Pennsylvania Law Weekly News

'Model Response' in Chester Co. Highlights Court Security

By Lizzy McLellan and Ben Seal |

The fatal shooting of a knife-wielding attacker in the Chester County courthouse last week highlighted the security threats judicial establishments face, but it also demonstrated the preparations Pennsylvania's courts have made to minimize the impact of those threats.

School BUs

Districts Must Provide Buses for Split-Custody Children

By Max Mitchell |

Pennsylvania school districts are required to provide free transportation to students whose parents live at two different residences within the same district, the state Supreme Court has ruled.


Notice to Defense Counsel Not Good-Faith Effort at Service

By Ben Seal |

An email sent to an attorney telling him a complaint had been filed against his clients was not a good-faith effort at proper service because the attorney alerted the sender that he would not accept service on his clients' behalf, the Superior Court has ruled.

Civil Division of Court Has Jurisdiction in Civil Forfeiture

By Lizzy McLellan |

A civil forfeiture action need not be commenced as part of the underlying criminal proceeding against an individual nor in the criminal division of a court, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.

picture of man hands signing contract

Signature Requirement for Arbitration Agreement Stands

By Lizzy McLellan |

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to review a Superior Court ruling that said an arbitration agreement worded to bind two parties cannot be enforced if it is not completed and signed by both parties.

Pa. Law Weekly - People in the News - September 1, 2015 - Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams Opens New Location

Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams is expanding the firm through the opening of a new office in the central region of Pennsylvania and the hiring of associate Shawn D. Lochinger.

verdicts and settlements

Jury Awards Woman Who Had Improper Tracheostomy

By Max Mitchell |

A Delaware County jury has awarded a woman $2.78 million for having a tracheostomy placed too high, which allegedly caused her to no longer be able to breathe without the tubing.

verdicts and settlements

Woman Injured in Car Crash Reaches Settlement

By Ben Seal |

A woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury and has had multiple surgeries as the result of a car accident has reached a $725,000 settlement on her personal-injury claims through JAMS mediation.

Legislative and Executive Action for Week of Aug. 24

By John L. Kennedy |

Following is a listing of legislative and executive action for the week of Aug. 24. Members of the General Assembly are at the call of the chair.

House Democrats Stick With Wolf on Budget Floor Votes

By John L. Kennedy |

Democrats in the state House of Representatives last week rejected numerous attempts by Republicans to override portions of the budget vetoed two months ago by Gov. Tom Wolf. The Republicans needed 136 votes to override. On each motion they received 118, all from members of the GOP caucus.

Bipartisan Support Emerges for LGBT Discrimination Bill

By John L. Kennedy |

Lately, Republicans and Democrats come together on very little in Harrisburg. But in a recent bipartisan display, Republicans and Democrats in both chambers are backing legislation that would update the state's anti-discrimination law.

Sam Stretton

The Rules Surrounding Judicial Iimpropriety Have Changed

By Samuel C. Stretton |

I am a judicial officer in a small county. Everyone knows everyone and, as a lawyer, I have represented many people. What is the standard for appearance of impropriety?

Daniel J. Siegel

'It's the Internet' Isn't a Valid Ethics or Malpractice Defense

By Daniel J. Siegel |

When discussing social media and e-discovery with clients, including lawyer clients, or during CLE programs, I invariably see a true dichotomy. There are many lawyers who recognize that they must adapt to and deal with social media and electronically stored information, as they have with so many other changes in the practice over time.


Content Neutrality in the Government Regulation of Free Speech

By Krista-Ann M. Staley and Alyssa E. Golfieri |

On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015), finding an Arizona town's sign ordinance that imposed inconsistent regulations on different types of temporary outdoor signs an unconstitutional content-based regulation of speech.


The Evolving Landscape of Social Media in Family Law

By Lynne Gold-Bikin |

Two years ago, for this publication, my colleague explored how social media was starting to impact divorce. At the time, social media was an emerging part of technology and the trend among divorce attorneys was to tell their clients to stop using Facebook and other social media sites. In 2015, social media is a mainstay in our lives with no signs of slowing down and the advice to stop using social media is much less useful and practical.

Lawyers Weighing When Social Media Contact Violates PFA

By Ben Seal |

No contact means no contact in the case of a protection-from-abuse order, including contact made in the legally unsettled land of social media, lawyers say.

New Defense Bar Presidents to Focus on Communication

By Max Mitchell |

For the two recently installed leaders of defense bar organizations—the Pennsylvania Defense Institute and the Philadelphia Association of Defense Counsel—getting the message out about their groups will be the focus for the coming year.

Work Details Unnecessary to Link Heart Attack to Job

By Ben Seal |

Precise details of a man's final working day are not required to prove a causal connection between his job and the heart attack that killed him, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.

Justices Set to Eye School Reform Commission Authority

By Max Mitchell |

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the Philadelphia School Reform Commission has the authority to cancel expired collective bargaining agreements with the teachers' union as negotiations are ongoing.

Court Asks Open Records Office for Specificity

By Lizzy McLellan |

\Appellate courts can't review a final determination by the Office of Open Records without making specific reference to portions of the records requested and exemptions that may or may not apply, the Commonwealth Court has said in an en banc decision.

Pa. Law Weekly - People in the News - August 25, 2015 - Vasquez Schmitt Joins Babst Calland as Associate in Firm's Litigation Services

Nicole Vasquez Schmitt joined Babst Calland as an associate in the firm's litigation services, employment and labor, and energy and natural resources groups.

verdicts and settlements

Del. Water Authority Agrees to Pay for Alleged Violations

By Max Mitchell |

The Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) has agreed to pay state and federal environmental protection agencies $1.38 million as part of a consent decree to settle allegations that it improperly discharged pollutants into the Delaware River and its tributaries.

verdicts and settlements

Judge Grants Default Judgment in Sexual Harassment Case

By Lizzy McLellan |

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a plaintiff alleging that she was sexually harassed at work, then pressured to resign or be fired.

Executive and Legislative Action for Week of Aug. 17

By John L. Kennedy |

Following is a listing of executive and legislative action for the week of Aug. 17. Members of the state House of Representatives were scheduled to return to session Aug. 24; Senate members are scheduled to return Sept. 20.

Wolf Administration Releases Rail Safety Report

By John L. Kennedy |

The Wolf administration released a report on rail transportation of crude oil that included 27 new safety recommendations.

Sam Stretton

The Role of the Courts May Be Expanding Too Far

By Samuel C. Stretton |

What is the ethical role lawyers and courts should play in modern society?

Leonard Deutchman

Technology Gets Better, but Spoliation Issues Remain the Same

By Leonard Deutchman |

In NuVasive v. Madsen Medical, No. 3:13-cv-02077-BTM-RBB (S.D. Cal. July 22, 2015), the defendants moved for sanctions, claiming spoliation for destruction of a type of electronically stored information that has grown quite prominent in personal communications but not as much in business ones: text messages. The opinion illustrates how, even as the technology grows, the legal issues remain tangled.

James M. Beck

Handling a Large-Record Appeal

By James M. Beck |

The biggest case of a lawyer's career is now on appeal. Maybe it involves a month-long trial. Maybe it involves a certified class action. Maybe it involves summary judgment after multiple Grady/Frye motions. Whatever the reason, both parties are staring at a record well in excess of 10,000 pages. What to do?

The Treating Physician: A Misnomer in Workers' Comp Litigation

By Anthony Natale III |

The concept of competing medical experts is commonplace in the realm of personal-injury litigation. No matter on which side of the fence the client resides, it can take a high-caliber "hired gun" to get the job done. In the world of workers' compensation, a hackneyed dichotomy still worms its way into this battle of the experts in a manner not prevalent in other, less exuberant areas of law. This distinction has come to be known as the treating physician versus the independent medical examiner.

Courts Embracing Special Discovery Masters

By Max Mitchell |

In an effort to stay on top of the constant evolution of technology and the ever-present threat of backlog, courts across the state are embracing the use of special discovery masters.

Justices Take Up Question on Inmate Conversation Tapes

By Lizzy McLellan |

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to take a case involving the classification under state wiretap laws of conversations between inmates and visitors that occur over a telephone-like device in a correctional facility.


Arbitration Agreement Invalid Without Power of Attorney

By Ben Seal |

A woman cannot be compelled to arbitrate her survival action against a nursing home because she did not have power of attorney when she signed an alternative dispute resolution agreement upon her husband's admission, the state Superior Court has ruled.

Savings Action Doesn't Bar Guaranty Fund Claim

By Ben Seal |

A savings action filed against an employer to preserve a civil remedy does not bar a workers' compensation claimaint's petition against the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.

Bar May Get Insurance Coverage for Fight Between Patrons

By Lizzy McLellan |

Following two motions for summary judgment and an appeal, a Berks County judge has ruled that an insurer cannot deny general liability and dram shop coverage to a bar facing negligence charges after one patron assaulted another.

Tobin Elected President of Bucks County SPCA Board of Directors

Eric R. Tobin of Eastburn and Gray was elected president of the board of directors of the Bucks County SPCA.

verdicts and settlements

'Kids-for-Cash' Facility Owner Agrees to Settlement

By Max Mitchell |

Robert J. Powell, the former co-owner of two private juvenile detention facilities at the center of the Luzerne County "kids-for-cash" scandal, has agreed to pay at least $4.75 million to settle his portion of a civil suit brought by a class of juvenile plaintiffs.

verdicts and settlements

Jury Favors Paralyzed Man In Delco Med Mal Suit

By Lizzy McLellan |

A Delaware County jury has awarded $12.5 million to a paralyzed man and his wife following an alleged delayed diagnosis of a cervical abscess.

GOP Offer a Sign of Progress on Budget Impasse?

By John L. Kennedy |

Gov. Tom Wolf last week used the word "good" in a response to an education funding offer from Republican legislative leaders in what may be the first sign of real progress in the seven-week budget impasse.

Legislative and Executive Action for Week of Aug. 10

By John L. Kennedy |

Following is a listing of legislative and executive action for the week of Aug. 10. Members of the state House of Representatives are scheduled to return to session Aug. 24; Senate members are scheduled to return Sept. 20.

Wolf, Lawmakers Restart Talk to Break Budget Impasse

By John L. Kennedy |

Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the General Assembly met last Wednesday—and were scheduled to meet again Thursday—to seek a breakthrough on budget negotiations.

Pa. Backs New U.S. Carbon Rules as Other States Eye Challenge

By John L. Kennedy |

Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement last week supporting President Obama's announcement of his final rule that slashes carbon emissions at power plants, his Clean Power Plan.

Sam Stretton

Ex Parte Communications Raise the Appearance of Impropriety

By Samuel C. Stretton |

If the district attorney disagrees with the bail decision of a municipal court judge, during or after a preliminary hearing, the district attorney goes directly to a common pleas judge to get the decision stayed or reversed. Although the district attorney mentions to defense counsel that he or she is going, there is nothing filed and normally it's an ex parte request to the judge. Is that ethical?

Jay Evans

Suggestions for Effective Appellate Oral Argument

By Jay Evans |

My previous column, "Crafting Arguments With Your Audience in Mind," focused on formulating written arguments with an eye to the eventual argument before a panel. Let's move forward, and work through some suggestions for the best way to prepare your case for the final battle: oral argument. Depending on the court, you may only get 15 minutes to advocate one last time for your client's position. My goal is to help you to make the most of that time.


Third Circuit Upholds EPA's Authority for Chesapeake Bay TMDL

By Kaitlyn R. Maxwell |

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently determined that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted within its statutory authority in publishing the total maximum daily load, or TMDL, of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that can be released into the Chesapeake Bay to comply with the Clean Water Act, in American Farm Bureau Federation v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 13-4079 (3d Cir. July 6, 2015).


Jerk-and-Jolt in Common-Carrier Motor Vehicles

By Craig Robinson |

At times, motor vehicle law in Pennsylvania can be complicated even for attorneys who have been practicing in the field for years. Although many cases tend to mirror one another, cases involving convoluted layers of insurance can lead to head-scratching confusion.


Questions Emerge Over How to Prosecute Prosecutors

By Max Mitchell and Lizzy McLellan |

With another top prosecutor in the state recently facing allegations of misconduct, yet another hole in state law has been revealed regarding how prosecutors may be investigated and prosecuted.