Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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Appellees (husband and wife) created The Dorothy M. Miller Family Irrevocable Trust, naming Mrs. Miller as settlor, and her and her husband as co-trustees. The sole beneficiaries of the trust were appellees and their only child. Appellees transferred title to their house and farm to the trust, but did not pay realty transfer tax on the transfer, claiming it was an excluded transaction under the Realty Transfer Tax Act as a transfer to a "living trust." The Department of Revenue issued a Realty Transfer Tax Notice of Determination providing the transfer was subject to realty transfer taxes, plus applicable interest and fees. Appellees unsuccessfully petitioned for redetermination with the Department’s Board of Appeals. The Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that Mrs. Miller's testimony that she intended the Trust to be a substitute for her will was sufficient to define it as a living trust. The Commonwealth appealed. The Supreme Court found the Miller Trust failed to meet the statutory definition of a living trust or will substitute. As such, the Court reversed and remanded for calculation of transfer tax. View "Miller v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Commonwealth Court correctly interpreted 24 Pa.C.S. 8507(e) to require that the Public School Employees' Retirement System nomination of benefits form be completed in its entirely in the member/decedent's own hand in order to effectuate a valid change of beneficiary. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court erred, and held that the Board correctly determined that under the facts of this case, section 8507(e) allowed for distribution of retirement benefits at issue to the appellant. View "Snizaski v. Public School Employees' Retirement Board" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether a pathologist was competent to testify as an expert witness regarding the standard of care in a medical malpractice action asserted against a board-certified general surgeon. Decedent Mildred Anderson sought treatment from surgeon Gary McAfoos, M.D. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Anderson took a turn for the worse and died from sepsis in response to surgery ultimately conducted by Dr. McAfoos and his practice partners. Mrs. Anderson's estate sued, and at trial proferred the testimony of a pathologist, who asserted that Dr. McAfoos and his agents' acts fell below ordinary standards of care by allowing Mrs. Anderson's discharge from the hospital despite certain indicators that she was suffering from a serious infection (that ultimately lead to her death). The doctor objected to Mrs. Anderson's use of the pathologist as an expert, arguing he was incompetent to assess the standard of care on a doctor who sees patients, "[h]e can't possibly second guess care and treatment on a patient when he doesn't see patients." The trial court sustained the objection to the expert's testimony; subsequently the doctor moved for nonsuit which was granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Mrs. Anderson did not properly preserve her claim that the expert's credentials satisfied the requirements of the state competency statute, and accordingly, could not advance her contention that he should have been allowed to render standard-of-care testimony against a board-certified surgeon. View "Anderson v. McAfoos, et al" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a medical malpractice action brought by Appellant Thomas Bruckshaw as Administrator of the Estate of Patricia Bruckshaw (Decedent) and in his own right, against Appellees Frankford Hospital of Philadelphia (Frankford Hospital), Jefferson Health System, Inc., Brian P. Priest, M.D., and Randy Metcalf, M.D. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a court was empowered to remove a principal juror without any reason and without any notice to the parties, and replace her with the last possible alternate, without notice, after all evidence was submitted and the jury had already retired to deliberate. Upon review, the Court concluded that the removal of a juror can only be done by a trial court, on the record, with notice to the parties, for cause. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the trial court committed reversible error for which the aggrieved party was not required to demonstrate prejudice. View "Bruckshaw v. Frankford Hospital" on Justia Law

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Appellants Highland Park Care Center, L.L.C. and Grane Healthcare Company appealed the decision of the Superior Court to reverse the grant of a nonsuit in part, affirm the denial of a nonsuit in part, and award a new trial to Appellee Richard Scampone, the executor of the estate of Madeline Scampone. Upon review of the case, the Supreme Court held that a nursing home and affiliated entities are subject to potential direct liability for negligence, where the requisite resident-entity relationship exists to establish that the entity owes the resident a duty of care. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court in part, but for reasons that differed from the Superior Court, and remanded the case back to that court for further proceedings. View "Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Attorney General appealed a superior court's order that reversed the Philadelphia County Orphans' Court order which held Wachovia Bank was not entitled to receive commissions from the principal of an estate for its trust administration services. The Decedent Anna Fridenberg passed away in 1940, leaving the residue of her estate and other property to a trust for five named individuals no longer living. The remainder of the net income was to be given to the Jewish Hospital Association of Philadelphia. Wachovia Bank was the trustee to the Friedenberg estate and filed the annual accounting of the estate. The accounting also included requests for commissions to be paid out of principal for Wachovia and one of the individual successors. The Attorney General objected to this request, arguing the law in effect at the time the trust was created prevented parties who served as both executors and trustees under a will from receiving more than one commission from principal. The Attorney General noted Wachovia's corporate predecessor already received a commission from principal for its services; therefore, Wachovia was not entitled to another commission from principal. The Orphans' court sustained the objection, holding the law at the time the trust was created barred more than one commission from principal, despite subsequent changes in the law that now allow more than one commission. Wachovia appealed, and the Superior Court reversed, holding that the numerous legislative enactments over the past half-century permitting more than one commission for previously established trusts were constitutionally valid. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court's ruling and affirmed that court's decision. View "In re: Estate of Fridenberg" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case pertained to the extent to which the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempted the Pennsylvania Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, 20 Pa.C.S. 6111.2. The Decedent Paul Sauers, III obtained a $40,000 life insurance policy in 1997 from the Hartford Life Insurance Company pursuant to a employee group benefit plan which was subject to ERISA. At the time of his death, Decedent's beneficiaries were his ex-spouse and his nephew as contingent beneficiary. William F. Sauers, administrator of Decedent’s estate, filed in the Orphans’ Court of York County a petition for rule to show cause why primary beneficiary ex-Spouse should not have surrendered to the Contingent Beneficiary all interest in the proceeds of the insurance policy pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S. 6111.2. The ex-spouse objected and filed a motion to dismiss the petition for rule to show cause, arguing that regardless of any Pennsylvania statute to the contrary, ERISA mandated taht the proceeds of the policy be paid to her as the primary beneficiary of the policy. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that while an estate may properly bring a cause of action on behalf of a contingent beneficiary to a life insurance policy in a county orphans’ court seeking the proper distribution of assets, ultimately, ERISA preempts Section 6111.2 of the Probate Code. To the extent the en banc panel of the Superior Court held otherwise, the Court reversed and remanded this appeal to that court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Estate of Sauers" on Justia Law

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Appellants Dawn Pyeritz sued the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania State police and several of its police officers for the destruction of her personal property, speficially "a black nylon tree stand safety harness, or belt, that allegedly was crucial evidence in a separate civil action." The police seized this item during a criminal investigation of a suspicious death. A trooper agreed to retain the belt in the custody of the police, apparently for a longer time than permitted by internal police regulations. The belt was destroyed before Appellants' counsel asked for its return. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Appellees, which the Commonwealth Court affirmed. The Commonwealth Court held that no cause of action exists against a third party – someone other than the original alleged tortfeasor – for negligent spoliation of evidence. The Supreme Court granted review, and now holds that Pennsylvania law does not recognize a cause of action for negligent spoliation of evidence. View "Pyeritz v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Kelsey Lauren Miller was the sole minor child of Appellant Kristi George (Mother) and Wesley Miller (Father). After the parents divorced, they shared joint legal custody of Kelsey until the Father died in April 2007. Although the Father died intestate, he had designated Kelsey as the sole beneficiary of his Federal Employee Group Life Insurance Policy valued at $356,000. The Father’s sister, Appellee Pamela Wahal, served as the administratrix of his estate. In late 2007, Appellee, as the "next friend" of Kelsey, filed a petition for the appointment of a limited guardian of Kelsey’s estate, asserting that Kelsey lacked the "necessary knowledge and maturity to manage the funds to which she is entitled following her father’s death." Appellee proposed that her attorney be appointed to serve as the limited guardian. The Mother filed a response to Appellee’s petition, denying the need for the appointment of a limited guardian of Kelsey’s estate. The issue presented on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case was whether a parent has legal standing to challenge the appointment of a guardian for her child’s estate. Upon review, the Court held that a parent does have standing. The Court reversed the Superior Court's order appointing a trustee, and remanded the case for further proceedings.