CLOSE X
RSS Feed LinkedIn Instagram Twitter Facebook
Search:
FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania’

Interviewing on a Clean Slate: Employers’ Obligations Under Pennsylvania’s Newly Enacted Clean Slate Law

Posted on: August 26th, 2019

By: Sean Riley

Pennsylvania recently became the first state in the country to enact clean slate legislation, which provides for the automatic sealing of non-violent misdemeanor criminal records for those who qualify after a set period of time. The law is expected to seal approximately 30 million cases by June 2020 which corresponds to roughly half of the courts’ entire database. The Clean Slate Law prohibits employers from requesting an individual’s criminal history records that have been expunged or sealed pursuant to the new law and expressly authorizes an applicant to respond to an inquiry as if the offense did not occur. However, the law also provides immunity from liability for employers who hire an individual with an expunged or sealed criminal record in a civil action based upon damages suffered as a result of the employee’s criminal or unlawful actions and the individual’s suitability for employment. Accordingly, employers utilizing form applications requesting the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history should now include a disclaimer on their applications that the candidate should not provide information about criminal conviction that has been expunged or sealed pursuant to law. While Pennsylvania is the first state to enact clean slate legislation, similar measures are catching on in other states such as Michigan and Colorado and similar legislation aiming to automatically clear certain federal records was introduced in Congress last year.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Sean Riley at [email protected].

Pennsylvania Superior Court Maintains a Contempt/Sanctions Proceeding is a ‘Civil Proceeding’ Contemplated by the Dragonetti Act

Posted on: July 29th, 2019

By: Courtney Mazzio

In Pennsylvania, the Dragonetti Act created a wrongful use of civil proceedings cause of action, when a person who takes part in the procurement, initiation or continuation of civil proceedings against another is subject to liability to the other for wrongful use of civil proceedings if: (1) he acts in a grossly negligent manner or without probable cause and primarily for a purpose other than that of securing the proper discovery, joinder of parties or adjudication of the claim in which the proceedings are based; and (2) the proceedings have terminated in favor of the person against whom they are brought. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8351(a). Attorneys may be found liable under this cause of action.

Raynor v. D’Annunzio is a Dragonetti action brought by Plaintiff/appellant attorney,  stemming from contempt proceedings where sanctions were sought against her in an underlying civil suit. Raynor v. D’Annunzio, 2019 PA Super 72, 205 A.3d 1252. In the underlying action, a Philadelphia County Judge ultimately issued over $900,000 in sanctions against counsel for attempting to elicit certain testimony from her expert that was off-limits per a pre-trial in limine ruling. Plaintiff/appellant then appealed ruling to the Superior Court. There was a question over whether counsel had (1) intentionally violated the in limine ruling with her line of questioning of the expert, particularly where there was no  order instructing counsel to instruct her witness not to mention Plaintiff’s smoking history existed; and (2) whether there was evidence of record proving that counsel colluded with the expert in order to actively ignore the in limine ruling during questioning. On these bases, the Superior Court reversed the sanction orders of the trial court.

Plaintiff/appellant then brought this separate Dragonetti action against Plaintiff’s counsel in the underlying action, claiming counsel knew their requests for sanctions and contempt were unsupported by the facts and law, yet they pursued the action anyway in an effort to ruin counsel’s livelihood and professional life. Appellee filed Preliminary Objections, which resulted in the rare dismissal of a case with prejudice, in part on the basis that the phrase found in the Pennsylvania cause of action  “procurement, initiation, or continuation of civil proceedings” means the filing of a civil action, and does not include the filing of a post-trial motion. See id. at 1260. Plaintiff/appellant once again appealed the decision of the trial court. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a motion seeking a finding of contempt and a request for sanctions is, separate and distinct from post-trial motions alleging trial court error filed in the underlying lawsuit for the purposes of the Dragonetti Act. See id. at 1261-62. They determined it is essentially the same as the filing of a civil lawsuit. See id. Put another way, the Court found that seeking an adjudication of contempt and requesting sanctions constituted the procurement, initiation, or continuation of civil proceedings as contemplated by the Dragonetti Act. See id.  On this basis, the Court reversed the decision of the trial court sustaining the Preliminary Objections and remanded it to the trial court. It remains to be seen how the trial court will ultimately rule in this longstanding dispute riddled with contention.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

Malware Incident in Philly Court that Downed Online Filing Highlights Concerns for Court Systems and Legal Community in the Future

Posted on: July 11th, 2019

By: Justin Boron

It’s back-to-normal for tech-dependent, legal professionals in the Philadelphia legal community. After a month with no access to online filing due to a malware incident in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, attorneys like me—who never knew a time where online filing didn’t exist—are again just a few keystrokes away from filing pleadings, motions, and briefs on time.

That means we can go back to filing mere minutes before the deadline, and it means an end to the anxiety from an uneasy dependence on staff and attorneys who still knew how to file it the ‘old-fashioned way’ — finalizing a paper brief enough in advance so that it can be mailed or walked-thru by a courier before the deadline. (It could have been worse: no one had to pull out the typewriter and white out).

But beyond the whiplash felt by tech-dependent professionals having their roles reversed with other more, tech-wary legal professionals, the malware incident announced May 21 illustrates how much online filing technology has changed the legal profession’s approach to deadlines, the need for local counsel or a reliable courier, and access to the hard copy record for court notices and pleading dockets—and how quickly its approach can regress if the system goes down.

It also exemplifies the increasing threat to public administration dependent on digital infrastructure.  The Emotet/Trickbot malware has evolved from mainly targeting banks to exposing flaws in the security of critical public infrastructure like courts, utilities, and local government facilities.[1]  In the last year, the City of Atlanta, the City of Baltimore, and other court systems have sustained similar incidents.

These security incidents can have serious consequences. Access to courts is a right that if deprived, can have dire consequences to criminal defendants.  It can also lead to paying expensive ransoms and could result in legal exposure if the threat actors are able to access and abscond with Personally Identifiable Information.

Fortunately, Philadelphia court officials believe there was no data removed from the system.  There was no reported ransom demanded, and court officials are shoring up the court’s digital security system to avoid a similar incident in the future.[2]

For other court and public administration systems tied to digital infrastructure, planning in advance of an incident will be key to how severely a security incident affects them.

As FMG has previously written on its Cyber, Privacy, and Security blog, the security incident within the City of Atlanta highlighted the importance of having adequate cyber insurance to cover the potentially high costs of breach response.[3]  Routine and pre-incident assessments as well as staying informed on the ever-changing landscape of threats also are important.  Likewise, it is advisable to retain breach counsel attorneys before an incident so they are familiar with the client’s systems and can move quickly to advise—within the protections of the attorney-client privilege—on steps to mitigate the harm from a security incident and to avoid legal exposure.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Justin Boron at [email protected].

[1] https://blog.malwarebytes.com/cybercrime/2019/03/emotet-revisited-this-pervasive-persistent-threat-is-still-a-danger-to-businesses/

[2] https://www.inquirer.com/news/philadelphia-courts-virus-hackers-russia-20190621.html?outputType=amp

[3] https://www.fmglaw.com/FMGBlogLine/insurance/city-hacks-atlantas-2018-cyberattack-and-the-growing-need-for-cyber-liability-insurance/.

 

Waiving the Right to Remove State Court Actions

Posted on: February 13th, 2019

By: Justine Baakman

Boilerplate Demands for Relief in Pennsylvania Complaint Alone Sufficient to Support an Amount in Controversy Exceeding $75,000

The Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania recently held that one may waive the right to removal to federal court even when there exists uncertainty as to whether the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000.00 threshold for diversity citizenship. In Hutchinson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, on January 17, 2018, the plaintiffs filed a breach of contract suit against the defendant in Pennsylvania state court. In their state action, the plaintiffs sought minimal damages totaling approximately $25,000.00 for specific costs relating to property damage they allege to have suffered. Despite those specifically-pled damages, the complaint included the nearly always pled boilerplate demands in Pennsylvania complaints for compensatory and punitive damages along with interest and attorneys’ fees against the defendant. Moreover, the plaintiffs filed their state court action in the Pennsylvania major trial division, thereby acknowledging the potential for the damages they sought to exceed the Pennsylvania compulsory arbitration cap of $50,000.00.

About three months following initiation of the state action, in April 2018, the defendant served the plaintiffs with requests for admission seeking an admission that the plaintiffs damages either exceeded or did not exceed the $75,000.00 threshold for removal. About one month later, in May 2019, the plaintiffs served their responses to those requests for admission. Although the plaintiffs admitted that their actual damages fell well below the $75,000.00 threshold, they indicated that once punitive damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees were accounted for, “their total damages could very well exceed $75,000.00.”

About one month later, in June 2018, the defendant removed the matter to the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs moved to remand the matter back to state court. The basis for that remand was the defendant’s untimely removal. In support of their request for remand, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant had known since initiation of the action in January 2018 that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.00. In arguing so, the plaintiffs focused on the boilerplate language in the complaint wherein they sought punitive damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees. In arguing against remand, the defendant focused on the boilerplate language of the relief sought in the complaint. Specifically, the defendant argued it was not legally certain that the damages the plaintiffs sought exceeded the $75,000.00 threshold until the plaintiffs answered its requests for admission. The Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania ultimately remanded the matter back to state court for the defendant’s failure to timely remove the action.

The impact of the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling on removal of state court actions is yet to be seen. It certainly leaves open the possibility that nearly all state court complaints in Pennsylvania could support a reasonable finding that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000.00 threshold for removal based on diversity of citizenship. And, more importantly, that failure to remove Pennsylvania state court actions – most of which are initiated via complaints seeking similar boilerplate relief as was at issue in the Hutchinson matter – within thirty (30) days of service of the complaint could result in waiver of the right to remove.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate removal of Pennsylvania state court actions, including torts, products liability, and catastrophic loss litigation, you may contact Justine Baakman at 267-908-7882 or [email protected]

Court Rules No Coverage For Pa. Law Firm’s Malpractice Suit

Posted on: November 26th, 2018

By: Barry Brownstein

An insurer does not have to cover a Pennsylvania law firm in a professional malpractice suit that a client filed after the firm allegedly used privileged information to benefit its attorneys’ side business in a real estate development.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted Westport Insurance Corp.’s motion for summary judgment in its case against Hippo Fleming & Pertile Law Offices (“HFP”) and attorney Charles Wayne Hippo Jr., agreeing with the insurer that the dispute over a shopping center development was exempted from coverage by the outside businesses exclusion in the firm’s professional liability policy.

Gregory Morris and Morris Development, one of HFP’s longtime clients, alleged that HFP had used information disclosed to the firm under attorney-client privilege to benefit a project by its side businesses, Templar Development and Templar Elmerton. Westport’s insurance policy contained a clear and unambiguous exclusion for lawsuits stemming from any of the policyholders’ outside businesses, and Hippo had not disclosed his involvement in the Templar companies when applying for the policy.

HFP argued that since the underlying lawsuit’s first two allegations of legal malpractice and breach of contract stemmed from the firm’s attorney-client relationship to Morris, Westport had a duty to defend them under the professional liability policy. The court, however, said it was Hippo’s dual role that gave rise to the claims against him.

The court emphasized that the plain language of the complaint in the underlying suit entirely discredits defendants’ argument that counts I and II are based solely on HFP’s role as Morris’s attorney. Counts I and II of the complaint allege that Hippo committed legal malpractice and breach of contract by simultaneously acting as Morris’s attorney and a competing real-estate developer. Therefore, the court held that Westport has no duty to defend because each claim in the underlying suit falls unambiguously within the policy’s outside business exclusion.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Barry Brownstein at [email protected].