Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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In August, 2010, Appellants, Washington County residents Raymond and Donna Mantia, hired Appellee, West Virginia contractor Shafer Electric & Construction, to build a 34 foot by 24 foot, two-car garage addition onto their house. The proposals for the garage did not comply with several requirements of Section 517.7 of the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. Specifically, any home improvement contract, in order to be valid and enforceable against the owner of real property, had to be legible, in writing, and contain thirteen other specific requirements. Despite the detail in the specifications for the work to be completed, the contract here only complied with subsections (5), (7), and (8) of Section 517.7(a). Notwithstanding these deficiencies, work on the project began in October, 2010, when Appellants, who owned their own excavation business, began the foundation excavation. When Appellee commenced construction of the addition, it contended that problems surfaced because of Appellants' failure to complete the excavation work properly. During the subsequent months, Appellants eventually reexcavated the foundation area for the addition and, in the process (according to Appellee), changed the design of the addition several times. Negotiations into these design changes and other necessary alterations as a result of the excavation problems occurred, but ultimately failed when Appellants apparently refused to enter into a new contract with Appellee. Upon the breakdown of the negotiations, the parties mutually agreed that Appellee would invoice Appellants for the work completed, and that Appellee would discontinue efforts on the project. Appellants refused to pay the bill. Appellee responded by filing a mechanic's lien in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas. When Appellants still had failed to satisfy the outstanding balance, Appellee filed a civil action in the common pleas court, alleging both breach of contract and quantum meruit causes of action. The Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to determine whether the Act barred a contractor from recovery under a theory of quantum meruit in the absence of a valid and enforceable home improvement contract as defined by the Act. The Superior Court held that the Act did not bar a cause of action sounding in quantum meruit and, for slightly different reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shafer Electric & Construction v. Mantia" on Justia Law

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In February, 2006, Konstantinos Koumboulis shot and killed his wife and himself inside his house. The murder/suicide was highly publicized in the local media and on the internet. The Jaconos purchased the property from the Koumboulis estate at auction in September, 2006, for $450,000. After investing thousands in renovations, the Jaconos listed the property for sale in June, 2007. They informed Re/Max, their listing agents, of the murder/suicide. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court for review was whether the occurrence of a murder/suicide inside a house constituted a material defect of the property, such that appellees' failure to disclose the same to the buyer of the house constituted fraud, negligent misrepresentation, or a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law's (UTPCPL). The Court concluded a murder/suicide does not constitute an actionable material defect. View "Milliken v. Jacono" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia filed an Application for Zoning/Use Registration Permit with the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections ("L&I") for conversion of the Nativity B.V.M. Elementary School into a 63-unit, one-bedroom apartment complex for low income senior citizens. The school was built in 1912 and operated by the Archdiocese in legal non-conformance with subsequently enacted zoning codes until 2008, when it had been closed due to declining enrollment and insufficient revenue. In 2009, the Archdiocese received funding under the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") to convert the school to senior housing. L&I denied the Archdiocese's Application for Zoning/Use Registration Permit as not in compliance with several provisions of the Philadelphia Zoning Code. The Archdiocese appealed to the City of Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment ("ZBA") for use and dimensional variances. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court was whether the Commonwealth Court applied an improper standard in reversing the ZBA's grant of a variance. After careful review of the Commonwealth Court's opinion the Court concluded that the court erred by relying on an improper standard for unnecessary hardship and by substituting its judgment for that of the ZBA, thereby applying an incorrect standard of review. View "Marshall v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Appellants appealed a Commonwealth Court decision which considered the application of personal income tax (PIT) to various nonresidents, who invested as limited partners in a Connecticut limited partnership, which existed for the sole purpose of owning and operating a skyscraper in Pittsburgh, which ultimately went into foreclosure in 2005. The Commonwealth Court held that the partnership was subject to PIT commensurate with the total debt discharged as a result of the foreclosure, and therefore the nonresident limited partners were liable for PIT in an amount proportionate with their shares in the partnership. The Partnership incurred net operating losses for accounting, federal tax, and PIT purposes in every year of its existence. For PIT purposes, the Partnership allocated those losses to Appellants (and all of the other limited partners) and, because Appellants had no Pennsylvania-based income for 1985-2004, they did not file Pennsylvania PIT returns for those years. By June 30, 2005, the compounded, accrued interest totaled $2.32 billion, thus making the total liability on the Purchase Money Note more than $2.6 billion. When the Note matured given the insurmountable debt that had accrued, the Partnership was unable to sell the Property. Accordingly, the lender foreclosed, and, because the Partnership no longer owned the Property, the Partnership soon after liquidated. None of the limited partners, including Appellants, received any proceeds from the Property’s foreclosure or the Partnership’s liquidation, and therefore lost their entire investments in the Partnership. Following the Property’s foreclosure, but prior to the Partnership’s liquidation, the Partnership reported a gain as a result of the foreclosure on its federal and state tax filings that consisted of the unpaid balance of the Purchase Money Note’s principal and the accrued, compounded interest. Despite their individual investment losses, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue assessed PIT against Appellants, plus interest and penalties, related to the foreclosure on the Property for the 2005 tax year. The Supreme Court empathized with Appellants who found "themselves with significant financial burdens because of the loss of their investments, the liquidation of the Partnership, and the foreclosure of the Property." Nevertheless, the assessment of PIT by the Department was proper, as a matter of constitutional, statutory, and regulatory law. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court sustaining the assessment of PIT. View "Wirth v. Pennsylvania " on Justia Law

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PPM Atlantic Renewable (“PPM”) unsuccessfully requested that the Fayette County Zoning Board grant it numerous special exceptions and variances for it to build 24 windmill turbines on leased land. This matter involved whether an objector must comply with a county court order to post bond as a condition of appealing to the Commonwealth Court, where the developer was the appellant in the county court. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court should not have quashed the objector's merits appeal based on the the objector's failure to post bond. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "PPM Atlantic Renewable v. Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board" on Justia Law

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Appellees (husband and wife) created The Dorothy M. Miller Family Irrevocable Trust, naming Mrs. Miller as settlor, and her and her husband as co-trustees. The sole beneficiaries of the trust were appellees and their only child. Appellees transferred title to their house and farm to the trust, but did not pay realty transfer tax on the transfer, claiming it was an excluded transaction under the Realty Transfer Tax Act as a transfer to a "living trust." The Department of Revenue issued a Realty Transfer Tax Notice of Determination providing the transfer was subject to realty transfer taxes, plus applicable interest and fees. Appellees unsuccessfully petitioned for redetermination with the Department’s Board of Appeals. The Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that Mrs. Miller's testimony that she intended the Trust to be a substitute for her will was sufficient to define it as a living trust. The Commonwealth appealed. The Supreme Court found the Miller Trust failed to meet the statutory definition of a living trust or will substitute. As such, the Court reversed and remanded for calculation of transfer tax. View "Miller v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether: (1) the repeal of an ordinance mooted any challenges to that ordinance; (2) whether the Commonwealth Court may issue an opinion on the merits of certain issues where it subsequently remands the case for a determination of mootness on another issue; and (3) whether parties to a hearing can continue a challenge to a zoning ordinance once the original challenger has withdrawn. Because “parties to a hearing” are distinct from “party appellants,” unless the former have taken steps to become party appellants, the Supreme Court found they cannot continue the challenge. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court’s decision permitting parties to the hearing to continue the challenge brought by the original party appellant was reversed, and the attempted challenge was dismissed. View "Stuckley v. ZHB of Newtown Twp." on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the limits of the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) authority to allocate costs associated with a rail-highway crossing project. The Commonwealth Court held that the Commission could not allocate costs to a transportation utility that regularly uses a railroad-crossing site and does not own real estate or properties there. The Commission and Intervenors argued that the PUC has broad discretion not only to determine the allocation of costs to "concerned parties," but also to determine which parties are "concerned" in the first instance. Counterbalancing the Commission's and Intervenors' remarks about equities, Norfolk Southern Railway questioned why it should contribute to the remediation of deteriorating infrastructure over which it had no control. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that a transportation utility need not own facilities at a rail-highway crossing to be a concerned party for purposes of the PUC's cost-allocation jurisdiction and authority, at least where the utility conducts regular operations at the crossing and may enforce an easement-based right of way. View "Norfolk Southern Railway v. PUC" on Justia Law

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Appellee Pamela Vukman appealed a superior court order that affirmed the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. That order granted appellees motion to set aside judgment and sheriff's sale, and dismissed appellant Beneficial Consumer Discount Company's praecipe without prejudice. Beneficial moved to foreclose appellee for being in default of her mortgage. The parties agreed to a settlement whereby Beneficial received judgment for the accelerated amount due on the mortgage as long as appellee made regular payments. Appellee eventually defaulted according to the terms of the settlement; Beneficial filed for a writ of execution. The property was sold at a sheriff's sale, and Beneficial was the successful bidder. Appellee then moved to set aside the sale, arguing Beneficial failed to comply with the requirements under the Homeowner's Emergency Mortgage Act. The court concluded that Beneficial did not follow the Act's requirements, and as a result, it id not have jurisdiction. Therefore the court set aside the sale and dismissed Beneficial's original complaint. Beneficial appealed; the superior court affirmed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act's notice requirement did not implicate subject matter jurisdiction of the trial court, it reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Beneficial Consumer Discount Company v. Vukman" on Justia Law

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Appellee Young's Sales & Service submitted a claim with Appellant Underground Storage Indemnification Fund for reimbursement of remediation costs it incurred following the release of certain regulated chemicals stored in underground tanks on its property. The claim was denied, and Appellee appealed. The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the Commonwealth Court correctly held that section 706(2) of the Storage Tank Spill Prevention Act applied on a per tank basis. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and reinstated the Board's order denying Appellee's claim. View "Young's Sales & Service v. Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Board" on Justia Law