Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the common pleas court appropriately decertified a class based on its conclusion that a necessary element of the plaintiffs' proof (the presence of a confidential relationship) was not amenable to class treatment. In 1993, Sandra J. Basile commenced a civil action against H&R Block, Inc., H&R Block Eastern Tax Services, Inc. and Mellon Bank. She alleged, among other things, that the Block companies maintained maintained and breached fiduciary duties in connection with their "Rapid Refund" program. Basile sought to assert claims on behalf of herself and others who were similarly situated. However, summary judgment subsequently was awarded in Block's favor on the ground that it had no fiduciary relationship with the plaintiffs. The common pleas court's conclusion, in this respect, was based on the premises that Block was not the plaintiffs' agent and that no confidential relationship otherwise existed between the parties. In the ensuing appellate litigation, the court's decision on the agency score ultimately was conclusively sustained. In 2001, the Superior Court overturned the common pleas court's summary-judgment award, finding that Ms. Basile had proffered sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of a confidential relationship. In 2003, upon consideration of the appellate rulings, the common pleas court determined that class treatment was no longer appropriate. The common pleas court found that the need for individualized inquiries on the dispositive question of trust precluded a finding that common issues predominated. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that that the common pleas court did not err in decertifying the class based on its conclusion that the presence of a confidential relationship was not amenable to class treatment. The order of the Superior Court was reversed, the common pleas court's decertification order was reinstated, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Basil. v. H & R Block, et al." on Justia Law

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Alleging that Appellant Conestoga Title Insurance Company charged more for title insurance than its filed rates permitted, Appellee Nancy A. White asserted three claims against Conestoga in a class action complaint. The Supreme Court granted review to consider whether White was precluded from pursuing all of her claims because Article VII of the Insurance Department Act of 1921 provided her with an exclusive administrative remedy under Section 1504 of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed in part and affirm in part. Specifically, the Court reversed the Superior Court's order reversing the trial court's dismissal of White's common law claims for money had and received and for unjust enrichment, and the Court affirmed (albeit on different grounds) the Superior Court's order reversing the trial court's dismissal of White's statutory claim brought under Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. View "White v. Conestoga Title Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant Brenda Jones was involved in an automobile accident with another driver that caused damage to her vehicle. Appellant's insurance policy with Nationwide Property and Casualty Company (Nationwide) included collision coverage for the vehicle involved, subject to a $500 deductible. The policy also provided Nationwide with the right of subrogation. Nationwide paid Appellant for all damage to the vehicle, reduced by the $500 deductible. Nationwide then filed a subrogation claim against the other driver and recovered under the other driver's liability coverage. The recovery, while in excess of Appellant's deductible, was only ninety percent of the amount Nationwide paid Appellant under the collision coverage policy. Nationwide paid Jones a pro rata share of the subrogation award by reimbursing her for ninety percent of her deductible, which amounted to $450. Appellant filed a class action against Nationwide claiming that Nationwide's uniform practice of pro rating reimbursements of deductibles violated the "made whole" doctrine. All claims were based upon Appellant's conclusion that Nationwide should have reimbursed her for her entire $500 deductible, despite the provision in the policy granting Nationwide subrogation rights. Appellant also sought injunctive relief to stop Nationwide's practice of pro rata deductible reimbursement. The Supreme Court concluded that the "made whole" doctrine did not apply to the collision coverage at issue in this case, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Appellant's class action. View "Jones v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant Kia Motors America, Inc. unsuccessfully defended a class action lawsuit for breach of express warranty. It appealed a superior court's decision to affirm certification of the class by the trial court, and the amount of damages and litigation costs awarded to the class. Costs included a significant legal fee, entered pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act (MMWA). Appellee Shamell Samuel-Bassett, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated filed this class action lawsuit in January 2001, alleging that her Kia had an unsafe manufacturing defect in the braking system. In 2005, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of the class for breach of express warranty, and awarded damages in the amount of $600 per class member. The court molded the verdict to account for the 9,402 class members to which the parties had stipulated and recorded a $5.6 million verdict. Represented by new counsel, Kia filed an unsuccessful post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or for a new trial. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether the class was properly certified; (2) whether evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (3) whether the jury’s verdict was properly molded to account for the 9,402 members of the class; (4) whether the trial court had authority to award attorneys’ fees after Bassett entered judgment on the class verdict; and (5) whether the risk multiplier was properly applied to an award of counsel fees under the MMWA. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the trial court's decision. The Court reversed the trial court to the extent that its order provided for enhancement of the attorneys' fees award beyond the amount permitted in the MMWA. View "Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant Robert Petty is sole owner of Co-Appellant R.G. Petty Masonry. Appellants contracted with Respondent Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (Blue Cross), a nonprofit hospital corporation that provides health insurance coverage for its employees. Appellants are covered under the group policy as subscribers. Appellants filed a four-count class action suit against Blue Cross, alleging that it violated the state Nonprofit Law by accumulating excessive profits and surplus well beyond the "incidental profit" permitted by statute. The second count alleged Blue Cross breached its contract with Appellants by violating the Nonprofit Law. The third count alleged Blue Cross owed appellants a fiduciary duty by virtue of their status as subscribers, and that duty was breached when it accrued the excess surplus. The fourth count requested an inspection of Blue Cross' business records. The trial court found Appellants lacked standing to challenge Blue Cross' alleged violations of the Nonprofit Law and dismissed the suit. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court. Upon careful consideration of the briefs submitted by the parties in addition to the applicable legal authorities, the Supreme Court found that Appellants indeed lacked standing under the Nonprofit Law to challenge Blue Cross by their four-count complaint. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions and dismissed Appellants' case.