HMS Legal Blog

Former Insurance Department Counsel joins firm

Christopher KnightHawke McKeon and Sniscak LLP, is pleased to announce the expansion of its insurance regulatory practice, with Christopher J. Knight joining the firm as Of Counsel.

Chris spent nearly nine years as Counsel for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department as a member of the Governor’s Office of General Counsel, and will now use that experience and knowledge in his representation of insurance companies, producer licensees and other insurance-entity clients in regulatory, licensing and government compliance matters and related litigation.

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PUC Launches Investigation of Pennsylvania’s Retail Electricity Market

In a 4 to 1 vote, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission “officially launch[ed] the investigation of the competitiveness of the retail electric market with the goal of making recommendations for improvements to ensure a properly functioning and workably competitive retail electric market.”

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Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Bills Driven by Marcellus Shale Development In PA Move Forward

There are two natural gas pipeline safety bills pending before the Pennsylvania General Assembly: House Bill 344 and Senate Bill 325.  Each was met with overwhelming approval in the chamber in which it was proposed, and the passage of either would result in additional safety regulation of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

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Harness Racing Commission’s Denial of Intervention “Clearly Unreasonable”

Finding “clearly unreasonable” the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission’s denial of flat track Philadelphia Park’s motion to intervene in harness track Harrah’s Chester’s telephone account wagering application, the en banc Commonwealth Court reversed the denial of intervention and also (in order to “right the wrong”) vacated the Commission’s order allowing Harrah’s Chester to commence operations of the new remote wagering system. Bensalem Racing Association, Inc.v. Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission, _A.3d ___(Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (en banc) 1053 and 2710 C.D. 2010,
filed March 21, 2011) (Brobson, J.).

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PUC Stalls Met-Ed/Penelec Customer Education Plan

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission unexpectedly voted to delay implementation of the electricity shopping Customer Education Program for Metropolitan Edison Company and Pennsylvania Electric Company. The Commission was addressing an audit of the plans, which cost about $900,000 each, when it suspended implementation pending further comment from participants.  The Commission appears to be concerned that, due to lack of electric generation supplier participation in those territories, customer education about competitive alternatives may be premature.

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Pennsylvania Passes 1,000,000 Customer Mark in Competitive Electricity Market

It’s official - Pennsylvania has passed the 1 million customer mark in electricity shopping.  According to the latest weekly update on the Pa. Power Switch website (www.PaPowerSwitch.com), the total number of customers switching to an electric generation supplier as of March 23, 2011, was 1,001,062.

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PUC “Opts Out” of Municipal Aggregation

The PUC has ruled unanimously that opt-out municipal aggregation programs violate the Commission’s regulations regarding the standards for changing a customer’s electricity generation supplier.

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Supreme Court Upholds Valley Forge Category 3 Slots License

Valley Forge Convention Center is a “well established resort hotel” that otherwise meets statutory licensing requirements for receipt of a Category 3 slots license, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in a 3-2 decision upholding the Gaming Board.

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Governor Forms Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett used his March 8, 2011 Budget address to announce creation of a Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission charged with developing a “comprehensive, strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale” by July 22, 2011.

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Attorney-Client Privilege: A Two Way Street

Bringing welcome clarity for regulated entities, especially those that rely heavily on in-house legal teams whose members interact on a day-to-day basis with business decision makers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week reversed the Superior Court’s narrow “client to lawyer” limitation on the attorney-client privilege and held that the privilege operates “in a two-way fashion to protect confidential client-to-attorney or attorney-to-client communications made for the purpose of obtaining or providing professional legal advice.” Gillard v. AIG Insurance Co., _A.3d ___(Pa. 2011) (10 EAP 2010; filed February 23, 2011) (Saylor, J.).

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Citing Unreported Opinions: Worth the Trouble?

Effective in 2011 unreported opinions of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court may be cited as persuasive authority, though not as binding precedent.

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Retail Energy Market Sales Practices To Be Subject Of PUC Rulemaking

In a move that reflects growing concern over door-to-door marketing of retail energy the Pennsylvania PUC is seeking  the input of industry stakeholders with an eye to adopting regulations that will curb perceived abuses.

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Is the Order Final? That’s the Appellate Court’s Call

Although trial courts and agencies often take a position on whether an order they have entered is final for purposes of appeal, it is essential for counsel to make an independent assessment of appealability, because orders that lower tribunals believe to be interlocutory and unappealable frequently are deemed final by the appellate court.  That was the result in Fiore v. County of Allegheny, ___ A. 3d ___, ___ n. 3 (Pa Cmwlth. 2011) (1805 CD 2009, decided February 1, 2011), where a landowner who had valuable coal rights under South Park in Allegheny County filed  two actions in the court of common pleas, one seeking a declaration that he had a right to strip mine and the other seeking appointment of a Board of Viewers.  After the County filed preliminary objections to both actions, alleging among other arguments in each that the landowner had no right to strip mine, the trial court held a hearing on the issue of whether the landowner had a right to strip mine and then entered an order stating that based on the evidence he did not, without ever expressly ruling on the preliminary objections.  In his opinion, the trial judge argued that the order was not final because the preliminary objections remained pending, but the Commonwealth Court viewing the matter from a practical perspective, held that the order was final because it effectively disposed of at least one of the preliminary objections – whether the landowner had the right to strip mine – and thus effectively disposed of both cases.

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Is Order Granting New Trial in Statutory Appeal Appealable?

Orders granting new trials in civil and certain criminal proceedings are immediately appealable pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 311 (a)(6), but is an order granting a new trial in a statutory appeal immediately appealable under the same Rule?  In Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority v. Gladstone, 999 A. 2d 1248 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010), the Commonwealth Court said it is not, because a statutory appeal is not a “civil action” within the meaning of the Rule, and is not a “proceeding” within the meaning defined in the Judicial Code.  Under the facts and circu¬mstances presented in the case, however, the order was appealable as a collateral order because it met the three prongs of the collateral order test (it was “separable” from the main cause of action, because the error of law cited by the trial court for granting a new trial did not affect the merits of the underlying claim; it involved a right too important to be denied review because re-litigation of a matter is onerous and is the reason the Supreme Court promulgated Rule 311(a)(6) permitting an immediate appeal from an order in a civil action or proceeding granting a new trial; and the question presented was such that if review was postponed until final judgment the claim would have been irreparably lost,  because the claim was that appellant should not be required to re-litigate the matter in a new trial.

 

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Columbia Gas Files for $37.8 million Rate Increase

After only a few months of collecting the newly increased rates from its 2010 Rate Case, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is back before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission seeking an additional $37.8 million in annual revenue.

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Make the Most of Reply Brief Opportunity

Pennsylvania’s appellate rules permit a reply brief but limit the scope to “matters raised by appellee’s brief and not previously addressed in appellant’s brief.”  Pa. R.A.P. 2113(a).  Ideally, the reply brief is the opportunity for the appellant to add sharper focus the issues on appeal by responding to appellee’s advocacy in a way that underscores appellant’s principal themes.  Make the most of it.

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PUC Approves New Rules Aimed at Improving Retail Natural Gas Competition

Today, in split vote, the PUC approved new regulations intended to level the playing field for natural gas competition.

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Rule 1925 Remains a Waiver Trap

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Berg v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., __Pa. __, 6 A.3d 1002 (2010) (plurality opinion) serves notice that a majority of the Court continues to expect strict compliance with all of the very technical requirements of Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b)’s “concise statement of errors complained of on appeal” procedures.  Although the upshot of the Court’s five opinions was that under the egregious facts presented no waiver was found, the broader message is that, even after 2007 amendments intended to reduce the number of appeals dismissed on waiver grounds for Pa. R.A.P. 1925 technical violations, counsel needs to adhere to all of Rule 1925’s technical requirements, use extreme caution, and essentially treat compliance with the letter of Pa. R.A.P. 1925 in the same way that jurisdictional deadlines are treated.

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Check the Certified Trial Court Record for Omissions

Did you know that Pennsylvania appellate courts may find an issue waived where a document relevant to the issue is omitted from the original record certified by the trial court, even though the document is available to the appellate court in the reproduced record and there is no dispute that the document was admitted into evidence and relied on by the trial court?

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Justiciability of Pre-enforcement Challenge to Agency Regulations Reaffirmed

Revisiting the Arsenal Coal exception to the general rule that the exhaustion doctrine bars a challenge to administrative agency regulations until after the challenger is aggrieved by their application, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the availability of pre-enforcement review where the issue presented is ripe and the challenged regulations have an immediate impact on an industry such that the delay and uncertainty associated with enforcement and subsequent judicial review would cause hardship.  Bayada Nurses, Inc. v. Dept. of Labor and Industry, __Pa. __, ___A. 2d ___ (2010) (67 MAP 2008, decided November 17, 2010).

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