Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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In this discretionary appeal, and in a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the elements of a bad faith insurance claim brought pursuant to Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S. section 8371. In 1992, while working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) Appellee LeAnn Rancosky purchased a cancer insurance policy as a supplement to her primary employer-based health insurance. The cancer policy was issued by Appellant Conseco Health Insurance Company (“Conseco”). To pay for the policy, Rancosky’s employer automatically deducted bi-weekly payments of $22.00 from her paycheck. The policy contained a waiver-of premium provision, which excused premium payments in the event Rancosky became disabled due to cancer. In 2003, Rancosky was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Though, Rancosky did not return to her job with USPS following her hospital admission, she remained on her employer’s payroll for several months because she had accrued unused vacation and sick days. Consequently, Conseco continued to receive payroll deducted premiums from Rancosky until June 24, 2003, when Rancosky went on disability retirement. Premium payments were made in arrears; the final premium payment extended coverage under her policy to May 24, 2003. Unbeknownst to Rancosky, her physician statement inaccurately specified her date of disability as beginning on April 21, 2003, rather than on February 4, 2003. 5 Believing that the premiums had been waived and that no further premiums were due on the policy because of her disability from cancer, Rancosky’s final premium payment came from her June 24, 2003, payroll-deducted premium. Over the next two years, as Rancosky experienced several recurrences of her cancer, she continued to submit claims to Conseco. Conseco eventually started denying Rancosky’s claims for further benefits based upon her failure to pay premiums. The Supreme Court adopted the two-part test articulated in Terletsky v. Prudential Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 649 A.2d 680 (Pa. Super. 1994) in order for a plaintiff to recover in a bad faith action; proof of an insurance company’s motive of self-interest or ill-will is not a prerequisite to prevailing in a bad faith claim under Section 8371, as was argued by Appellant. The Court affirmed the superior court, which partially vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on Appellee’s bad faith claim. View "Rancosky v. Washington National Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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No fiduciary duty arises in a consumer transaction for the purchase of a whole life insurance policy based upon the advice of a financial advisor where the consumer purchasing the policy does not cede decision -making control over the purchase to the financial advisor. In 1995, Bryan Holland, a financial advisor for IDS Life Insurance Corporation, made an unsolicited telephone contact, a "cold call," to Eugene and Ruth Yenchi. At a subsequent meeting and for a fee of $350, Holland presented the Yenchis with a financial management proposal containing a notice that it had been prepared by "your American Express financial advisor" (Holland) and that "[alt your request, your American Express financial advisor can recommend products distributed by American Express Financial Advisors and its affiliates as investment alternatives for existing securities." The Proposal offered the Yenchis a number of general recommendations, including that they monitor monthly expenses, consolidate their debt, consider various savings plans, consolidate current life insurance policies into one policy, review long-term care coverage, keep accurate records for tax purposes (medical expenses and charitable contributions), transfer 401(k) funds into mutual funds, and continue estate planning with an attorney and their financial advisor. The Yenchis implemented some of these recommendations. In 2000, the Yenchis had their portfolio independently reviewed. Through this process, they were advised that Holland’s recommendations would be financially devastating to the Yenchis. In April 2001, the Yenchis sued Holland and his company, American Express Financial Services Corporation, American Express Financial Advisors Corporation, and IDS Life Insurance Company. The Yenchis' asserted claims of negligence/willful disregard, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), bad faith, negligent supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Of relevance here, with respect to the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the trial court held that no fiduciary relationship was established between the Yenchis and Holland because the Yenchis continued to make their own investment decisions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, consistent with its jurisprudence, no fiduciary duty arose in such a situation. Consequently, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision to the contrary. View "Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether a contractor could maintain an action under the Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CASPA) against a property owner’s agents. Beginning in 2005, Appellant Scungio Borst & Associates (SBA) entered into a series of written and oral construction contracts with Appellee 410 Shurs Lane Developers, LLC (410 SLD), which 410 SLD’s part-owner and president, Appellee Robert DeBolt, executed on 410 SLD’s behalf. Therein, SBA agreed to improve real property owned by 410 SLD in connection with the development of a condominium complex, and did so until November 2006, when SBA’s contracts were terminated with approximately $1.5 million in outstanding payments due. SBA requested payment, but 410 SLD, again through DeBolt, refused. Accordingly, SBA sued 410 SLD; its alleged successor corporation, Appellee Kenworth II, LLC; and DeBolt in his personal capacity. SBA asserted, among other claims, violations of CASPA. After careful review, the Supreme Court held that a contractor could not maintain an action under CASPA, and, accordingly, affirmed the order of the Superior Court. View "Scungio Borst & Assoc. v. 410 Shurs Lane Developers, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant City of Allentown (City) contracted with appellee A. Scott Enterprises, Inc. (ASE), to construct a new public road. After arsenic-contaminated soil was discovered at the worksite, the City suspended work on the project. Following testing, it was determined construction could resume if precautions were taken. Accordingly, the City instructed ASE to obtain revised permits and proceed with the project. However, the existing contract did not include terms regarding the potential for contaminated soil, despite the fact the City was aware there might be contamination prior to entering into the contract, and ASE declined to proceed, explaining it would incur substantial additional costs due to the contaminated soil. The parties made several attempts to reach an agreement in which ASE would continue the construction, but to no avail. Consequently, ASE sued the City to recover its losses on the project, alleged breach of contract, and sought compensation under theories of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment, as well as interest and a statutory penalty and fee award for violations of the prompt pay provisions of the Procurement Code. After a trial, a jury found the City breached its contract with ASE and also withheld payments in bad faith. In this discretionary appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether an award of a statutory penalty and attorney fees under the prompt payment provisions of the Commonwealth’s Procurement Code was mandatory upon a finding of bad faith, irrespective of the statute’s permissive phrasing. The Court held such an award was not mandatory, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "A. Scott Enterprises v. City of Allentown" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were the attorney's fees earned in a wrongful death civil litigation settlement, and two law firms' dispute over who was entitled to how much. Richard Eazor was killed and Lynn Sharp was injured in a single automobile accident in Clearfield County. Eazor’s estate and Sharp sued each other, with Sharp contending that Eazor drove the vehicle when the accident occurred and Eazor’s estate alleging that Sharp was the driver. Progressive Insurance Company, the liability carrier for Sharp, retained counsel to represent both parties as defendants in the respective actions, while Sentry Insurance, the carrier for Eazor, remained potentially liable for underinsured motorists’ coverage payable to the person deemed to be the passenger in the vehicle. Attorney William Weiler, Jr., entered his appearance on behalf of the Eazor estate. Later that year, Weiler became associated with the law firm of Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C., (“Meyer Darragh”). Attorney Scott Millhouse of Meyer Darragh subsequently became primarily responsible for the case and drafted a proposed settlement agreement, which was sent to all counsel, but was never signed. Shortly thereafter, Weiler resigned from Meyer Darragh. Upon his departure, he agreed that Meyer Darragh would receive two-thirds of the attorney’s fees arising from the Eazor estate litigation, and that he would retain one-third of the fees. Weiler subsequently became affiliated with the law firm of Malone Middleman, P.C. (“Malone Middleman”). The Eazor estate decided to discharge Meyer Darragh and seek representation from Weiler and Malone Middleman. Malone Middleman took over the case and entered into a contingency fee agreement with the estate, providing that the firm would represent the estate in exchange for one-third of the proceeds of any settlement reached before suit was filed. The contingent fee agreement did not address the payment of attorney’s fees to Meyer Darragh. Further, Malone Middleman did not agree in writing or otherwise to protect the fee purportedly earned by Meyer Darragh. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to examine the propriety of the Superior Court’s holding that a Meyer Darragh was entitled to breach of contract damages against Malone Middleman. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that under the specific facts presented here, any recovery that may have been due to Meyer Darragh would lie in quantum meruit, and not breach of contract. As such, the Court reversed and remanded. View "Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C. v. Malone Middleman, P.C." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Superior Court properly applied the doctrine of estoppel by deed to conclude that an oil and gas lease between Appellee, Anadarko E. & P. Co., L.P. and Appellants, Leo and Sandra Shedden, covered the oil and gas rights to 100% of the property identified in the lease, notwithstanding the fact that, unbeknownst to them, Appellants owned only a one-half interest in the oil and gas rights to the property at the time the lease was executed, and, consequently, received a bonus payment only for the oil and gas rights they actually owned. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the Superior Court properly affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Anadarko based on estoppel by deed. View "Shedden v. Anadarko E&P Co." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on review of a Commonwealth Court order Court interpreting a provision of a consent decree, negotiated by the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania ("OAG") and approved by the Commonwealth Court, between Appellant UPMC, a nonprofit health care corporation, and Appellee Highmark, a nonprofit medical insurance corporation, which established the obligations of both parties with respect to certain health care plans serving vulnerable populations. Specifically, the Court considered whether the Commonwealth Court erroneously interpreted this "vulnerable populations" provision as creating a contractual obligation for UPMC to treat all participants in Highmark’s "Medicare Advantage Plans" (for which Highmark and UPMC currently have provider contracts which UPMC has indicated it will terminate) as "in-network" for purposes of determining the rates it is permitted to charge these individuals for physician, hospital, and other medical services during the duration of the consent decree. After careful review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s finding that the "vulnerable populations" clause of the consent decree required UPMC to "be in a contract" with Highmark for the duration of the consent decree, and, thus, that UPMC physicians, hospitals, and other services shall be treated as "in-network" for participants in Highmark Medicare Advantage plans which were subject to provider contracts between Highmark and UPMC set to be terminated by UPMC on December 31, 2015. The Court also affirmed the portion of the Commonwealth Court’s order requiring judicial approval for any further changes in business relationships between these parties which were governed by the consent decree, but quashed as not yet ripe for review the portion of the order which directed the OAG to file a request for supplemental relief to effectuate compliance with the consent decree. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC" on Justia Law

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Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc. hired Appellee David Socko in March 2007 as a salesperson. Socko executed a two-year employment contract containing a covenant not to compete. In February 2009, Socko resigned from his employment with Mid-Atlantic, but the company rehired him four months later, in June 2009. At his time of rehire, Socko signed a new employment agreement containing another two-year covenant not to compete. While still employed by Mid-Atlantic, in 2010, Socko signed a third, more restrictive “Non-Competition Agreement,” which, by its terms, superseded all prior agreements. Pursuant to the Agreement (at issue in this appeal), Socko was not permitted to compete with Mid-Atlantic for two years after the termination of his employment in any of the locations Mid-Atlantic did business: Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Agreement also expressly provided for the application of Pennsylvania law, and stated that the parties intended to be “legally bound.” The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was one of first impression: whether the enforcement of an employment agreement containing a restrictive covenant not to compete, entered into after the commencement of employment, could be challenged by an employee for a lack of consideration, where the agreement, by its express terms, stated that the parties “intend to be legally bound,” which language implicated the insulating effect of the Uniform Written Obligations Act (“UWOA”). After review, the Supreme Court concluded that an employee was not precluded from challenging such an agreement executed pursuant to the UWOA. View "Socko. v. Mid-Atantic Systems of CPA, Inc." on Justia Law