Monday, October 23, 2006

wages - "employer" - "employee"

Hirsch v. EPL Technologies, et al. - Superior Court - October 16, 2006

Corporate officer found personally liable, along with the corporation itself, for unpaid wages to another corporate officer, because the individual defendant was "actively involved in corporate policy-making" while the plaintiff --although he had the title of a corporate officer -- was not.

The court held that a person's "title alone does not bar him from suing" under the Wage Payment and Collection Law (WPCL), 43 P.S. sec. 260.1 et seq. Noting the the WPCL does not define "employee," the court looked to the UC Law and Worker's Comp. Law rather than agency law to determine the right of a corporate officer to seek wages from his corporate employer and other individuals in the corporation who exercised policy-making functions, even if they do not have knowledge of the improper non-payment. "[S] not required for civil liability [but] evidence of an active role in decision making is....."

Persons who are considered to be an "employer" in some context are still permitted to use the WPCL to hold their similarly situated fellow employers liable for unpaid wages," so long at the plaintiff does not exercise policy-making functions. "While evidence of status as a corporate officer...may be relevant, it is not necessarily dispositive of a party's status as an 'employer' under the WPCL."

The court reached this decision, noting that the purpose of the WPCL is to "removed some of the obstacles employees face in litigation by providing them with a statutory remedy when an employer breaches its contractual obligation to pay wages. The WPCL does not create an employee's substantive right to compensation; rather, it only establishes an employee's right to enforce payment of wages and compensation to which an employee is otherwise entitled by the terms of an agreement."

admin. law - equitable class action - exhaustion of admin. remedies

Beattie v. Allegheny County - Pennsylvania Supreme Court - October 11, 2006


Taxpayers permitted to bypass administrative procedures -- i.e., not required to exhaust administrative remedies - and bring an "equitable class action" challenged the county real estate assessment system which they alleged had "systemic flaws" and violated the uniformity clause of the state constitution, Article VIII, sec. 1.

This was held to be one of those "rare cases, as exception to the exhaustion rule" because "the balance between an administrative agency's exercise of its expertise and its ability to offer complete redress for an alleged wrong of egregious constitutional dimension falls in favor of proceeding in equity in the trial court."

In order to invoke equity jurisdiction, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-part test: "the taxpayers must (1) raise a substantial constitutional issue, and (2) lack an adequate remedy through the [statutory] administrative appeal process."

The court discussed the legislature's "power to channel all issues, including constitutional ones, into a specified route of appeal, such as an administrative appeal" but recognized "an exception for certain types of constitutional questions that the administrative process was ill-suited to resolve...[B]ypassing the agency process within the framework of a direct attack on the enabling statute is inherently less likely to do violence to the agency's role as fact-finder and applier of specialized expertise that in the context of an 'as applied' challenge." The court discussed the "admonition that, 'where relying solely on the statutory appeal mechanism would result in a 'multiplicity of duplicative lawsuits and, in contrast, an action in equity would provide a tidy global resolution,' the legal remedy should be deemed inadequate." In such a case, a "complaint can be facially tested against constitutional norms unaided by agency expertise...."

In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Cappy said that the majority's test was "incomplete" and missed an "important factor" in the court's exhaustion-of-remedies doctrine - whether administrative input would be helpful. The justice felt that the majority failed to give the agency's role sufficient deference, because of agency expertise or because an agency interpretation would be desirable.

pleadings - amendment

Chaney v. Meadville Medical Center - Superior Court - October 19, 2006

The administratrix of a decedent's estate sought to amend the complaint in a wrongful death action. During the course of its appellate review, the Superior Court said that:

- Amendments to pleadings are permitted at any time, including before, during and after trial.
- Leave to amend pleadings is to be liberally granted
- Leave to amend should be granted when it will not "unduly prejudice or surprise the adverse party"
- "Undue prejudice" is something more than a detriment to the other party, since any amendment would likely have the effect of harming the adverse party's interest.
- The policy underlying the rule of liberal leave is to insure that parties get to have their cases decided on the substantive case present, and not on legal formalities
- However, an amendment introducing a new cause of action will not be permitted after the statute of limitations has run. Only if the proposed amendment merely amplifies, as opposed to altering, the cause of action already averred, will it be allowed if the statute of limitations has run