Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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Anthony Burke was a child diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder. Throughout the first six months of 2010, Anthony and his family were covered by a group health insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Appellant, Independence Blue Cross (“Insurer”), maintained through Anthony’s father, John Burke’s employer. Initially, Anthony received “applied behavioral analysis” (ABA) treatment at home. In August 2009, before an Autism Coverage Law became effective relative to the Burkes’ coverage, the family requested benefits, under the Policy, for ABA services to be provided at the parochial elementary school attended by Anthony. Insurer denied coverage on account of an express place-of-services exclusion in the Policy delineating that services would not be covered if the care was provided in certain locations, including schools. In a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mr. Burke argued that the place-of-services exclusion in the Policy was nullified, as it pertained to in-school services, by the Autism Coverage Law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Legislature intended to permit only general exclusions that would not substantially undermine the mandatory coverage requirement: “we simply do not believe that the Legislature intended to permit insurers to exclude coverage in the sensory-laden educational environment where children spend large portions of their days, or to require families to litigate the issue of medical necessity discretely in individual cases to secure such location-specific coverage for the treatment.” The Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the Burkes, and that the Policy’s place-of-services exclusion was ineffective under the Autism Recovery Law. View "Burke v. Independence Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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Appellant-Petitioners in this case were school districts, individuals, and groups with an interest in the quality of public education in Pennsylvania. They contended that the General Assembly and other Respondents collectively failed to live up to the mandate to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” They further alleged the hybrid state-local approach to school financing resulted in untenable funding and resource disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts. They claim that the General Assembly’s failure legislatively to ameliorate those disparities to a greater extent than it does constitutes a violation of the equal protection of law guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Commonwealth Court, sitting in its original jurisdiction, dismissed both claims at the pleading stage, relying on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s prior dispositions of similar cases. Arguably, these prior decisions held that such challenges were political questions that the courts could not adjudicate without infringing upon the constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, however, finding colorable Petitioners’ allegation that the General Assembly imposed a classification whereunder distribution of state funds results in widespread deprivations in economically disadvantaged districts of the resources necessary to attain a constitutionally adequate education. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court erred in determining that Petitioners’ equal protection claims are non-justiciable. “Whether Petitioners’ equal protection claims are viewed as intertwined with their Education Clause claims or assessed independently, those claims are not subject to judicial abstention under the political question doctrine. It remains for Petitioners to substantiate and elucidate the classification at issue and to establish the nature of the right to education, if any, to determine what standard of review the lower court must employ to evaluate their challenge. But Petitioners are entitled to the opportunity to do so.” View "William Penn Sch. Dist. et al, v. Dept of Educ." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, pursuant to section 8327(b)(2) of the Public School Employees’ Retirement Code, 24 Pa.C.S.A. 8327(b)(2), the school district that originally approved the creation of a charter school was financially responsible, after the revocation of the charter, for the charter school’s prior failure to make payments to its employees’ retirement fund. The Court surmised the question hinged upon whether unpaid retirement contributions constituted an outstanding obligation of the closed charter school. The Court concluded that the deficiency resulting from the failure to make the payments was indeed an outstanding financial obligation of a closed charter school and therefore, pursuant to section 17-1729-A(i) of the Charter School Law, 24 P.S. section 17-1729-A(i), the school district could not be held liable for the amounts owed. View "Pocono Mtn. Sch. Dist. v. Dept. of Educ." on Justia Law

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Responding to adverse financial conditions in the Philadelphia School District, the Pennsylvania Legislature amended the School Code in the late 1990s by adding provisions to the Distress Law tailored to school districts of the first class. In this matter, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether legislation designed to help the Philadelphia School District recover from financial hardship violated the non-delegation rule. The Court held that Section 696(i)(3) of the School Code, 24 P.S. sec. 6-696(i)(3), was unconstitutional, violating the non-delegation rule of Article II, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Accordingly Respondents’ actions taken pursuant to that provision were null and void, and Respondents were permanently enjoined from taking further action under the authority it conferred. View "W. Phila A.C.E. Sch. v. S.D. of Phila." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Transfer between Entities Act (a provision of the Public School Code designed to protect teachers affected by inter-school transfers of educational programs) applied where the transferred students were placed into pre-existing classes and no new classes added. The Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, a public vocational technical school (the “Vocational School”), provided career and technical training to high school students from numerous sending school districts within Westmoreland County, including Appellee Penn-Trafford School District (“Penn-Trafford”). For a number of years, the Vocational School taught math to students from the high schools in such districts who were enrolled in career and technical programs at the Vocational School. During this time, the sending school districts were providing the same math instruction to students in their high schools who were not enrolled at the Vocational School. In early 2010, eight sending school districts, including Penn-Trafford, advised the Vocational School that, beginning with the 2010-11 school year, they would be providing math instruction to the vocational students at the students’ home high schools rather than sending them to the Vocational School for math. Due to these changes, the Vocational School curtailed its math offerings and suspended five certified math teachers. The Supreme Court concluded that the transfer of students and the assumption of program responsibility by the receiving entity were alone sufficient to implicate the protections conferred under the Act. The Commonwealth Court's order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "CWC v. Penn-Trafford" on Justia Law