Successes and Important Decisions

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.

Protection of the Due Process Rights of Public School Superintendents

A Public School District Board of Directors may not co-mingle its investigative and adjudicative functions.

Dr. Carlinda Purcell v. Reading School District, 167 A.3d 216 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2017) appeal denied 182 A.3d 997 (2018).

Public school superintendents in Pennsylvania are entitled to due process in disciplinary actions, which includes the right to disciplinary proceedings free from even the appearance of bias and partiality. In particular, the Court’s opinion means that School Board members who initiate complaints and/or perform investigative functions, may not also participate in the Board’s deliberations on the question of whether the superintendent’s conduct allows termination under the Public School Code. In this case, the same Board members who drew up charges against Dr. Purcell testified against her at the hearing and then participated in the vote to terminate her. The Commonwealth Court reversed the School Board’s decision and ruled that “what really occurred was deficient process, or no due process at all.” The Court sent the matter back to the School Board for further proceedings consistent with its decision.

See the Court’s decision

Michael J. McQueary v. The Pennsylvania State University

From the Philadelphia Inquirer 10/28/2016:

From 10/28/2016:

From the Chicago Tribune 11/30/2016:

From PennLive 4/1/2017:

From PennLive 11/10/2017:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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