Wednesday, April 13, 2011

admin. law - statutory construction - no deference to agency expertise

In Re: Petition for Formation of Independent School District - Cmwlth. Court - April 13, 2011 Courts will defer to an agency’s expertise where the agency evaluates and resolves conflicts in the evidence, particularly where the evidence is technical in nature. Yi v. State Board of Veterinary Medicine, 960 A.2d 864, 870 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008). However, “the meaning of [a] statute is a question of law for the court.” Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Pennsylvania Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association, 866 A.2d 465, 467 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005). Courts can defer to an agency’s interpretation of the statute where that statute is ambiguous or relates to a complex subject, such as a technical tax question. Tool Sales & Service Co., Inc. v. Board of Finance and Revenue, 536 Pa. 10, 22, 637 A.2d 607, 613 (1993). Otherwise, the agency’s interpretation “carries little weight,” especially where it is wrong. Office of Administration v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 591 Pa. 176, 190 n.11, 916 A.2d 541, 549 n.11 (2007). The Secretary’s “expertise” is irrelevant to the statutory construction issue.

abuse - expungement - presumption

B.B. (now B.L.) v. DPW - Cmwlth. Court, April 13, 2011

The presumption in 23 Pa.C.S. 6381(d) -- that the "parent or other person" responsible for a child’s welfare was the person who the child abuse, and only the abuse itself had to be established in the case of an indicated child abuse by prima facie evidence -- cannot be applied where more than one individual was entrusted with a child’s care during the period in which medical evidence shows the injuries were inflicted.

On its own, the language of Section 6381(d) resolves the case. In sec. 6381(d), the General Assembly in setting forth the presumption refers only to the “parent or other person” responsible for the welfare of the child. 23 Pa.C.S. §6381(d). The clear use of the singular tense therein cannot be read as an accident, and cannot therefore be read to apply to any situation in which the presumption is sought to be applied to more than one “parent or person.”

Accordingly, we hold that the only reasonable statutory construction of Section 6381(d) leads to the sole conclusion that it is applicable only to one caregiver, absent some additional evidence that would serve to eliminate from consideration all but one caregiver (or, additional evidence that would implicate more than one or all caregivers)

debt collection - time-barred debt

Huertas v. Galaxy Asset Management, Inc. - 3d Cir. - April 11, 2011 In a case dependent partly on N.J. law, the court held that an attempt to a debt time-barred by the statute of limitations does not violation the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, where the collection letter did not threaten litigation. The court noted that -- - Under NJ law, a debt obligation is not extinguished by the expiration of the statute of limitations, even though the debt is ultimately unenforceable in a court of law. This is also apparently the rule in Pennsylvania. See Cohen v. Keller, 90 A. 463 (Pa. 1914). - the majority of courts has held that when the expiration of the statute of limitations does not invalidate a debt, but merely renders it unenforceable, the FDCPA permits a debt collector to seek voluntary repayment of the time-barred debt so long as the debt collector does not initiate or threaten legal action in connection with its debt collection efforts (listing cases on both sides of the issue). - despite the above, a collection letter that threatens litigation may violate the FDCPA. The letter in this case did not, even under the "least sophisticated debtor" standard.