PCCJR Update — March 8, 2019

Help Wanted: PA Rules Committees ** Update on Venue Change Proposal ** Opposing Consent Jurisdiction ** Application for Fair Share Act

Civil Justice Reform Minded-Lawyers Needed for Rules Committees

If you share the PCCJR’s view that courts should treat all parties fairly and interpret statutes as intended by the legislature, please consider applying for one of the open positions on the Civil Procedural Rules Committee or the Appellate Procedural Rules Committee.

Supreme Court Justice David Wecht explains in this videothe importance of these committees. Justice Wecht stresses the need to diversify committee membership and explains how the court is conducting outreach to inform the bar and public when vacancies arise.

Nothing demonstrates the importance of the court’s committees better than the current efforts to reverse the medical malpractice venue rule. The current venue rule was enacted to prevent venue shopping and played a key role in alleviating the medical malpractice crisis of the early 2000s. The Civil Procedural Rules Committee is reviewing a proposed change that would mark a return to broader venue rules and venue shopping in medical malpractice cases. While the Supreme Court establishes procedural rules, the committees advise the court and play an influential role in shaping the court’s decisions on the adoption of proposed rule changes.

You can apply for appointment to these committees by clicking on the link at the bottom of this email from the Supreme Court:

Apply Now for Supreme Court
Committees and Boards

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is aided by select boards, committees, commissions and councils consisting of more than 180 appointed volunteers – most, but not all, are lawyers and judges.

The panels have a wide range of responsibilities and functions. Some make recommendations to the Court for amendments, revisions or simplification of court procedural rules. Others regulate the practice of law, oversee continuing legal education for lawyers and administer funds to assist individuals unable to pay for legal services. Still others advise on keeping the courts free of bias and discrimination and on long-range planning.

There are currently four vacancies on these panels:

  • PA Board of Law Examiners– Applicants must be members of the Pennsylvania bar or jurists and be knowledgeable about law school curriculum, legal practice and attorney ethical obligations. Please note – law school faculty may not serve on this Board. Applicants should not apply if, during the term of service, they will have immediate family members who will be taking the bar examination or seeking membership in the Pennsylvania bar.
  • Appellate Procedural Rules Committee– Applicants should be knowledgeable about the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure and experienced in state appellate practice in Pennsylvania.
  • Civil Procedural Rules Committee– There are two vacancies. Each vacancy will be for a five year term. Applicants should be knowledgeable about the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and experience in state civil practice in Pennsylvania.

For application information, click here. Applications are due March 31, 2019.

Venue Rule Change Proposal Remains Front and Center

The deadline for submitting formal comments may have ended on February 22, but the controversial proposal remains a hot topic in legislative, policy, medical, and legal circles.

Just last week, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices Max Baer and Sallie Mundy responded to several questionson the issue during Senate budget hearings. Senators expressed concerns ranging from the timing of the announcement just before the Christmas holiday to the issue of fairness. Justice Max Baer revealed that the question was rekindled after someone wrote the Supreme Court requesting the venue rule change.

Organizations from across Pennsylvania joined forces to voice their strong opposition to the proposed ‘venue shopping’ rule change. PCCJR, its members, and partner organizations submitted more than 3,000 commentsagainst the proposed rule change.

The Supreme Court recently announced that it would delay a decision on the matter to allow for the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study and report on the effects the proposed changes will have.

PCCJR Joins Amicus Brief Opposing Consent Jurisdiction

The PCCJR has signed on to an amicus brief in Murray v. American LaFrance, which is on appeal to the Superior Court from the decision of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

This case raises the issue of whether a business consents to the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania courts by the mere fact of registering to do business in Pennsylvania. The decision of the common pleas court ignores constitutional dictates that a company must be “at home” through being incorporated or having its principal place of business in a state before personal jurisdiction is obtained. To allow jurisdiction through Pennsylvania’s business registration statute violates Due Process and Equal Protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The Superior Court, in an earlier ruling, upheld the decision of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which held that Pennsylvania has jurisdiction over the defendant by virtue of business registration. However, the Superior Court withdrew its decision and granted an en banc re-argument.

Dragonetti Act Challenged Again Before Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted an appeal which directly challenges the law that gives recourse to victims of the wrongful use of civil proceedings (frivolous and abusive lawsuits).

It was only two years ago when the court last upheld the Dragonetti Act in Villani v. Seibert. However, the majority in that case practically invited further litigation when it opined that “…there may be an argument to be made that punitive damages awards should not be available against attorney-defendants in Dragonetti cases…”.

It didn’t take long for the case of Rupert v. King to work its way to the Supreme Court challenging punitive damages awarded against an attorney pursuant to the Dragonetti Act. On February 21, the Supreme Court certified the following questions to be decided:

  1. Is an award of punitive damages against an attorney, as provided for by the Dragonetti Act, … an unconstitutional infringement upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s power to regulate the conduct of attorneys?
  2. If the answer to the foregoing is in the affirmative, does the immunity from punitive damages also apply to a plaintiff in an action who is represented by counsel, who seeks and is denied affirmative relief, but who also happens to be an attorney?

The Dragonetti Act is an effective tool against unreasonable litigation. PCCJR will closely follow the developments in Rupert v. King.

Application for Fair Share Act Argued Before Supreme Court in Roverano

This week, the Supreme Court held oral argument in the closely watched case of Roverano v. John Crane, Inc.  At issue is the applicability of Pennsylvania’s Fair Share Act to strict liability cases and whether bankruptcy trusts must be considered in apportioning damages in strict liability asbestos cases. PCCJR joined an amicus brief in support of the applicability of the Fair Share Act and including bankruptcy trusts when apportioning damages.

In spite of the act’s clear language of applicability to strict liability cases, the trial court determined that damages should be apportioned per capita, without consideration the percentage of a defendant’s liability. The Superior Court reversed and the Supreme Court is now set to decide the matter.

According to coverage provided by the Penn Record, several justices expressed skepticism to the concept of apportioning damages pursuant to a defendant’s share of liability. One justice even took issue with the legislature’s insertion of liability issues into laws like the Fair Share Act.

In the News

Too many elbows? | Pennsylvania Opioid Cases are Homeless While Trial Lawyers Take Shots at Each Other | Forbes



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