SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-POLITICAL SUBDIVISION TORT CLAIMS ACT-EXCEPTIONS-MOTOR VEHICLES-MOVEMENT OF VEHICLES

September 28th, 2018 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Balentine v Chester Water Auth., 2018 LEXIS 4299 Supreme Ct of PA (August 21, 2018) Mundy J.  We granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding that the involuntary movement of a vehicle does not constitute operation of a motor vehicle for purposes of the vehicle liability exception to governmental immunity under 42 Pa. C.S. § 8542(b)(1). As explained herein, because we determine that movement of a vehicle, whether voluntary or involuntary, is not required by the statutory language of the vehicle liability exception, we reverse the order of the Commonwealth Court thereby allowing this matter to proceed in the trial court. Mathues activated the four-way flashers and the amber strobe light on the roof of the vehicle, which he then exited. He walked to the front of the vehicle where he laid some blueprints on the hood. Approximately five minutes later, a vehicle owned by Michael Roland and driven by Wyatt Roland, struck the rear of the CWA vehicle causing it to move forward. Mathues was rolled up onto the hood and thrown into the roadway. The right front bumper of…

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-COMMONWEALTH IMMUNITY-EXCEPTIONS-ROADS AND HIGHWAYS-BICYCLE ACCIDENT ON HUMP IN ROADWAY

July 25th, 2018 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Carletti v. Commonwealth, 2018 Pa. Cmwlth. LEXIS 317 (July 17, 2018) Pellegrini, S.J.  This case was a bicycle accident involving a hump in the roadway.  The question is whether the bicycle rider applied his front brakes and went over the handlebars or whether he applied the brakes properly but instead was injured because of the hump in the road.  The court found that there was adequate constructive notice because the Commonwealth knew of the hump in the road.  The court therefore said there was constructive knowledge.  The government can be charged with constructive notice of a dangerous condition of a roaday, but it has to be apparent upon reasonable inspection.  The language explains that constructive notice can be just the fact that the problems was there for a while and was noticeable.  The court then says that the expert testimony was sufficient that it was the bump that caused the injury, not the biker hitting his front brakes only.  However, the problem was that the jury was not sufficiently instructed concerning deposition testimony that was never admitted into evidence.  There was a Mr. Kauffman who testified.  The judge let it…

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY ACT-DAMAGES-WRONGFUL DEATH-DECEDENT’S FUTURE SERVICES AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT

November 7th, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Ewing, et al. v. Potkul, et al., No. 1471 CD 2016 (Pa. Cmwlth. September 27, 2017) Leavitt, P.J.  The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County (trial court) that sustained in part, and overruled in part, PennDOT's preliminary objections to a six-count complaint filed on behalf of the Estate of Trudy J. Zooner (Estate). At issue here is the trial court's ruling upon PennDOT's demurrer to Count VI of the complaint, which asserted a claim under the statute commonly known as the Wrongful Death Act on behalf of the husband, mother, and three adult daughters of Trudy J. Zooner (Decedent). The trial court held that Decedent's mother and daughters could not seek “non-pecuniary” damages but could seek “pecuniary damages” under the Wrongful Death Act for the loss of Decedent's future services and financial contributions. PennDOT argues that these so-called pecuniary damages are barred by the provisions of the Judicial Code commonly known as the Sovereign Immunity Act.  We agree and reverse the trial court's order holding otherwise. In short, when considering a wrongful death claim brought against a Commonwealth agency, we examine…

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-POLITICAL SUBDIVISION TORT CLAIMS ACT-EXCEPTIONS-UTILITY EXCEPTION

August 3rd, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Metropolitan Edison Co. v. City of Reading, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 1387 (S. Ct. June 20, 2017) Donohue, J. In this appeal, we are required to construe the language of the utility service facilities exception (“Utility Exception”) to governmental immunity contained in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (“Tort Claims Act”), 42 Pa.C.S. § 8542(b)(5). The Commonwealth Court concluded that where a dangerous condition of the facilities of a utility system is created by the negligent action or inaction of a local agency or its employees, the Utility Exception does not apply. Because the Commonwealth Court misconstrued both the Utility Exception and the gravamen of the lawsuit in question, we reverse. Metropolitan Edison Company (“Met-Ed”) provides electricity service to residents of the City of Reading (“City”) and surrounding areas within Berks County. As part of Met-Ed's electric utility system, electrical wires are buried underground, along with other private and municipal utilities, within the City's right-of-way. The wires are encased in sections of terra cotta piping which are cemented together, or Schedule 40 PVC conduit, depending on the age of the installation. The City resumed its excavation work. On July 15, 2009,…

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-INDEMNIFICATION

May 22nd, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Lewis v. Clarke, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2796, 581 U.S. ___ (April 25, 2017) Sotomayor, J. We have never before had occasion to decide whether an indemnification clause is sufficient to extend a sovereign immunity defense to a suit against an employee in his individual capacity. We hold that an indemnification provision cannot, as a matter of law, extend sovereign immunity to individual employees who would otherwise not fall under its protective cloak. This case arose in the context of an Indian tribe with gaming authority. We have never before treated a lawsuit against an individual employee as one against a state instrumentality.  A civil rights suit under 1983 against a state officer in his official capacity does not implicate the Eleventh Amendment and a state’s sovereign immunity from suit.  Federal appellate courts that have considered the indemnity question have rejected the argument that an indemnity statute brings the Eleventh Amendment into play in 1983 actions. In sum, although tribal sovereign immunity is implicated when the suit is brought against individual officers in their official capacities, it is simply not present when the claim is made against those employees in their…

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-POLITICAL SUBDIVISION TORT CLAIMS ACT-EXCEPTIONS-REAL PROPERTY-FALL OVER COMPUTER CABLES

April 5th, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Gillingham v. County of Delaware, No. 2532 C.D. 2015 (February 14, 2017) Brobson, J.  It was claimed that a cause of action could be brought for a fall over computer cables because this was an exception under the real estate exception of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.  The trial court dismissed the case.  An appeal followed.  If an injury is caused by personalty that is merely on the real property, the Political Subdivision remains immune.  In view of the fact that the real property exception applies only to real property, the injury from computer cables does not fall within the exception.  Immunity applies.

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-MANDAMUS-DECLARATORY JUDGMENT ACTIONS-EMPLOYMENT

January 17th, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Brimmeier v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 147 A.3d 954 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016).  The law is clear that sovereign immunity does not bar either mandamus or declaratory judgment action.  Therefore, to the extent that the Commission objects to mandamus and/or declaratory judgment actions, their preliminary objections should have been overruled.  Claim of contract breach and promissory estoppel upon employment agreement are barred by sovereign immunity.  The Commission is immune from claim of intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation claims.  PO’s to those claims should have been sustained.  Mandamus is not applicable in this particular case.  There is no claim under the Declaratory Judgment Act.  There is no viable breach of contract claim set forth.  Promissory estoppel was properly dismissed.

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-COMMONWEALTH IMMUNITY-EXCEPTIONS-VEHICLE LIABILITY

October 19th, 2016 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Here, the vehicle was stopped at the time that Commonwealth defendants purportedly possessed the keys.  The state people did not operate the vehicle as a matter of law, and the vehicle liability exception therefore did not apply.  The court threw the case out on this basis.  Ward, the plaintiff, was engaged as a traffic controller.  She was struck by a vehicle operated by DeSimone.  DeSimone was convicted of a DUI.  DeSimone was under the supervision of the Delaware County Adult Probation authorities.  The county person permitted DeSimone to drive home, which apparently he should not have done knowing of DeSimone’s condition.  Ward suffered significant injuries as a result of the accident.  The lawsuit was against the county probation people.  That was the claim that was thrown out.

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-POLITICAL SUBDIVISION TORT CLAIMS ACT-EXCEPTIONS-MOTOR VEHICLE-TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICE

October 19th, 2016 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Balentine v. Chester Water Authority, 140 A.3d 69 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016).  Decedent’s estate brought action claiming Chester Water Authority and an individual were liable for decedent’s death.  The question in this case was application of the exception to the motor vehicle portion of the Tort Claims Act and the traffic control device exception.  Although the Water Authority truck was running and had its strobe light on, it was parked at the time of the collision.  A car hit the water authority truck, forcing it involuntarily to move forward and fatally injure decedent.  The court found that this matter does not involve a vehicle in motion, and hence the exception to the immunity act does not apply.  Because the Authority truck was parked at the time of the collision, it was no longer in operation when the accident occurred.  The involuntary movement of a vehicle does not constitute “operation” for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity.  Illegally parking the truck with its strobe light flashing did not constitute a traffic device.  Therefore, the exception to government immunity did not apply either.  The truck is not a traffic control…

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS-SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY-TAPPING FEES

March 29th, 2016 by Rieders Travis in Sovereign Immunity

Hidden Creek v. Lower Salford Township Authority, 129 A.3d 602 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015).  Legitimate factual questions remain as to whether Developer was reasonably unaware that the tapping fees which they were challenging were allegedly erroneous.  Likewise, the developer was reasonably unaware that the Authority's apparent failure to comply with the law adopting its tapping Resolutions may have deprived Developer of information necessary to evaluate the accuracy of the tapping fee.  Because the facts are not so clear that reasonable minds would not differ as to whether Developer should have been reasonably aware of the alleged error in tapping fees, we conclude that the trial court properly denied the Authority's summary judgment motion on the timeliness issue.  However, the court then went on to say there was no right to sue under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.  There simply was no exception.  However, this case was saved because governmental immunity did not apply.  The statute with respect to tapping fees created a targeted form of accountability resting outside the scope of governmental immunity.  The Act in question specifically permits suit.  The law authorizes any person questioning the reasonableness or uniformity…