Thursday, June 19, 2014

abuse - expungement - indicated v. founded report - appeal - notice and oppty. to be heard in court proceeding

J.M. v. DPW – Cmwlth. Court – June 19, 2014

"Indicated" report of abuse by admin. agency was changed to "founded" after a court dependency hearing in which child was found to have been abused by stepfather, appellant here.  Stepfather appealed the administrative decision but not the court decision, as to which he claimed that he had not received notice.  Held:  hearing was necessary to deteermination whether stepfather had notice of the dependency hearing.

DPW may rely on the factual findings of the trial court in a dependency adjudication to dismiss an appeal for a request for expungement” of a founded report. K.R. v. Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 950 A.2d 1069, 1078 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008); see also C.S. v. Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 972 A.2d 1254, 1263-64 (Pa. Cmwlth.) (holding, in case wherein petitioner was never specifically named as perpetrator of abuse in underlying dependency proceeding, that “a separate administrative hearing before BHA is not necessary if there is substantial evidence to support the findings made in the dependency proceeding that the appellant was the perpetrator of the abuse of the minor” (emphasis omitted)), appeal denied, 987 A.2d 162 (Pa. 2009)  

However, a founded report of child abuse constitutes an “adjudication” under the AAL, and pursuant to the AAL, “[n]o adjudication of a Commonwealth agency shall be valid as to any party unless he shall have been afforded reasonable notice of a hearing and an opportunity to be heard.” J.G., 795 A.2d at 1092 (quoting 2 Pa. C.S. § 504). Because it is unclear whether J.M. was afforded these due process protections in the underlying dependency proceeding before the trial court, we conclude that BHA erred in denying J.M.’s appeal without a hearing.   See, J.G. v. Department of Public Welfare, 795 A.2d 1089 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002), and K.R. v. Department of Public Welfare, 950 A.2d 1069 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008).

The court vacated DPW’s order and remand the matter for a hearing on the limited issue of whether stepfather  had reasonable notice of the dependency hearing and an opportunity to be heard in that proceeding. If stepfather  was not provided with these due process protections, then the underlying dependency adjudication cannot serve as the basis for the founded report.

The stepfather's due process argument held not to be a collateral attack on the underlying dependency adjudication. Similar to the reasoning in R.F., the issue here is whether the underlying dependency adjudication is one upon which a founded report can be based. That is, his argument in this regard is not a challenge to the underlying dependency adjudication itself, but is instead a challenge to the use of that adjudication as support for a founded report absent due process. Nevertheless, if due process concerns are satisfied, then his second argument on appeal, relating to good cause, would constitute an impermissible collateral attack on the underlying dependency adjudication.  

If stepfather was afforded reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard in the underlying dependency proceeding, but did not take advantage of that opportunity, then he would not be entitled to a hearing before BHA.  

contracts - duty of good faith and fair dealing - damages

MyServiceForce v. American Home Shield – ED Pa. – June 17, 2014

Good faith and fair dealing

A claim for a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing is a contract claim3 under which a plaintiff has to establish the following in order to succeed on its claim: “(1) the existence of a contract, (2) breach of the contract, and (3) damages which flow from the breach.” Life Care Ctrs. of Am., Inc. v. Charles Town Assocs. Ltd. P’ship, 79 F.3d 496, 514 (6th Cir. 1996). See also Sewer Auth. of City of Scranton v. Pa. Infrastructure Inv. Auth., 81 A.3d 1031, 1041-42 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013) (“The elements of a breach of contract are (1) the existence of a contract, (2) a breach of the duty imposed by the contract and (3) damages resulting from the breach.” (quoting Orbisonia-Rockhill Joint Mun. Auth. v. Cromwell Twp., 978 A.2d 425, 428 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 2009))).

3  Under both Pennsylvania and Tennessee law, a claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing is a breach of contract action. See McAllister v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., Civ. A. No. 02-2393, 2003 WL 23192102, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2003) (citing Fraser v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 135 F. Supp. 2d 623, 643 (E.D. Pa. 2001); Blue Mountain Mushroom Co. v. Monterey Mushroom, Inc., 246 F. Supp. 2d 394, 400 (E.D. Pa. 2002)); see also Fountain Leasing, LLC v. Kloeber, Civ. A. No. 12-317, 2013 WL 4591622, at *4 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 28, 2013) (stating that, under Tennessee law, a claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing “serves as part of a breach of contract action rather than serving as a cause of action in and of itself.” (citing Lyons v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 26 S.W.3d 888, 894 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000)).  

Moreover, in order to recover on its claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, a plaintiff must prove damages resulting from the alleged breach with reasonable certainty. See ATACS Corp. v. Trans World Commc’ns, Inc., 155 F.3d 659, 669 (3d Cir. 1998) (stating that the general rule in Pennsylvania is that the injured party must prove damages from breach of contract with reasonable certainty (citations omitted))….

There are three “theories of damages to remedy a breach of contract: ‘expectation’ damages, ‘reliance’ damages, and ‘restitution’ damages.” ATACS, 155 F.3d at 669 (citing Trosky v. Civil Serv. Comm’n, 652 A.2d 813, 817 (Pa. 1995); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 344 (1981)); see also Trosky, 652 A.2d at 817 (noting that remedies for breach of contract “are designed to protect either a party’s expectation interest ‘by attempting to put him in as good a position as he would have been had the contract been performed’ . . . ; his reliance interest ‘by attempting to put him back in the position in which he would have been had the contract not been made’; or his restitution interest ‘[by requiring] the other party to disgorge the benefit he has received by returning it to the party who conferred it’” (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contracts, § 344, Comment a))….


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

federal courts - Younger abstention

Gonzalez v. Waterfront Commission – 3d Cir. – June 17, 2014

Ariel Gonzalez filed this action against his former employer, the Waterfront Commission of the New York Harbor, seeking to enjoin disciplinary proceedings initiated by the Commission as a violation of his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the First Amendment.

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey denied Gonzalez’s motion and ultimately stayed and administratively terminated this suit based on its conclusion that the Younger1 abstention doctrine precluded federal interference with the ongoing state disciplinary proceedings.

During the pendency of this appeal, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S. Ct. 584 (2013), which provides clarity to the abstention inquiry and defines the outer boundaries of the abstention doctrine.

Reviewing this appeal in light of Sprint, we conclude that the decision to abstain was appropriate. Accordingly, we will affirm.




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Consumer Protection - "person" does not include political subdivision agencies

Meyer v. Community College of Beaver County – Pa. SCt – June 16, 2014

In this appeal, we consider whether the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”), 73 P.S. §§ 201-1 et seq., defines a “person”subject to liability as including both private entities and political subdivision agencies.

After careful review, we hold that the UTPCPL defines a “person” as including private entities, but not political subdivision agencies. Accordingly, we reverse the Commonwealth Court’s order affirming the trial court’s denial of partial summary judgment on this issue and remand to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

debt collection - notice of validation rights - FDCPA

Harlan v.  TransWorld Systems, dba North Shore Agency – ED Pa.  – April 8, 2014

Following Caprio v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, 709 F.3d 142 (3d Cir. 2013) Debt collector failed to give a proper notice of validation rights and violated sec. 1692g, where the notice appeared buried in a lot of other notices on the reverse side of a letter, and where a conflicting notice of "STATEMENT OF INTENTIONS" appeared on the front. 



Thursday, April 03, 2014

UC - willful misconduct - absenteeism - final absence - good cause

Howard Hanna Holdings, Inc. v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – April 3, 2014 – unreported memorandum opinion

An employer has the right to expect that its employees will attend work when they are scheduled, that they will be on time, and that they will not leave work early without permission. Fritz v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 446 A.2d 330, 333 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980). As a result, excessive absenteeism and tardiness may constitute willful misconduct as a disregard of the standards that an employer has a right to expect of its employees. Id.; American Process Lettering, Inc. v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 412 A.2d 1123, 1125 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980); Crilly v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 397 A.2d 40, 41 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1979).

Although an advance warning is not a precondition or prerequisite to support a discharge for willful misconduct, a prior warning is relevant in that it reflects the employee’s attitude toward his employment and adds to the willfulness of the misconduct. American Process Lettering, Inc., 412 A.2d at 1125-26.

However, even where a history of absenteeism is present, a claimant is entitled to receive compensation benefits where the final absence which precipitated his or her discharge was based on good cause. See Tritex Sportswear, Inc. v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 315 A.2d 322, 324 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980). But cf. Grand Sport Auto Body, 55 A.3d at 192-94 (holding that a claimant’s extensive absenteeism and history of tardiness constituted willful misconduct even if the claimant’s final absence before discharge was justified).

In this case, the court found that all of claimant's absences, including the last one, were for good cause.


The opinion, though not reported, may be cited "for its persuasive value, but not as binding precedent." 210 Pa. Code § 67.55. Citing Judicial Opinions.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

federal courts - abstention - Younger abstention

Acra Turf Club v. Zanzuccki -  3d Cir. – March 341, 2014

ACRA Turf Club, LLC filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, against Francesco Zanzuccki , Executive Director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, asserting that certain amendments to New Jersey’s Off-Track and Account Wagering Act violate their rights under the United States Constitution.

The District Court dismissed the case on Younger abstention grounds, and Plaintiffs appealed. During the pendency of this appeal, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S. Ct. 584 (2013), which clarifies and reminds courts of the boundaries of the Younger abstention doctrine. Because this action does not fit within the framework for abstention outlined in Sprint, we will reverse.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

UC - willful misconduct - excessive v. limited absenteeism/tardiness

Morgan v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – March 26, 2014 – unreported memorandum opinion

Claimant failed to report for work on March 6, 2013 and did not notify Employer that she would be absent. On March 7, 2013, she received and signed a written warning for that absence and failure to notify. Although it advised that further attendance policy violations could result in termination of employment, this warning was marked as a “First Warning” and did not refer to any tardiness or absences other than the March 6, 2013 incident. On March 13, 2013, Claimant was absent from work, but notified Employer of her absence. On March 14, 2013, the following day, Claimant arrived at work five minutes late and was discharged by Employer for tardiness and absenteeism.

It is well established that excessive absenteeism or tardiness can constitute willful misconduct. Ellis v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 59 A.3d 1159, 1163 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013); Grand Sport Auto Body, 55 A.3d at 190; Fritz v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 446 A.2d 330, 333 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982). “Employers have ‘the right to expect that ... employees will attend work when they are scheduled, that they will be on time, and that they will not leave work early without permission.’” Grand Sport Auto Body, 55 A.3d at 190 (quoting Fritz). Thus, we have held that willful misconduct was shown where the claimant had a pattern of repeated tardiness or absences without good cause and the claimant had received warnings concerning his or her tardiness or absences. See Ellis, 59 A.3d at 1161, 1163-64 (claimant was late six times in a two and one-half week period, five of which were latenesses of 30 minutes, before she was discharged for arriving at work 45 minutes late); Grand Sport Auto Body, 55 A.3d at 190-92 (claimant was late 16 times in six months and was absent three days without excuse in the final month that he worked); Fritz, 446 A.2d at 331, 333 (in approximately two-month period, claimant was late six times, five times by 45 minutes or more, was absent once and left work early once).

The Board did not find any pattern of habitual or chronic tardiness or absences. Rather, the Board found only that Claimant had two absences and a single incident of being five minutes late for work.  This does not rise to the level of excessive absences and tardiness that constitutes willful misconduct. Nor can the conduct for which Claimant was discharged be properly characterized as willful misconduct on the ground that she violated Employer’s rules requiring notification of absences and lateness. While Claimant did not comply with Employer’s requirement that she call in the case of the first absence, she received a warning and was not discharged for that conduct. Claimant complied with Employer’s attendance policy with respect to the second absence. In the final incident, Claimant did not call Employer to notify that she would be five minutes late for work. .) The mere failure to notify of such a brief lateness on a single occasion does not by itself show the deliberate or intentional violation of Employer’s rules or disregard of standards of conduct that is required to support a finding of willful misconduct. See Philadelphia Parking Authority v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 1 A.3d 965, 968-69 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010) (violation of employer rule that was not shown to be intentional or deliberate does not constitute willful misconduct and does not shift burden to claimant to show good cause for rule violation).

We recognize that Employer contended that Claimant had a history of other absences and incidents of tardiness, in addition to the two absences and one five-minute lateness that preceded her discharge.  Employer’s witnesses, however, had no knowledge of those alleged absences and latenesses, and Employer’s documentation consisted solely of a list for the unemployment compensation proceedings with no evidence as to how it was prepared or on what it was based, not time or attendance records kept in the ordinary course of business.

Hearsay evidence, even if admitted without objection, cannot support a finding of fact unless it is corroborated by other competent evidence in the record. There was no evidence that corroborated Employer’s list of prior absences and tardiness; Claimant disputed Employer’s contentions that she had a history of unexcused absences and lateness, and the written warning that Claimant received and signed did not indicate that Claimant had any history of tardiness or any unexcused absences other than the March 6, 2013 incident. 
Accordingly, the Board did not find that Claimant had any history of absences or lateness before the three incidents of March 6, 2013, March 13, 2013, and March 14, 2013.

Because the two absences and single incident of tardiness found by the Board are insufficient to constitute willful misconduct, we reverse the order of the Board.


The opinion, though not reported, may be cited "for its persuasive value, but not as binding precedent." 210 Pa. Code § 67.55. Citing Judicial Opinions.