Thursday, December 18, 2008

pre-emption - cigarette warnings - FTC and state consumer protection laws

Altria Group v. Good - US Supreme Court - December 15, 2008

From the court's syllabus....

Respondents, smokers of petitioners’ "light" cigarettes, filed suit, alleging that petitioners violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act(MUTPA) by fraudulently advertising that their "light" cigarettes delivered less tar and nicotine than regular brands. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners, finding the state-lawclaim pre-empted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (Labeling Act). The First Circuit reversed, holding that the Labeling Act neither expressly nor impliedly pre-empts respondents’ fraud claim.

Held: Neither the Labeling Act’s pre-emption provision nor the Federal Trade Commission’s actions in this field pre-empt respondents’ statelaw fraud claim. Pp. 5–20.

(a) Congress may indicate pre-emptive intent through a statute’s express language or through its structure and purpose. When the text of an expresspre-emption clause is susceptible of more than one plausible reading,courts ordinarily "accept the reading that disfavors pre-emption." The LabelingAct’s stated purposes are to inform the public of the health risks ofsmoking while protecting commerce and the economy from the ill effects of nonuniform requirements to the extent consistent with the first goal. Although fidelity to these purposes does not demand thepre-emption of state fraud rules, the principal question here is whether that result is nevertheless required by 15 U. S. C. §1334(b), which provides that "[n]o requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to theadvertising or promotion of any cigarettes the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this chapter." Pp. 5–9.

(b) Respondents’ claim is not expressly pre-empted by §1334(b). As determined in several Supreme Court cases, the phrase "based onsmoking and health" modifies the state-law rule at issue rather than a particular application of that rule. The plurality in one case concluded that "the phrase ‘based on smoking and health’ fairly but narrowly construed" did not pre-empt the plaintiff’s commonlaw claim that cigarette manufacturers had fraudulently misrepresented and concealed a material fact, because the claim alleged a violation of a duty not to deceive—a duty that is not "based on" smokingand health. Respondents here also allege a violation of the duty not to deceive as codified in the MUTPA, which, like the common-law duty in Cipollone, has nothing to do with smoking and health. Respondents’ claim is not analogous to the "warning neutralization" claim found to be pre-empted in Cipollone. Reilly is consistent with Cipollone’s analysis. This Court disagrees with petitioners’ alternative argument that the express pre-emption framework of Cipollone and Reilly should be rejected.

(c) Various Federal Trade Commission decisions with respect to statements of tar and nicotine content do not impliedly pre-empt state deceptive practices rules like the MUTPA. Pp. 17–20. 501 F. 3d 29, affirmed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA and ALITO, JJ., joined.

PFA - abuse - fear of imminent serious bodily injury; indecent assault

Thompson v. Thompson - Superior Court - December 16, 2008

Actual physical harm is not a prerequisite for the entry of a PFA order; the victim need only be in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury. Fonner, 731 A.2d at 163. Mother establish that by evidence that

- Father forcibly grabbed Mother's breasts and crotch and yelled obscenities at their sons when they tried to intervene on her behalf.
- On one occasion Father came home drunk early in the morning, got into a fight with the older son, and then tried to hit him with his car.
- Father drinks and abuses cocaine, that she is afraid of Father, and that she fears for her children when they are in his custody.
- Father sideswiped eldest son with his car as son walked to school, because he was afraid that father was high on cocaine
- Father pushed and shoved youngest son and regularly threatened to hurt him

The court considered the sufficiency of the evidence in light of McCance v. McCance, 908 A.2d 905 (Pa. Super. 2006), where the Superior Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to establish reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury where plaintiff testified that defendant stood in front of her car while she was in it and yelled obscenities and threats, that the defendant struck her car with such force that repairs were needed, and that the defendant had a drinking problem, anger issues and had been physically violent with other people in the past.

The evidence also establishes that Father has grabbed Mother in a sexual way when she arrived at his house to pick the children up, by grabbing her breasts and crotch while making lascivious comments such as, "You know you like it." This was indecent assault under 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3126(a). "Accordingly, the evidence supports the PFA court’s determination."

UC - petition for review - preservation of issues

Patla v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - December 18, 2008

The court granted the UCBR's motion to strike the appeal for failure of the petition for review to state appellant's objections with specificity, as required by Pa. R.A.P. 1513. The petition "merely that the determinations in the UCBR’s order were “not supported by the record,” and “that there is no legal basis for the UCBR’s denial of benefits.”

The court said that those objections did not "fairly embrace the willful misconduct issue, and failed to identify specific findings of fact that are allegedly unsupported by substantial evidence. Pearson v. UCBR, 954 A.2d 1260, 1263 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008)."

To determine if a petition for review states a claimant’s objections with sufficient specificity, the court said that it looks to Pa. R.A.P. (Rule) 1513(d), which requires that a petition for review contain “a general statement of the objections to the order or other determination.” The general statement “will be deemed to include everysubsidiary question fairly comprised therein.” Rule 1513(d)(6).

However, more than a bare restatement of the scope of review is required, as the court held in Deal v. UCBR, 878 A.2d 131 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005). In Deal, the court dismissed the petition for review because it stated only that the Board "was guilty of an error of law in deciding to reverse the decision of the Referee and deny benefits, and that there was a "a lack of substantial evidence to support the decision of the Board." It "did not contain any statement that fairly embraced the legal issue in the case and did not identify specific findings that were allegedly unsupported by substantial evidence; thus, the petition contained no issues for review."

"In the instant case, Claimant’s petition suffers from the same insufficiencies as the petition in Deal. Claimant’s Claimant’s Petition for Review offers no statement that this Court could deem “fairly embraces” willful misconduct, nor does it set forth what findings of fact were unsupported by the evidence. Accordingly, although developed in Claimant’s brief, his arguments regarding the issues will not be considered by this Court on appeal. See Deal."

In addition the claimant did not address any of the issues raised in the UCBR’s motion to strike the petition for review, despite the court’s direction to do so.

UC- failure to attend hearing - remand - good cause

Scott v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - December 18, 2008 - unreported memorandum opinion

Held, that where good cause for a remand does not appear on the face of a request by a party who did not attend the initial hearing, it is error for the Board to grant a remand under 34 Pa. Code §101.24. In this case, claimant said that she did not attend because she couldn't find the location of the hearing, even though she had received proper and timely written notice.

The regulation provides: (a) If a party who did not attend a scheduled hearing subsequently gives written notice, which is received by the tribunal prior to the release of a decision, and it is determined by the tribunal that his failure to attend the hearing was for reasons which constitute “proper cause,” the case shall be reopened. Requests for reopening, whether made to the referee or Board, shall be in writing; shall give the reasons believed to constitute “proper cause” for not appearing …. (c) A request for reopening the hearing which is not received before the decision was mailed, but is received or postmarked on or before the 15th day after the decision of the referee was mailed to the parties shall constitute a request for further appeal to the Board and a reopening of the hearing, and the Board will rule upon the request. If the request for reopening is …. denied, the Board will append to the record the request, supporting material and the ruling on the request, so that it shall be subject to review in connection with any further appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

The Board has discretion regarding requests for remands to supplement a hearing record. Harrison v. UCBR, 457 A.2d 238 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1983). In reviewing a decision of the Board to deny a request for a remand, the court will reverse the Board’s decision only if the Board has abused its discretion. Department of Auditor General v. UCBR, 484 A.2d 829 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).

The usual purpose of a remand is to allow the submission of pertinent evidence that a party did not offer at the initial hearing because it was not available at that time. Brady v. UCBR, 539 A.2d 936 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1988). Thus, in Flores v. UCBR, 686 A.2d 66 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996), the court held that the Board did not abuse its discretion in denying a request for a remand for the submission of evidence that had been available at the time of the original hearing. See also Fisher v. UCBR, 696 A.2d 895 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997).

In Sanders v. UCBR, 524 A.2d 1031 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987), the court held that the Board had abused its discretion in remanding a case for a second hearing where the employer had not offered good cause as to why it did not appear at the initial hearing. The Court held that it was not “necessary to remand a case to the Board for findings of good cause where, as here, the employer’s explanations on for its failure to appear do not--on their face--rise to the level of ‘proper cause’ as a matter of law.” Sanders, 524 A.2d at 1033 (citation omitted). See also, Ortiz v. UCBR, 481 A.2d 1383 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984) (Board should decide case on the merits, without remand, where no proper cause for a remand.)

In this case, the reasoning in Sanders applies, despite the harsh result. If one assumes that claimant’s description of her efforts is accurate, the court held that she could have taken more reliable measures to ensure that she knew where she needed to be and how to get there. In this case, had she called the referee’s office and obtained information, she may have been able to avoid the mistake she made in her effort to appear at the hearing. Claimant did not take the necessary steps to protect her own interests. The Board did not abuse its discretion in denying claimant’s request to reopen the case and remand to the referee for additional testimony

Social Security - standard of proof

SUMMARY: We are amending our rules to clarify that we apply the preponderance of the evidence standard when we make determinations and decisions at all levels of our administrative review process.

These rules do not change our policy that the Appeals Council applies the substantial evidence standard when it reviews a decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ) to determine whether to grant a request for review.

We are also adding definitions of the terms ‘‘substantial evidence’’ and ‘‘preponderance of the evidence’’ for use in applying these rules.

DATES: These final rules are effective on January 20, 2009.

This rule change highlights the difference between standard of proof and standard of review. It is consistent with state law on the issues. “The degree of proof required to establish a case before an administrative tribunal is the same degree of proof used in most civil proceedings, i.e., a preponderance of the evidence.” Samuel J. Lansberry Inc v. PUC, 578 A.2d 600, 602 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1990). Accord, Steadman v. SEC, 450 U.S. 91 (1981) (discussing the proper standard of proof and the confusion between standard of proof and standard of review.

The proper standard of proof can be a constitutional matter and involve balancing of competing interests. See, e.g., Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 323 (1979); In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 357 (1970). In a Child Protective Services Law case, J.S. v. DPW, 596 A.2d 1114, 1116 n. 2 (Pa. 1991), the court suggested that the proper standard of proof in administrative hearings under that statute was “clear and convincing,” because the fundamental right to reputation under Article I, sec. 1, of the Pa. Constitution was at stake. See also, A.Y. v. DPW, 641 A.2d 1148, 1152, 1153-4 (discussing the importance of right to reputation). This is also the standard in welfare cases where fraud is being charged, 55 Pa. Code 275.31.