Thursday, January 21, 2010


Petsinger v. OVR - Cmwlth. Court - January 21, 2010

Petitioner brought mandamus action against the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation concerning his termination from employment following his threats against a fellow employee. The court held that mandamus would not lie.

The Civil Service Act, the federal Rehab Act, and the PA Rehab Act provided petitioner with adequate statutory and administrative remedies to seek redress for OVR’s alleged discriminatory treatment in his employment, his termination from that employment, his request to be reinstated or returned to his former civil service position, as well as OVR’s denial of his repeated requests to reopen his application for vocational rehabilitation services. Therefore, he is barred from raising these issues by petition for mandamus.

A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy which compels the official performance of a ministerial act or a mandatory duty only where there is a clear legal right in the plaintiff, a corresponding duty in the defendant, and a lack of any other appropriate or adequate remedy. McGill v. Dep’t of Health, Office of Drug & Alcohol Programs, 758 A.2d 268 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000).

“Thus, in an action involving an administrative agency’s exercise of discretion, the court may only direct the agency to perform the discretionary act and may not direct the agency to exercise its judgment or discretion in a particular way or direct the retraction or reversal of action already taken.” Id. at 270. “The purpose of mandamus is not to establish legal rights, but to enforce those rights already established beyond peradventure.” Id.

A party challenging administrative decision-making who has not exhausted available administrative remedies is precluded from obtaining judicial review by mandamus6 or otherwise. Matesic v. Maleski, 624 A.2d 776 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993). The availability of adequate, meaningful administrative remedies is a bar to a mandamus action. Mueller v. Pa. State Police Headquarters, 532 A.2d 900 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987). In addition, an individual who allows his statutory appeal rights to expire cannot at a later date reclaim those appeal rights under the guise of a petition for mandamus. Lizzi v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 466 Pa. 450, 353 A.2d 440 (1976).

disability - attorney fees - reasons for rejection of evidence - clearly established precedent

Kutoloski v. Astrue - ED Pa. - Janaury 2010
The ALJ's failure to explain his consideration of the testimony of the claimant's parents, after being directed to do so on remand, was contrary to clearly established precedent.
“[T]he burden is on the government to demonstrate that its position was ‘substantially justified.’” Watkins v. Harris, 556 F. Supp. 493, 498 (E.D. Pa. 1983). Specifically, the commissioner must show that its position has “a reasonable basis in both law and fact.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 555 (1988).

Thus, “[w]hen the government’s legal position clearly offends established precedent . . . its position cannot said to be ‘substantially justified.’” Washington v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 959, 962 (3d Cir. 1985).

For this purpose, the government’s position includes “not only its litigation position but also the agency position that made the lawsuit necessary.” Id. at 961.

The commissioner has not met his burden. All of the commissioner’s arguments, in fact, fail for the same reason: The ALJ’s failure to explain his treatment of the testimony of plaintiff’s parents was contrary to established Third Circuit precedent. Although the ALJ recite[d] the testimony of plaintiff’s parents, the ALJ fail[ed] to properly explain his consideration of that testimony....

This failure violated the Third Circuit’s directive in Burnett v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 220 F.3d 112 (3d Cir. 2000), that the ALJ “must give some indication of the evidence which he rejects and his reason(s) for discounting such evidence,” id. at 121 (emphasis added) – a requirement that exists because “‘[i]n the absence of such indication, the reviewing court cannot tell if significant probative evidence was not credited or simply ignored,’” id. (quoting Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981)).

In other words, the ALJ’s failure to explain his disregard of the testimony proffered by plaintiffs’ parents “clearly offends established precedent.” It therefore has no reasonable basis in law.