Case Samples

Much of what we do as attorneys is to provide legal counsel in an effort to avoid litigation in the first instance. Once litigation is commenced, effective legal representation often results in the settlement of the litigation before it goes to final judgment. Sometimes an attorney's best work is to provide legal counsel that avoids litigation or to obtain a settlement in the client's best interests. But such legal counsel is confidential and specific discussion about settlements on a website or elsewhere is not possible.

However, sometimes litigation cannot be avoided. Sometimes a fair settlement cannot be obtained. And sometimes that litigation, or appeals from that litigation, become published in judicial opinions within the public domain. Following is a sampling of references to, and summaries of, published decisions in cases in which members of Strokoff & Cowden litigated or argued. Of course, we cannot express an opinion on whether your case would have as successful an outcome as the cases in this sampling without an in-depth analysis of the specific facts and circumstances. However, these cases do provide an indication of the depth and breadth of the experience, skills and perseverance of the members of the firm of Strokoff & Cowden. We invite you to read the complete legal opinions referred to in the case sampling and have provided the references to the available public reports of each. Also, because the law is constantly changing, please be aware that the holdings in these cases may not accurately reflect the law today.

1. Beardsley et al. v. State Employees' Retirement Board, (Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court) 691 Atlantic Reporter 2d Series 1016. Argued December 11, 1996. Decided March 31, 1997.

State Employees' Retirement Code/Regulatory Construction

Thirty-nine senior management employees of PHEAA participated in an Executive Marketing Incentive Program, which provided for substantial cash payments for individuals attaining certain predetermined performance goals. After the program had been in effect for more than 4 years, the SERS decided the payments were bonuses and, therefore, by regulation, could not be included as compensation for purposes of calculating retirement benefits. The Commonwealth Court reversed the State Employees' Retirement Board, holding that the SERB regulation on prohibited bonuses should be interpreted narrowly, and that bona fide incentive payments were not bonuses and should be included as retirement-covered compensation.

2. Korsunsky v. Housing Code Board of Appeals, City of Harrisburg, (Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court) 660 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 180. Argued April 7, 1995. Decided June 5, 1995.

Constitutionality of Demolition Order

The City of Harrisburg had issued condemnation orders for a property in 1987 and 1989, but did not demolish the structure because it had insufficient funds to do so. A new owner purchased the property at a tax sale, unaware of its dangerous condition and prior condemnation orders. Three weeks later the City issued a third condemnation order with a demolition order. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania rejected the property owner's claims that she was illegally discriminated against because the prior property owners weren't forced to pay for the demolition and that she was being penalized because she was financially solvent and could pay for the demolition.

3. Blackburn v. Department of Navy, et al., 1-CV-93-842, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania) Filed April 5, 1994.

Vietnam Veteran's Rights/Federal Civilian Employment

In a military career which spanned 30 years, the Plaintiff served with the Marines, the Navy, and the Army, including during the Vietnam conflict. After retiring from the military, the Plaintiff obtained civilian employment, as an attorney for the Navy Ships Parts Control Center in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The amount of annual leave entitlement for civilian federal employees at that time was based upon the length of civilian employment, plus credit for service "performed in the armed services during a war". The United States Office of Personnel Management followed an interpretive rule that Vietnam War Era Veterans were not entitled to service credit because the Vietnam War was a conflict, not a declared war. However, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that this interpretive rule was an unreasonable interpretation, and that the Vietnam War was a war entitling the Plaintiff to service credit therefor.

4. Gens v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, 158 Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Reporter 804 631 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series, 804. Decided September 7, 1993.

Workers' Compensation/ Burden of Proof

The Claimant injured her back in a non-work related car accident in 1984, and sustained work related injuries to her back in 1995. She filed a claim petition and the referee granted weekly benefits, finding that the work injuries aggravated her pre-existing back injury stemming from the car accident. Then the Claimant filed a second petition seeking payment of medical bills for back treatments. The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board had held that the Claimant had the difficult burden of proving that the medical expenses were related to her work injuries, and not the car accident. However, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed, holding that it was the employer's burden to prove that any of the medical bills for the back condition were not causally related to the work injuries.

5. McNaughton v. McNaughton, 1992 Pennsylvania Superior Court LEXIS 274, 603 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 646. Argued December 10, 1991. Filed February 13, 1992.

Divorce/Equitable Distribution Valuations in Divorce

This case involved disputes arising out of a court-ordered equitable distribution of marital assets pursuant to a divorce. The Court of Common Pleas had entered an order in 1991 dividing the marital real estate based upon values that were ascertained by a Divorce Master in 1987. The Superior Court reversed the lower court and remanded the case so that the marital real estate could be valued closer to the date of distribution. The valuation date of the defendant's small family business was another matter, however. The Superior Court affirmed the lower court's decision that the proper time to value the family business, largely under the defendant's control, was the date of actual separation.

6. Kohr v. United States, 655 Federal Supplement 306, 1987 United States District Court LEXIS 1646. (United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania) Filed March 6, 1987.

Federal Income Tax/ Deductibility of Daily Travel Expenses

The Plaintiff, a life-long resident of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was employed from December 20, 1980 through October of 1984 as an electrical worker in the construction of the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant construction job, 58 miles from his household. The Internal Revenue Service disallowed the Plaintiff's deduction of his automobile expenses in traveling to and from the construction site, ruling that this was a daily commuting expense, which under Treasury Regulation §1.262-1(b)(5) should be borne by every taxpayer. However, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that the Plaintiff met his burden of proving that employment was "temporary", notwithstanding the fact that it lasted almost 4 years, because he was working outside the jurisdiction of his local union, he could lose his job at any time by virtue of bumping rights, and because the project was plagued with cost overruns, anti-nuclear protests, and PUC hearings.

7. Fessler v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, 86 Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Reports 198, 484 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 422 (1984).

Workers' Compensation/ Heart Attack

Mr. Fessler suffered a fatal heart attack in the course of his employment as an insurance underwriter. At issue in the case was the appropriate burden of proof necessary to establish a heart attack covered by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. On three separate occasions, the workers' compensation referee ruled that the widow had failed to meet her burden of proof. The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board reversed the referee twice, but ultimately affirmed his third decision. However, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that sufficient unequivocal medical evidence had established the causal connection between Mr. Fessler's work and his fatal heart attack, and therefore widow's death benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act were awarded.

8. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, et. al. v. The State System of Higher Education, 505 Pa. 369, 479 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 962. Argued May 15, 1984. Decided July 6, 1984.

State Employees' Retirement Code/Pa. Constitution/ Impairment of Contract

On July 22, 1983, the State Employees' Retirement Code was amended to impose a 1¼ percent increase to the already existing 5 percent basic contribution rate on compensation which all state employees were required to pay toward their state pensions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that this attempt to increase the employees' basic contribution rate violated Article 1, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution as a prohibited legislative impairment of contract rights.

9. Krewson, et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Labor and Industry, 75 Pa. Cmwlth. 275, 461 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 905. Argued May 9, 1983. Decided June 28, 1983.

Pa. Civil Service/Authority to Furlough

The three petitioners in this case appealed their furloughs by the Department of Labor and Industry to the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission. The appeal to the State Civil Service Commission challenged the authority of the Personnel Director for the Department to furlough them, who claimed that he had verbal permission from the Secretary of Labor and Industry to furlough the Petitioners. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the credibility determination by the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission that the Personnel Director did not have the authority to furlough the individuals, and therefore they were properly reinstated with full back pay and benefits.

10. Commonwealth v. The R.G. Johnson Company, 495 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reports 256, 433 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 465. Argued May 18, 1981. Decided July 10, 1981.

Pa. Sales and Use Tax/Mining Exemption

The R.G. Johnson Company was in the business of sinking bituminous coal mine air shafts. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue took the position that sales and use tax was due on the purchase by R.G. Johnson of the equipment used and supplies consumed directly in its deep mine air shaft sinking operations. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that these mine shaft sinking operations were entitled to the mining exclusion from sales and use tax set forth in the Tax Reform Code of 1971.

11. Ritz, et ux v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 495 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reports 1, 432 Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series 169. Argued March 3, 1981. Decided July 2, 1981.

Pa. Income Tax/Pa. Constitution/ Tax Uniformity Clause

The Department of Revenue had a regulation that regular employees, such as Mr. Ritz, were not entitled to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses from their Pennsylvania personal income tax return; such ordinary and necessary business expenses could only be deducted by employees who were similar to independent contractors, such as life insurance salesmen and real estate salesmen. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Mr. Ritz was entitled to deduct as an ordinary and necessary business expense his union dues and home office expense. In so holding, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that the regulation which restricted business deductions to employees who were similar to independent contractors violated the tax uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Subsequent to this decision, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue changed its regulation and allowed deductions for bona fide business expenses for all employees.

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