Thursday, September 06, 2018

housing - disabled tenant - reasonable accommodation - Fair Housing Amendments Act

Vorchheimer v. Philadelphia Owners Assn. – 3d Cir. – September 5, 2018

Held:  Under the Fair Housing Amendment Act, 42 U.S.C. §3604(f)(2), (f)(2)(A), a disabled tenant has a right to a reasonable housing accommodation that she needs to use and enjoy her home. But if her landlord offers her an alternative that likewise satisfies that need, she has no right to demand the particular accommodation that she wants.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

custody - standing - in loco parentis - stepfather in U.S. military - physical absence from home

M.L.S. v. T.H.-S – Superior Court – Augusut 29, 2018 – reported opinion

Held:  Stepfather (SF) of 11 year-old child stands in loco parentis to child, even though SF is in active military service and lives apart from the child for the majority of time, where:

            - SF listed child as a dependent and received benefits from SF’s military service (15 years in the US Navy)
            - SF spoke with child on phone every other day while stationed in the U.S.
            - SF undertook many parental duties, as permitted by his military service, and served in many respects in place of child’s deceased father

Physical absence from home due to military services is “merely one factor” concerning in loco parentis.
SF both assumed parental status and discharged parental duties.

Monday, August 27, 2018

labor - employee v. indpt. contractor - beauty salon

A Special Touch v. Dept. of Labor & Industry – Cmwlth. Court – August 23, 2018

A Special Touch, a beauty salon, petitions for review of an adjudication of the Department of Labor and Industry (Department) that imposed an unemployment compensation tax on it for five persons who worked at the salon in a variety of positions.

In its adjudication, the Department classified these five workers as employees, but it classified five other workers who worked there in similar positions as independent contractors.

Because all ten workers were “customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business” under Section 4(l)(2)(B) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law),2 we reverse the Department’s holding in that respect.

consumer - debt collection - FDCPA - use of true name

Levins v. Health Care Recovery Group – 3d Cir. – August 22, 2018

 Elaine and William Levins allege that Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group LLC (“HRRG”) violated  §§ 1692e(14), 1692d(6), and 1692e(10) of the FDCPA by leaving telephone voice messages that did not use its true name, did not meaningfully disclose its identity, and used false representations and deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect a debt or obtain information about a consumer.

 In particular, the Levinses complain that voicemail messages in which HRRG went by the name of “ARS” were insufficient to identify it as HRRG or even as “ARS ACCOUNT RESOLUTION SERVICES,” which is an alternative business name used by HRRG. HRRG moved to dismiss the complaint, as amended, for failure to state a claim, and the District Court granted that motion.

Held: the Levinses have stated a plausible claim that HRRG violated § 1692e(14)’s “true name” provision, but they have not stated plausible claims under §§ 1692d(6) or 1692e(10).

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

housing - sec. 8 - recertification - false information - intent

MaCool v. Berks County Housing Authority – July 30, 2018 – unpublished* memorandum opinion

Held:  Where tenant “unequivocally...did not provide true and correct and complete information on her recertification forms,” the Housing Authority had the right and discretion to remove  the tenant from the sec. 8 program, regardless of the trial court’s finding that the tenant did not intend to lie.


*An unreported Commonwealth Court case may not be cited binding precedent but can be cited for its persuasive value.  See 210 Pa. Code § 69.414(b) and Pa. R.A.P.  3716

Friday, July 27, 2018


Thompson v. Thompson – Pa. Super. – May 8, 2018 – published opinion

Held:  Denial of IFP petition reversed, where party’s counsel filed praecipe under Pa. R.C.P. 240(d)(1).

When a counseled praecipe to proceed in forma pauperis is filed, the granting of such status is administrative. “If the party is represented by an attorney, the prothonotary shall allow the party to proceed in forma pauperis upon the filing of a praecipe which contains a certification by the attorney that he or she is providing free legal service to the party and believes the party is unable to pay the costs.” Pa.R.C.P. 240(d)(1). If the trial court does not believe the averments in a praecipe to proceed in forma pauperis, the court is required to hold a hearing to determine the veracity of the allegations contained in the praecipe. Crosby Square Apartments v. Henson, 666 A.2d 737, 738 (Pa. Super. 1995) (citation omitted).

Friday, July 20, 2018

UC - voluntary quit - voluntary layoff option proviso of sec. 402(b)

Phila. Regional Port Authority v. UCBR – July 20, 2018 – en banc – reported decision

Held:  Claimant was eligible for benefits under Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law) because she opted to participate in a voluntary separation incentive program offered by Employer.

The Voluntary Layoff Option (VLO) Proviso of Section 402(b) of the Law states as follows: An employe shall be ineligible for compensation for any week – *** (b) In which his unemployment is due to voluntarily leaving work without cause of a necessitous and compelling nature…Provided further, That no otherwise eligible claimant shall be denied benefits for any week in which his unemployment is due to exercising the option of accepting a layoff, from an available position pursuant to a labor-management contract agreement, or pursuant to an established employer plan, program or policy[.] 43 P.S. §802(b).

The court relied on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Diehl v. UCBR, 57 A.3d 1209 (Pa. 2012).   Recognizing that the Law does not define “layoff,” the Supreme Court concluded that the term should be construed consistent with “common parlance,” which encompasses “both temporary and permanent separations initiated by the employer.” Diehl, 57 A.3d at 1218 . It then considered whether an early retirement plan offered in the context of a workforce reduction is the equivalent of “an option of accepting a layoff.” The Supreme Court concluded that they were the same, stating “Given that we must interpret eligibility sections broadly in favor of the employee, we find no language that prevents the interpretation of the term layoff to include this employer-initiated, early retirement packages [sic] offered pursuant to a workforce reduction. Diehl, 57 A.3d at 1222.

“The plain language of the VLO Proviso does not support Employer’s contention that a “plan” must be one that targets specific employees, or positions, 12 and must have been agreed to by the separating employee in advance of its need. Neither Diehl nor its progeny support Employer’s proffered requirements. Claimant accepted a layoff from an available position pursuant to Employer’s Voluntary Separation Incentive Program. As the Board correctly determined, Claimant is eligible for benefits under the VLO Proviso.”


Monday, July 16, 2018

housing - fair housing - rental due date - date of receipt of disability benefits

Fair Housing Rights Center v. Morgan Properties – ED Pa. – June 29, 2018 – (24 pp.)

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment denied on Plaintiff’s claim that Defendant, by its policy of refusing to permanently adjust the rental due date of its apartments for SSDI recipients, violates the Fair Housing Amendments Act ("FHAA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619. FHRC argues that MPMC's policy violates the FHAA's "reasonable accommodation" provision of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B), and that the policy has a disparate impact on the disabled in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1)(A).

custody - incarcerated parents - due process

S.T. v. R.W. – Pa. Super. – June 29, 2018 – reported decision

Held: Incarcerated mother denied due process when lower court rejected her request for contact with the parties’ 9 year-old daughter, with whom mother, formerly a physician, had not had contact since her incarceration.  The trial court conducted an ex parte hearing without affording mother either notice that she could ask to be present or giving her an alternate meaningful opportunity to be heard.  The lower court also misapplied the current cutody law.

From the opinion:

Standard of review -  A question regarding whether a due process violation occurred is a question of law for which the standard of review is de novo and the scope of review is plenary. Commonwealth v. Tejada, 161 A.3d 313 (Pa. Super 2017) (quoting Commonwealth v. Smith, 131 A.3d 467, 472 (Pa. 2015)

Custody cases involve fundamental rights protected by due process - In custody hearings, parents have at stake fundamental rights: namely, the right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their child. See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000). . . .and see also generally D.P. v. G.J.P., 146 A.3d 204 (Pa. 2016). Due process must be afforded to parents to safeguard these constitutional rights. “Formal notice and an opportunity to be heard are fundamental components of due process when a person may be deprived in a legal proceeding of a liberty interest, such as physical freedom, or a parent’s custody of her child.” J.M. v. K.W., 164 A.3d 1260; 1268 (Pa. Super. 2017) (en banc) (quoting Everett v. Parker, 889 A.2d 578, 580 (Pa. Super. 2005) (emphasis added). It is well settled that “procedural due process requires, at its core, adequate notice, opportunity to be heard, and the chance to defend oneself before a fair and impartial tribunal having jurisdiction over the case.” Id., at n. 5 (citing Everett v. Parker, 889 A.2d 578, 580 (Pa. Super. 2005); see also Garr v. Peters, 773 A.2d 183, 191 (Pa. Super. 2001). “Due process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the situation demands”

Right of parent to appear in person – writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum -  Sullivan v. Shaw 650 A.2d 882, 884 (Pa. Super. 1994) - “Incarcerated prisoners who petition the court for visitation rights are entitled to a hearing, to notice of this hearing, and to notice of their right to request that they be present at the hearing, by means of a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum.” Id. (Citing Vanaman v. Cowgill, 526 A.2d. 1226 (Pa. Super. 1987)). This holding has since been codified in both the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and in the Schuylkill County Local Rules of Procedure.  The note to Pa.R.C.P. 1930.4(a)(“Service of Original Process in Domestic Relations Matters”) provides: “Original process served on an incarcerated person in a domestic relations action must also include notice of any hearing in such action and specific notice of the incarcerated [parent’s] right to apply to the court for a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum.”  See also,  Rule 1930.3, which gives courts a means to accommodate any party or witness who may not be available to attend a hearing in person. The rule provides: “With the approval of the court J-S20012-18 - 12 - upon good cause shown, a party or witness may be deposed or testify by telephone, audiovisual or other electronic means at a designated location in all domestic relations matters.” Pa.R.C.P. 1930.3. Neither telephonic, nor audiovisual, nor electronic communication was even mentioned by the court in Sullivan. Rule 1930.3 now provides courts with a previously unavailable option.

The court’s solution in Sullivan v. Shaw 650 A.2d 882, 884 (Pa. Super. 1994), which allowed an incarcerated parent to file an “informal brief” is “outdated” and inadequate to address due process concerns -- An “informal brief” or “written statement” submitted prior to the trial cannot possibly equate a meaningful opportunity to be heard under the current state of our substantive and procedural laws.   Notice ensures that each party is provided adequate opportunity to prepare and thereafter advocate its position, ultimately exposing all relevant factors from which the finder of fact may make an informed judgment. Everett v. Parker, 889 A.2d 578, 580 (Pa. Super. 2005).   Parties cannot expose all the relevant factors if they cannot advocate for themselves in real time, i.e., cross-examine witnesses of the other party and respond to arguments.

The Etter factors -  In M.G. v. L.D. 155 A.3d 1083, 1093 (Pa. Super. 2017), we found the trial court should have considered factors unique to prison cases which were previously delineated in Etter v. Rose, 684 A.2d 1092, 1093 (Pa. Super. 1996).”   Without specifically stating so, in M.G. we acknowledged the Etter factors are now assimilated into § 5328(a) analysis under § 5328(a)(16). See P.J.P. v. M.M., 2018 Pa. Super. 100, 2018 WL 1979832 (Pa. Super. April 27, 2018) (holding that the shared custody factors set forth in Wiseman v. Wall, 718 A.2d 844 (Pa. Super. 1998), which predated the 2011 amendments to the Custody Law, assimilated into the custody factors set forth in 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5328(a)).

The Etter presumption did not survive the statutory amendments – Although the Etter factors have assimilated into our current Custody Law, the presumption set forth in Etter – that incarceration alone “is a basis for creation of a presumption, to be rebutted by the prisoner parent, that such visitation is not in the best interest of the child-- did not survive the amendments to the custody statutes.   The legislature, in amending our Custody Law, provided no such presumption in incarceration cases.  Our legislature contemplated when a presumption would arise, as well as how to treat parents’ criminal histories; it provided no such presumption against incarcerated parents. Indeed, not only is this presumption absent from our statutes, but any such presumption would run afoul of the advances our courts have made in proceedings conducted under the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6301, et seq. Our Judicial Dependency Court Benchbook references the Pennsylvania State Roundtable Dependent Children of Incarcerated Parents 2013 Workgroup Report. The report states: [I]n most cases, children benefit from visitation and contact with a parent who is incarcerated. Children feel enormous grief and loss when they are unable to maintain contact with a parent. It is almost the same when a parent has died. Children also worry about a parent that they cannot see or talk to on a regular basis. […] Visitation and contact can reduce some of their worries and sad feelings.

Held:  Because Mother was not notified of her right to request to be present, Mother’s was deprived her right to due process. Additionally, Mother was deprived her right to have her modification petition adjudicated under the current Custody Law’s analyses for physical and legal custody. Therefore, we vacate the trial court’s order in this matter and remand for a new hearing.