Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the proper allocation of the burden of proof between an employer and a workers' compensation claimant regarding the injured employee's legal eligibility under federal immigration law to obtain suitable employment whenever the employer seeks to suspend workers' compensation disability benefits. The Court held that in this case, the Commonwealth Court correctly determined that Appellant, Kennett Square Specialties bore the burden to prove that the loss of earning power of its employee, David Cruz, was due to his lack of United States citizenship or other legal work authorization in order to obtain a suspension of his workers' compensation disability benefits. Furthermore, the Court held that Claimant's invocation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned at the hearing before the Workers' Compensation Judge did not constitute substantial evidence of his alleged lack of legal authorization to be employed in the United States, and thus could not, standing alone, furnish sufficient evidence for the WCJ to suspend Claimant's benefits. View "Cruz v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board" on Justia Law

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In 1975, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board certified Intervenor, AFSCME, District Council 89 ("Union") as the exclusive representative of a unit for purposes of collective bargaining which included, inter alia, prison security guards, special guards, and transportation, maintenance, and supply employees. Since the unit certification, Appellee Lancaster County and the Union have been parties to several collective bargaining agreements. However, notwithstanding the Board's certification of maintenance employees in the bargaining unit, the parties have not negotiated over the wages, hours, and conditions of employment for the Maintenance Mechanic I and Maintenance Mechanic II positions. In 2009, the County Commissioners adopted a reorganization plan that placed all County maintenance and custodial employees under the centralized Facilities Management Department. Two days later, the Union filed with the Board a petition for bargaining unit clarification which sought to include the positions of Maintenance Mechanic I and Maintenance Mechanic II in the unit of prison guards. The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether county prison maintenance employees who supervise inmates constituted "guards at prisons" for purposes of collective bargaining unit placement under the Pennsylvania Employe Relations Act. After review, the Court held that the Commonwealth Court did not apply the proper level of deference in its appellate review of the decision of the Labor Relations Board which concluded that supervisory maintenance employees at issue were “guards at prisons” for purposes of collective bargaining. Thus, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and reinstated the Board’s determination. View "Lancaster Cty v. PA Labor Relations Bd." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the Mechanics' Lien Law of 1963 authorized a union employee benefit trust to file a lien on behalf of union members who performed work for a construction contractor. Developer raised a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer as to each complaint, alleging that the Trustees lacked standing to assert a mechanics' lien claim on behalf of the unionized workers because such workers were employees of Contractor and, as such, were neither "contractors" nor "subcontractors." The Supreme Court concluded that the union workers were not subcontractors, and the Trustees, by corollary in their representative capacity, were not entitled file a lien claim on the workers' behalf. Although the 1963 Act was intended to protect subcontractors who suffer harm occasioned by the primary contractor’s failure to meet its obligations, we have determined that the Legislature did not intend the term "subcontractor" to subsume employees of the primary contractor. Furthermore, the Superior Court erred in overturning the demurrers based on an implied-in-fact contract theory. The order of the Superior Court was reversed, and the case is remanded for reinstatement of the county court’s order. View "Bricklayers of Western PA v. Scott's" on Justia Law

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In this case, the trial and intermediate courts determined that a general contractor was not a statutory employer relative to an employee of its subcontractor. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on the tension between such rulings and the Supreme Court’s longstanding jurisprudence that conventional subcontract scenarios serve as paradigm instances in which the statutory-employment concept applies. Appellant Worthington Associates, Inc., was hired as the general contractor for an addition to a Levittown church. Worthington, in turn, entered into a standard-form subcontract with Patton Construction, Inc., of which Appellee Earl Patton was the sole shareholder and an employee, to perform carpentry. While working at the construction site, Mr. Patton fell and sustained injuries to his back. Subsequently, the Pattons commenced a civil action against Worthington contending that the company failed to maintain safe conditions at the jobsite. Worthington moved for summary judgment on the basis that it was Mr. Patton’s statutory employer and, accordingly, was immune from suit. After the motion was denied, trial proceeded during which Worthington reasserted its claim to immunity in unsuccessful motions for a nonsuit and a directed verdict. "Having set up an errant dichotomy for the jurors, the [trial] court proceeded to instruct them concerning the differences between independent contractors and employees at common law. In doing so, the trial court compounded the underlying conceptual difficulties it had engendered, because [the Supreme] Court has long held that, for the salient purposes under Sections 203 and 302(b) of the WCA, the term 'independent contractor' carries a narrower meaning than it does at common law." The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Pattons in the amount of $1.5 million in the aggregate. Post-trial motions were denied, and Worthington appealed. A Superior Court panel affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Mr. Patton’s relationship with the owner here was undeniably a derivative one, arising per a conventional subcontract with a general contractor (Worthington). "[U]nder longstanding precedent, neither Patton Construction, Inc., nor Mr. Patton was an 'independent contractor' relative to Worthington." View "Patton v. Worthington Associates" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the manifestation of an occupational disease outside of the 300-week period prescribed by Section 301(c)(2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act removes the claim from the purview of the Act, such that the exclusivity provision of Section 303(a) does not apply. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded that claims for occupational disease which manifest outside of the 300-week period prescribed by the Act do not fall within the purview of the Act, and, therefore, that the exclusivity provision of Section 303(a) does not apply to preclude an employee from filing a common law claim against an employer. Accordingly, in these cases, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision. View "Tooey v. AK Steel" on Justia Law

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Appellant Annette Shoap sustained a work-related injury in the nature of a left shoulder injury while working as an employee of Phoenixville Hospital. She began receiving temporary total disability benefits pursuant to a Notice of Compensation Payable dated 2003. The treatment for Appellant’s injury included three surgeries and physical therapy. In 2007, the employer filed a modification petition alleging both that Appellant’s physical condition had improved and that work was generally available to her within her physical restrictions in the relevant geographical area, as demonstrated by two labor market surveys. Appellant denied the material allegations of Employer’s petition, and a hearing was held before a Workers’ Compensation Judge. After the WCJ ruled in the employer's favor, Appellant unsuccessfully appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board and Commonwealth Court. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Appellant asserted that the Commonwealth Court erred by concluding that “substantial gainful employment existed” for purposes of granting a modification of her compensation benefits pursuant to Section 306(b) of the Workers' Compensation Act, despite the fact that her application for the specific jobs involved failed to result in any offers of employment. Secondarily, Appellant argued that the Commonwealth Court, even if correct in its interpretation of Section 306(b), erred by not remanding the case for further evidentiary development based on its interpretation of Section 306(b), which Appellant contended represented a change in the standard for evaluating cases under that statute. After careful review, the Supreme Court agreed with Appellant's second contention, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Phoenixville Hospital v. WCAB (Shoap, Aplt)" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred by affirming the reversal by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (“WCAB”) of the decision of a workers’ compensation judge (“WCJ”) that granted Appellant Philip Payes's claim application. The WCJ determined that Appellant was entitled to workers’ compensation disability benefits based on factual findings that Appellant established the existence of a mental disability that had been caused by abnormal working conditions. Upon review, the Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the WCJ’s decision, and accordingly reversed the order. View "Payes v. WCAB (PA State Police)" on Justia Law

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This case involved an uninsured motorist benefits claim filed in connection with injuries allegedly sustained by the appellant in a 2001 motor vehicle accident. Appellant was driving a truck insured by Harleysville Insurance Company when he rear-ended another vehicle. The police report contained no mention of a phantom vehicle being involved in the accident. Appellant later reported the accident to his employer, explaining he momentarily took his eyes off the road, and when he looked again, a vehicle was stopped in front of him; he was unable to stop and rear-ended the vehicle. Twenty days later, appellant completed a written Workers’ Compensation Employee’s Statement in which he reported the accident occurred due to the other vehicle stopping suddenly in front of him. But again, no phantom vehicle was reported. Over eight months later, appellant filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits, alleging the accident was caused by a phantom vehicle pulling out in front of the other vehicle, causing appellant to stop suddenly. Harleysville denied appellant’s claim and sought a declaratory judgment that he was not entitled to uninsured motorist benefits. The Superior Court reversed the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, which held appellee Harleysville Insurance Company did not suffer prejudice as a result of appellant’s failure to report the phantom vehicle within a 30-day time requirement established by the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court decision. View "Vanderhoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the statutory interpretation concerning Section 413(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act, specifically whether the claimant/appellant should have been permitted to proceed on a post-500-week petition for reinstatement of total disability benefits where he filed that petition within three years of his most recent payment of compensation, a payment which was made pursuant to a post-500-week supplemental agreement, notwithstanding a prior suspension of payments due to his return to work without a loss in earning capacity. Resolving the question, involved first determining whether expiration of the 500-week period set forth within the Act operated as a bar to the assertion of total disability claims by employees who have experienced a suspension of benefits. Also affecting the Court's decision was the effect of payments made pursuant to supplemental agreements upon an otherwise expired workers' compensation claim. The Commonwealth Court below affirmed the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board's ("WCAB") reversal of a Workers' Compensation Judge's ("WCJ") decision granting appellant's reinstatement and penalty petitions. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that appellant's reinstatement petition was not timely filed. Accordingly, it affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Cozzone, Aplt v. WCAB (Pa Municipal/E. Goshen Twp)" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Senior Judges John Driscoll and Sandra Moss, and Judges Joseph O'Keefe and Arthur Tilson sought to nullify the mandatory retirement provision applicable to judicial officers as enumerated in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The judges argued that they were elected and then retained to ten-year judicial terms, and that enforcement of the constitutional provision would require them to retire against their will prior to the expiration of those terms. While the Supreme Court recognized "colorable merit" to petitioners' argument that a constitutional amendment may impinge on rights otherwise recognized in the Constitution itself, the Court nevertheless found petitioners did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and remanded their case back to the Commonwealth Court to be dismissed. View "Driscoll v. Corbett" on Justia Law