare), executed an arbitration agreement with Anna Marie Taylor (“Decedent”) requiring the arbitration of claims arising from Decedent’s stay at the Extendicare facility. Following Decedent’s death, Daniel and William Taylor (“the Taylors”) brought wrongful death claims on behalf of themselves as wrongful death beneficiaries and survival claims on behalf of Decedent’s estate against Extendicare and two other defendants. Extendicare moved to bifurcate the wrongful death and survival actions, and to compel arbitration of Decedent’s survival claim pursuant to the arbitration agreement and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The trial court relied upon Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213(e) to deny Extendicare’s motion to bifurcate, and the Superior Court affirmed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the FAA preempted the lower courts’ application of Rule 213(e) under the facts presented. Upon review, the Court concluded that the FAA preempted the application of Rule 213(e), and required arbitration of the survival claim against Extendicare. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc." on Justia Law

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A special complement of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania assembled to address multiple issues raised in this appeal. The underlying civil action was a defamation case arising out of a newspaper column written by defendant-appellee Karen Heller, and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in November 2009. The column contained negative commentary about purported actions of plaintiff-appellant John Dougherty, who was the Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and a self-described public figure and a participant in numerous civic and philanthropic activities. When confronted with information demonstrating that the commentary concerning Appellant’s conduct was false, Appellee conceded the unfoundedness and publicly apologized. The misinformation, however, appeared on Appellee’s Facebook page for an indeterminate period of time after the apology and apparently remained available through third-party sources until several years later. Appellant’s attorneys expressed concern that video footage resulting from the deposition should not be displayed for any purpose beyond the litigation. Appellee’s attorney, for her part, repeatedly indicated that she intended to use the videotape solely for purposes of the litigation, and that she would abide by all of her obligations under the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Professional Conduct. She declined, however, to make a specific commitment that was asked of her by appellant's counsel. Appellee’s attorney then suggested an arrangement whereby the videotape deposition would proceed as planned, and she would agree not to give the tape to anyone for ten days, during which time Appellant could seek a protective order or other relief from the court. Appellant’s lawyers declined this proposal. The court of common pleas entered an order granting Appellee’s motion to compel and denying Appellant’s motion for protective relief. The court directed Appellant to appear for a videotape deposition within fifteen days. Although the court believed that the potential abuse of a videotape deposition was separable from the merits, it did not accept that the issue was so important as to justify as-of-right interlocutory appellate review. A divided en banc Superior Court affirmed. The issues raised by this appeal for the Supreme Court's review centered on a threshold objection to temporary judicial assignments to the Supreme Court and a challenge to a supplanted order that previously had dismissed the appeal. In addition, a jurisdictional question was raised concerning whether a common pleas court’s denial of a motion for a protective order of the videotaped deposition constituted a collateral order subject to as-of-right interlocutory appellate review. Finally, on the merits, the appeal of the common pleas court’s refusal to issue a protective order proscribing such dissemination. The application for relief challenging temporary judicial assignments made to the Supreme Court for purposes of resolving this appeal was denied. The Superior Court's order was vacated, this appeal quashed as an unauthorized interlocutory one, and the matter was remanded to the common pleas court. View "Dougherty v. Heller" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ihor Malanchuk, a carpenter, fell from scaffolding at a residence where he was working and suffered injury. Initially, he brought a civil action against the owner of the premises, Ilya Sivchuk. Later, Appellant initiated a separate proceeding against another worker, Appellee Alex Tsimura. Sivchuk filed a motion requesting that the two actions be consolidated pursuant to Rule of Civil Procedure 213(a). After the completion of discovery, Appellee and Sivchuk pursued summary judgment. The common pleas court issued a single order granting Appellee’s motion in its entirety but awarding Sivchuk only partial relief. Accordingly, as against Sivchuk, the litigation ripened toward trial. Appellant filed a notice of appeal, proceeding under the Tsimura case caption, to challenge the summary relief Appellee had obtained. In an opinion per Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925, the common pleas court expressed its belief that this appeal was premature. The question presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether an order awarding summary judgment in one of two civil cases consolidated for purposes of discovery and trial was appealable immediately as of right. The Court "realize[d] that consolidation questions have generated a great deal of controversy at both the federal and state levels, as reflected in a persistent split of authority regarding whether, or to what extent, consolidation effects a merger of claims for purposes of immediate appealability and otherwise. [. . .] complete consolidation (or merger or fusion of actions) does not occur absent a complete identity of parties and claims; separate actions lacking such overlap retain their separate identities and require distinct judgments; these principles pertain equally to appealability determinations; and they continue to operate even in the face of an order purporting to consolidate the actions 'for all purposes.'" In this case, complete consolidation did not occur, the common pleas court’s order awarding summary judgment in favor of Appellee was a final one as to the Tsimura case. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Malanchuk. v. Sivchuk" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was the validity of a workers’ compensation judge’s decision to reject opinion testimony from an independent medical witness presented by an employer and insurer, in the absence of any contrary evidence adduced by the claimant. In 2005, the appellant, Jeffrey Rhodes (“Claimant”) suffered injuries in a car accident, while in the course of his employment with the employer-appellee, IA Construction Corporation. In 2007, a workers’ compensation judge granted Rhodes' petition and awarded total disability benefits. Several years later, the employer filed a specialized notice under governing administrative regulations designed to initiate the impairment rating process. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (the “Bureau”), in turn, designated M. Bud Lateef, M.D., to conduct an IRE. Subsequently, based on the results of the ensuing examination, and given that the IRE had been requested outside the period associated with a rating accorded automatic effect, Employer filed a petition seeking to modify the workers’ compensation benefits payable to Claimant. The WCJ denied Employer’s modification petition, rejecting Dr. Lateef’s impairment rating opinion. In her estimation, Dr. Lateef’s assessment of cognition was an unduly limited one, since he performed only a cursory examination and otherwise relied upon only a limited range of medical records. In the circumstances, and particularly since Dr. Lateef specialized in physical medicine and pain management, not neurology, the WCJ indicated that she was unpersuaded by his opinion. On Employer’s appeal, the WCAB affirmed in a divided opinion. On further appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed this appeal to address the issue, as framed by Claimant, of “[w]hether the Commonwealth Court overstepped its appellate function in making credibility judgments which is the sole function of the Workers’ Compensation Judge.” The Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth Court erred in its conclusions that the WCJ lacked authority to reject the uncontradicted testimony of the IRE physician. The case was reversed and remanded for reinstatement of the WCJ's adjudication, as affimed by the WCAB. View "IA Construction v. WCAB" on Justia Law

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Appellees were 34 individuals who owned or resided on properties adjacent to a 220-acre farm in York County, owned since 1986 by appellant George Phillips. Phillips operated his own farm, Hilltop Farms, and leased part of the land to appellant Steve Troyer, who raised various crops. Appellants Synagro Central, LLC and Synagro Mid-Atlantic are corporate entities engaged in the business of recycling biosolids for public agencies for land application; they contracted with municipalities to recycle and transport biosolids, which were then used as fertilizer. Over approximately 54 days between March 2006 and April 2009, approximately 11,635 wet tons of biosolids were applied to 14 fields at the farm. The biosolids were spread over the fields’ surface and not immediately tilled or plowed into the soil. Appellees contended that as soon as the biosolids were applied, extremely offensive odors emanated. In July 2008, appellees filed two similar three-count complaints, which were consolidated; they also filed an amended complaint in 2010. In Count I, appellees alleged appellants’ biosolids activities created a private nuisance. Count II alleged negligence by appellants in their duty to properly handle and dispose of the biosolids. Count III alleged appellants’ biosolids activities constituted a trespass on appellees’ land. Appellees sought injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. In October 2009, after receiving the third notice of violation from the PaDEP, Synagro suspended the use of biosolids at Hilltop Farms, rendering appellees’ request for injunctive relief moot. The last application of biosolids at the farm occurred in April 2009. Appellants moved for summary judgment on the basis that appellees’ nuisance claims were barred by the one-year statute of repose in section 954(a) of the Right To Farm Act (RTFA). The issue this appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether a trial court or a jury should have determined the applicability of section 954(a), and whether the trial court properly concluded the land application of biosolids as fertilizer is a “normal agricultural operation,” rendering section 954(a) applicable. The Court held that section 954(a) was a statute of repose; its applicability, as determined by statutory interpretation, was a question of law for courts to decide. Further, the trial court properly held biosolids application fell within the RTFA’s definition of “normal agricultural operation,” which barred appellees’ nuisance claims. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the Superior Court’s order that reversed the grant of summary judgment for appellants on the nuisance claims; the remainder of the order was affirmed. View "Gilbert v. Synagro Central" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from a series of articles written by James Conmy and Edward Lewis which appeared from June 1 to October 10, 2001, in the Citizens’ Voice, a newspaper in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area owned by The Scranton Times L.P. The articles reported about the existence of a federal criminal investigation into the alleged ties of William D’Elia, the reputed head of the Bufalino crime family of northeastern Pennsylvania, and Thomas A. Joseph, Sr. to organized crime activities. The articles included information related to, inter alia, the May 31, 2001, execution of search warrants by a large contingent of federal agents and state troopers at the residence of Joseph, Sr., the office of Joseph, Sr.’s business, Acumark, Inc., the residence of Samuel Marranca, the residence of Jeanne Stanton, and the residence of D’Elia. Defendants The Scranton Times L.P., The Times Partner, Conmy, and Lewis appealed a superior court order which affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County and granted appellees Thomas A. Joseph, Thomas J. Joseph, Acumark, Inc., and Airport Limousine and Taxi Service, Inc. a new trial. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments on appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the superior court erred in granting Appellees a new trial, and therefore, reversed. View "Joseph v. Scranton Times" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed a legislative-process challenge to a 1988 enactment. This issue was raised in the context of a professional negligence lawsuit filed in 2010, asserting causes of action for wrongful birth. Rebecca Sernovitz sought medical care after becoming pregnant. Because she and her husband are both of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, their child was at increased risk of suffering from a genetic disorder known as familial dysautonomia (“F.D.”). Her treating physicians, negligently misinformed her about the test results, telling her she was not a carrier. Thereafter, Mrs. Sernovitz gave birth to a son, Samuel, who suffered from F.D. and would suffer from the disorder for the rest of his life. Mrs. Sernovitz later learned that both she and her husband were carriers of the mutation. If she had been correctly informed of the results of her test in a timely manner, further testing would have ensued, which would eventually have revealed Samuel’s condition while he was still in utero. Had that occurred, Mrs. Sernovitz would have obtained an abortion. In October 2010, plaintiffs Mr. and Mrs. Sernovitz filed an amended complaint against the health-care providers and their employers and corporate parents (“Defendants”), asserting claims for wrongful birth and seeking damages for medical expenses and emotional distress. Although Section 8305(a) of the Judicial Code barred such claims, plaintiffs alleged that Act 47 of 1988 (of which Section 8305 was enacted) was unconstitutional in its entirety on several grounds. In particular, they averred that: the act’s original purpose was changed during its passage through the General Assembly, contrary to Article III, Section 1; it contained more than one subject, in violation of Article III, Section 3; and, in its final form, it was not considered on three days in each House, thus failing to conform with Article III, Section 4. The common pleas court determined that the act complied with Article III, sustained the preliminary objections on the basis that the wrongful-birth claims were barred by Section 8305, and dismissed the amended complaint. A three-judge panel of the Superior Court reversed in a published decision. Having stricken Section 8305, the Superior Court reversed the common pleas court’s order dismissing the amended complaint and remanded for further proceedings. Defendants moved for reconsideration, and appealed to the Supreme Court when their motion was denied. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Superior Court’s decision, reversed, and remanded for reinstatement of the common pleas court’s order dismissing the complaint. View "Sernovitz v. Dershaw" on Justia Law