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Pennsylvania

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

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  • If you imagine the primary goal of occupational licensure is to protect consumers, think again [Donald Boudreaux, Ramesh Ponnuru]
  • “U.S. Civil Rights Commissioners Take EEOC to Task on Background Checks” [Nick Fishman, Employee Screen; Seyfarth Shaw]
  • Pennsylvania lawmakers consider ending union exemption from stalking laws; Illinois, Nevada and California also shelter them from liability [Washington Examiner]
  • “How Disruptive Can an Aggressive NLRB Be in a Non-Union Setting? More Than You Might Think” [Michael Fox]
  • “A call for the DOL to fix what is wrong with our wage-and-hour laws” [Jon Hyman]
  • Restaurant Opportunities Center, known for staging employee protests, bars own employees from same privilege [Florida Watchdog via Sean Higgins]
  • Conference honoring assassinated professor Marco Biagi showcases classical liberal labor law scholarship (or so one would hope) [my comment at Workplace Prof, related call for papers, earlier]

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Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane dropped a longstanding corruption “sting” probe that had snagged several Philly officials. The Philadelphia Inquirer raised questions about her decision in its reporting, which contributed to a public outcry over the episode. Then Attorney General Kane brought a prominent libel litigator with her to a meeting with the Inquirer editors, and that lawyer announced that Kane was exploring her options of suing the paper and others that had reported on the matter, and that he was going to do the talking for her.

On Sunday the paper continued to cover the sting story here and here. Ed Krayewski comments at Reason. Longtime Overlawyered readers may recognize the name of Kane’s attorney Richard Sprague.

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Pennsylvania: “According to police, Kyle Piper, then 17, lost control of his car on a wet Route 422 in Union Township and struck a steel pole.” His 15-year-old brother Stephen, a passenger, was catastrophically injured. “At the time of the accident, according to court documents, the family was insured through Erie Insurance Exchange and believed $200,000 in uninsured motorist benefits and another $100,000 in liability coverage was available for Stephen.” Several legal twists later, Erie has agreed to pay $18 million. [New Castle (Pa.) News]

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One would think the whole concept of the union-backed “correctional officers’ bill of rights” might have been thrown into disrepute by last year’s Maryland scandal, in which the statute was found to have entrenched problem guards even as the Baltimore jail descended into a scandalous state of gang-run corruption. But apparently not: the Pennsylvania House has unanimously (!) voted in favor of having that state adopt its own such “bill of rights,” weakening administrators’ power to investigate possible officer misconduct. Details of H.B. 976 here.

Product liability roundup

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2014

  • “Furniture company founder files federal chair-collapse suit against rival manufacturer” [ABA Journal]
  • Wrangling over Pennsylvania tobacco settlement aftermath “a never-ending buffet for attorneys” [Allentown Morning Call] Florida $27 million smoking award upheld [Daily Business Review]
  • Autonomous cars and tort liability [Kyle Colonna, Case Western RJLTI/SSRN]
  • Asbestos: Death of single fiber theory [Sean Wajert, Pa.] Radiologist Herron says he did nothing wrong [W.V. Record]
    Peculiar tale of Russian asbestos-mining town [Foreign Policy] More: Lester Brickman on smokers’ asbestos cases [Chamber-backed LNL]
  • From the defense side, Beck chooses favorite and least-favorite drug and medical-device decisions of 2013;
  • One can always hope: Will 3-D printing end product liability litigation as we know it? [Nora Freeman Engstrom, SSRN] “Philadelphia Becomes First City To Ban 3D-Printed Gun Manufacturing” [Zenon Evans] Once again on the vacuous but oft-repeated “NRA is a front for gunmakers” line [Tuccille]

“Two Northeastern Pennsylvania bars have settled for a combined $6.6 million with a man who became quadriplegic after driving drunk and crashing his car into a tree.” Jason Mercado sued two East Stroudsburg, Pa. bars on the theory that they had inexperienced bartenders and staff who should have known better than to serve him. Attorney Robert Sink, who represented Mercado, said the case was not without its difficulties: “if the jury found the drunk driver was more than 50 percent at fault, then he would have gotten nothing” under Pennsylvania law. The insurers defending the case decided that the risk of a verdict otherwise was worth $6.6 million. [Legal Intelligencer]

P.S. Redditors discuss.

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  • “Venue matters.” Enough to double value of med-mal case if filed in Baltimore city rather than suburbs? [Ron Miller] Mark Behrens and Cary Silverman on litigation tourism in Pennsylvania [TortsProf]
  • “Maybe [depositions] are like what some people say about war — vast periods of boredom interrupted by brief moments of terror.” [Steve McConnell, Drug and Device Law, also see Max Kennerly]
  • Centrality of procedure in American legal thinking dates back to Legal Realists and before [Paul McMahon, U.Penn. J. of Int'l Law/SSRN via Mass Tort Prof]
  • Company sues to challenge CPSC’s dissemination of unproven allegations about it in new public database: should judicial proceeding keep its name confidential? [Fair Warning]
  • Thesis of new Jerry Mashaw book: administrative state in U.S. long predated Progressive Era [Law and Liberty: Joseph Postell, Mike Rappaport] Relatedly, hallmark of administrative state said to be “prerogative,” i.e., power to make binding rules without new legislation [Michael Greve]
  • Lorax standing humor: even the Ninth Circuit might not have been able to help [Howard Wasserman, Prawfs]
  • “Formalism and Deference in Administrative Law” [panel at Federalist Society National Lawyers' Convention with Philip Hamburger, Kristin Hickman, Thomas Merrill, and Jide Okechuku Nzelibe, moderated by Jennifer Walker Elrod]

And has now been awarded $18 million on the theory that although there was some warning signage, there should have been more. The 23-year-old driver was traveling “admittedly 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit” when he encountered a rough patch of roadway at a resurfacing project. The claimant’s attorney, Gerald A. McHugh Jr., “a current nominee for U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declined to comment on the case.” [Philadelphia, Legal Intelligencer]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on November 7, 2013

  • Arizona water utility sues customer over criticism [Popehat, which also has a free-speech-themed Blawg Review tribute and the year in blasphemy law]
  • Harvey Silverglate, “The Slow Death of Free Speech at Harvard” [Minding the Campus] Cato’s Free Speech Week coverage includes video of recent Jonathan Rauch panel [Tim Lynch]
  • Arrest warrant issued after Connecticut man tells Facebook readers he plans to take toy guns into school to prove point [Volokh]
  • In Florida, it’s illegal for two or more people to join together and spend more than $500 on a state ballot issue [Ilya Shapiro; Jacob Sullum on other grassroots-activist chill effects] Brad Smith on the fight at the Supreme Court between Shaun McCutcheon and the FEC [WSJ]
  • “Florida Condo Developer Sues Residents Over Website” [IJ]
  • Lawmaker to introduce anti-SLAPP bill to curb vexatious plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, and no state needs it more [Philly Law Blog; cf. Michigan which also could use a hand]
  • Will measures to criminalize revenge porn erode Section 230, the provision that shelters online media operators from liability for user-added content? [Mark Bennett, Scott Greenfield] At European Court for Human Rights, notice-and-takedown policy not enough to insulate Estonian website from liability for racist user comments [Stanford CIS]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on October 3, 2013

  • University of Montana professors who refuse Title IX training to be reported to federal government [FIRE, more, Missoulian] Professor yanked from public-university classroom over offensive out-of-class tweet [Popehat, Peter Bonilla/FIRE]
  • Preacher/historical fantasist/horrible human being Scott Lively has probably accomplished more actual evil in life than the picketers of the Westboro Baptist Church, yet it raises disturbing First Amendment questions to let him be sued in U.S. court for having urged foreign governments to be more oppressive [NBC News]
  • Speaking of wacky preachers, Florida sheriff says Terry Jones arrested for unlawful fuel transport and open gun carry, not because anyone disagreed with his speech [Orlando Sentinel, Volokh]
  • Critical speech annoys elected officials and that’s one reason we keep having to fight about campaign regulation [Barton Hinkle, Brad Smith on McCutcheon case, Ilya Shapiro on Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus]
  • Minnesota: “Ban on ‘Advis[ing or] Encourag[ing] … Another’ to Commit Suicide Violates First Amendment” [Eugene Volokh] Pennsylvania: “Crime to ‘Disparag[e]‘ an Under-18-Year-Old ‘With Intent to Harass’?” [same] Liking Facebook page presumptively protected speech [same] Veto override fails, so Missouri won’t enact proposed ban on publishing names of gun owners or concealed carry permit holders [same, followup]
  • Danish-Iranian artist convicted of “racism” after critical comments re: Muslim men [Copenhagen Post via @ClaudiaHajian]

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Public employment roundup

by Walter Olson on August 14, 2013

  • “Retirement benefits cost Connecticut more than half of payroll” [Raising Hale] Jagadeesh Gokhale, “State and Local Pension Plans” [Cato] “In the report Krugman cites, the researchers note (repeatedly) that the trillion-dollar figure is very likely a dramatic understatement of the size of the unmet liability.” [Caleb Brown]
  • California: “Bill would reinstate state workers who go AWOL” [Steven Greenhut]
  • Eyebrow-raising federal salaries at unaccountable-by-design CFPB [John Steele Gordon, Commentary]
  • “North Carolina Ends Teacher Tenure” [Pew StateLine]
  • Not all states would benefit from a dose of Scott Walkerism, but Massachusetts would [Charles Chieppo, Governing]
  • “Prison Ordered to Hire Back Guards Fired over an Officer’s Murder Because Everybody Else Was Awful, Too” [Scott Shackford]
  • “New York State Lags on Firing Workers Who Abuse Disabled Patients” [Danny Hakim, New York Times] NYC educators accused of sex misconduct can dig in for years [New York Daily News]
  • “Pennsylvania’s GOP: Rented by Unions” [Steve Malanga, Public Sector Inc.] NYC’s Working Families Party expands into Connecticut [Daniel DiSalvo, same]

Nanny state roundup

by Walter Olson on July 12, 2013

  • “Sneaky public-health messaging appears to be on the upswing across the country” [Baylen Linnekin, NY Post; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • Scotland: “Parents warned they could face court for lighting up at home in front of kids” [The Sun] And Sweden: “Law professor calls for ban on parents drinking” (in presence of kids) [The Local via @FreeRangeKids]
  • Speaking of tobacco: “Former German Chancellor Stays One Step Ahead of European Nannies, Hoards Cigarettes” [Matthew Feeney on Helmut Schmidt]
  • Speaking of alcohol: ObamaCare slush fund bankrolling anti-booze advocacy in Pennsylvania [Mark Hemingway, earlier]
  • To fix the nation’s weight problem, socially discourage processed foods. Right? Wrong [David Freedman, Atlantic]
  • Mark Steyn on federal regulation requiring emergency bunny plan for magicians [NRO, more, earlier]
  • Run for your life! It’s a falling toilet seat! [Free-Range Kids]

An attorney for a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice denies that there was anything improper about personal injury referral fees paid to the judge’s wife, who has also served as his chief aide over much of his time on the bench. Eight law firms are reported to have paid the judge’s wife referral fees; although most of the amounts have not been disclosed, one that was disclosed amounted to $821,000. Legal ethics expert Geoffrey Hazard said the judge “should not have participated in any case involving a firm that had been a source of referral fees for his wife. However, Bruce Ledewitz, professor of law at Duquesne University, said he did not think McCaffery was under an obligation to tell litigants about the referral fees.” An attorney for the judge “said the newspaper had engaged in a ‘slanderous campaign’ to pry into ‘Ms. Rapaport’s legitimate and proper legal business relationships with her colleagues.’” and said the law firm responsible for the large fee noted above had not had a case before the court. [Philadelphia Inquirer via Milan Markovic, Legal Ethics Forum; PhillyMag]

In the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Ivey DeJesus trumpets the views of a “leading legal expert,” specifically “one of the country’s leading church and state scholars” who says, contrary to a state lawmaker’s assertions, that there’s no constitutional problem with reopening lapsed statutes of limitations so as to enable child-abuse lawsuits by now-grown-up complainants. Prof. Marci Hamilton is indeed a well-known church-state scholar, and there is indeed precedent for the (perhaps strange) idea that courts will not necessarily strike down retroactive legislation as unconstitutional so long as its impacts are civil rather than criminal. But it’s not until paragraph 18 that DeJesus, after introducing the expert at length by way of her academic affiliations, bothers to add a perhaps equally relevant element of her biography: she has “represented scores of victims in the Philadelphia Archdiocese clergy sex abuse case.” Why bring that up?

March 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 18, 2013

  • Justice done in Tewksbury, Mass. as feds won’t appeal loss in Motel Caswell forfeiture case [Institute for Justice]
  • Oh, FTC: “Government Now Says Tweets Have To Include ‘The Fine Print’” [Business Insider]
  • Judge lifts “no Facebook posts” order against class action objector [Paul Alan Levy, ABA Journal, earlier]
  • House Judiciary Committee hearing on litigation abuse feature Ted Frank, John Beisner [link to video, Chamber-backed LNL]
  • Update: minister who aided Miller-Jenkins custody-napping gets 27 month sentence [AP,earlier]
  • Pennsylvania high court judge convicted on charges of using state staff for campaign [AP] Also in Pa., wife/chief aide of high court justice “has received 18 payments as referral fees for connecting law firms with clients” [Philadelphia Inquirer] “Arkansas Supreme Court Justice reports $50k gift from plaintiff lawyer” [LNL]
  • Widow sues church for refusal to accept NASCAR-themed cemetery headstone [IndyStar]

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In a case that went to trial Monday in Northampton County, Pa., Megan Thode is suing Lehigh University over the C+ she was given in a graduate education course. Thode, the daughter of a Lehigh faculty member, “was attending the Bethlehem school tuition-free in 2009 when she received the poor mark in her fieldwork class. … She needed a B to take the next course of her field work requirement.” [Allentown Morning Call] Update: Judge rules against her.

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A former Bethlehem, Pa. city employee who “was charged with and ultimately pled guilty to harassment” after persistently bothering an ex-girlfriend co-worker has lost his wrongful-termination suit against the city, with the Third Circuit upholding its dismissal on summary judgment. [Eric B. Meyer]