Representative Cases

CASES OF SIGNIFICANCE

 

MEDIA LAW

 

County of York v. Ted Czech, et al.

York County Court of Common Pleas, No. 2009-SU-2892-08; Commonwealth Court No. 2584 CD 2009, 13 A.3d 594 (Pa. Commw. 2011)

Newspaper reporter filed request under Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law seeking “time response logs” from York County 911. The reporter sought address or cross-street information with the time response logs in order to determine the reliability of response times and the efficiency of emergency responders resulting from York County 911 calls.  The County of York denied the request and reporter appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. The Office of Open Records reversed and ordered disclosure of the requested records and information. The County appealed the agency determination to the York County Court of Common Pleas, which reversed the Office of Open Records, holding that the term “time response log” did not encompass any form of destination address information. Newspaper reporter successfully appealed the Trial Court’s decision to the Commonwealth Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision and held that the term “time response log”, as used in Section 708(b)(18) of the Right-to-Know Law, did not exempt destination address or cross-street information and that this type of information had to be made available with the County’s time response logs. This case has statewide impact since it was not appealed and a matter of “first impression.” 

   

Keisling v. MediaNews Group, York Daily Record, et al.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, No. 1:09-cv 2181; Third Circuit No. 10-4346, 425 Fed. Appx. 106, May 2, 2011; United States Supreme Court No. 11-5101, 132 S. Ct. 383, October 3, 2011

Plaintiff filed a §1983 action alleging that newspaper company, its newspaper, reporter and 24 other parties, including various governmental and judicial defendants, violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. District Court granted the Media Defendants’ 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. The decision was affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court denied plaintiff’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari.

Wright v. York Daily Record, et al.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, No. 1:09-cv-0022; August 27, 2009

Plaintiff filed a §1983 action against a newspaper, its reporter, a prosecutor and a public defender, alleging that the defendants violated his rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff based his action upon a newspaper article published in the York Daily Record.  Media Defendants filed a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, arguing that they were not state actors for purposes of §1983. The District Court granted Media Defendants’ Motion and denied Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint.

 

Palmer v. Fulton County News, et al.

Fulton County Court of Common Pleas, No. 76-2009-C; October 6, 2010

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas against the publisher of The Fulton County News, a reporter for the News, an attorney, and numerous physicians and governmental defendants. The complaint, as amended, alleged defamation, slander, civil conspiracy, false light invasion of privacy, intentional interference with contractual relations and other causes of action based in part upon multiple articles published in The Fulton County News. The Media Defendants filed Preliminary Objections to the Plaintiff’s amended complaint, arguing improper venue and also that the Plaintiff failed to set forth a cause of action upon which relief could be granted. The Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas transferred the case to Fulton County upon the various motions of the defendants, and the Superior Court upheld the transfer. The Fulton County Court of Common Pleas thereafter conducted argument and sustained the Preliminary Objections of Media Defendants, dismissing all claims against them.

 

Lloyd and Miller v. The York Dispatch, et al.

York County Court of Common Pleas, No. 2002-SU-4523-0; Superior Court No. 1521 MDA 2008; August 4, 2008

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and negligent infliction of emotional distress based upon the publication of two newspaper articles in The York Dispatch. Following transfer of the case to York County, defendants filed a Motion for Judgment of Non Pros. The York County Court of Common Pleas granted the Media Defendants’ Motion and entered judgment of non pros, effectively dismissing the case. Plaintiffs appealed to the Superior Court, but Media Defendants were able to secure a dismissal of the appeal based upon Plaintiffs’ failure to file a petition to open or strike the judgment of non pros with the Trial Court.

 

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, et al.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, No. 1:04-cv-2688, 2005 WL 2387629; September 28, 2005

In this case, sometimes referred to as the “Intelligent Design” case, several parents brought a First Amendment Establishment Clause challenge and Pennsylvania Constitutional challenge to the Dover Area School District (in York County) policy that required the teaching of “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to evolution theory. The defendants in the case, including the Dover Area School District, subpoenaed two reporters from separate York newspapers who had covered Dover school board meetings and written articles about the controversy. The defendants also sought documents from the reporters, including their notes and drafts of published articles. Media Defendants filed Motions to Quash the subpoenas on the basis of the First Amendment Reporters’ Privilege. The District Court, in a series of three Orders, granted the Motion to Quash as to all subpoenaed documents. In addition, while the Court permitted defendants to call the reporters as witnesses, it severely restricted and limited the testimony to what the reporters had seen and heard, as related in previously published newspaper articles. In other words, the Court ruled that the reporters could verbalize the contents of their newspaper articles but could not be questioned as to any unpublished material or information or as to the reporters’ motivations, biases or mental impressions.

 

Lee Publications, Inc., Publisher of the Sentinel, et al. v. The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University, et al.

Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas, No. 2004-0312; Commonwealth Superior Court No. 217 C.D. 2004; February 2, 2004

Newspapers brought Sunshine Act action against association and board of governors of The Dickinson School of Law seeking to enjoin the board of governors from conducting a closed meeting to discuss a possible move of the law school from Carlisle to State College, Pennsylvania. The Trial Court ruled that the association and board of governors were “agencies” within the meaning of the Sunshine Act and enjoined the scheduled meeting. The Commonwealth Court reversed in a 3-2 decision, holding that the board of governors did not fall within the Sunshine Act definition of “agency”. Shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the newspapers’ Petition for Allowance of Appeal and agreed to hear the matter on appeal, the Pennsylvania Legislature amended and broadened the definition of “agency” contained in the Sunshine Act to include bodies such as the board of governors of the law school, 65 Pa. C.S.A. 703.    

 

York Newspapers, Inc., et al. v. City of York

York County Court of Common Pleas, No. 2000-SU-3251-08; Commonwealth Court No. 1753 CD 2002, 826 A.2d 41 (Pa. Commw. 2003)

Newspaper reporters investigating two unsolved homicides and race riots that had occurred in the City of York in 1968 and 1969 filed a Right-to-Know Law request for public records in the possession of the City of York, including police records. City personnel searched boxes of documents in the City Hall attic and set aside various documents for the reporters to review and copy. The City further provided an Invoice to the newspapers in the amount of $960.23, representing overtime hours spent searching for these documents. Following a series of hearings and meetings of counsel conducted by the Trial Court, counsel for the reporters were permitted to review boxes already searched by City personnel and any other boxes remaining in the City Hall attic. The City subsequently submitted a second Invoice in the amount of $15,432.26. The Trial Court held that the City could not charge the newspapers for labor costs in searching for and gathering public records, in part because the public’s right of access pursuant to the Right-to-Know Act could have been effectively denied in many cases if agencies were allowed to assess such fees. The Trial Court held that the City could only charge the reasonable cost of copying documents. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Trial Court’s ruling by denying their request for reimbursement of labor expenses.

 

 

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Cacace v. The Evening Sun

Unemployment Compensation Board of Review; No. B-05-09-C-2219 (Referee Kocher); January 6, 2006 

Independent contractor newspaper carrier sought unemployment compensation benefits from newspaper. The UC Service Center and Referee ruled carrier eligible for benefits. We were successful in establishing the independent contractor status of the newspaper carrier before UC Board of Review, who reversed the decision of the Referee and denied benefits.

Walker v. Shadowfax Corporation

Unemployment Compensation Board of Review; No. B-06-09-D-4006 (Referee Barnette); November 3, 2006

Employee discharged for insubordination due to her refusal to obtain and provide medical documentation requested by Employer following an absence from work.  We were successful in establishing that the Employee’s failure to comply with Employer’s reasonable request for medical documentation constituted willful misconduct. The UC Board of Review affirmed the decision of the Referee to deny benefits. 

 

Klinedinst v. Shadowfax Corporation

Unemployment Compensation Board of Review;  No. B-06-09-D-1573 (Referee Foulke); July 11, 2006

Employee discharged for psychological abuse of a low-functioning individual residing in a group home for physically, mentally and/or emotionally disabled individuals. We were successful in establishing that the employee’s abusive actions constituted willful misconduct under the Unemployment Compensation Law. The UC Board of Review affirmed the decision of the Referee to deny benefits. 

 

Johnson v. Shadowfax Corporation

Commonwealth Court, No. 810 C.D. 2006; UC No. B-05-09-F-8277 (Referee Barnette); February 7, 2006

Employee discharged for leaving three physically and mentally disabled individuals unattended at a Wal-Mart while she parked a car. We were successful in establishing that the employee violated employer’s policy prohibiting abuse and committed willful misconduct under the Unemployment Compensation Law. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Order of the UC Board of Review upholding the decision of the Referee to deny benefits. 

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW MATTERS

Roche v. York Newspaper Company

PHRC No. P-6131; July 24, 2002

Individual with an alleged physical impairment asserted that Client newspaper company failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation in connection with newspaper delivery to his house. Following its investigation, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission made a determination that no probable cause existed to support the allegations of unlawful discrimination. The PHRC further denied the individual’s request for a Preliminary Hearing.

 

Erdenbrack v. Triangle Printing Co.

PHRC No. 200504627 Date: 2005

Represented Defendant Employer in an action filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging violations of various state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Employer raised and successfully supported various defenses, resulting in a no probable cause determination. 

 

Gruzs v. County of York, et al. 

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 1:07-cv-2028

Herbst v. County of York, et al.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 4:07-cv-262

Represented two former Employees of nursing home owned and operated by York County in separate actions against the County of York and various officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the First Amendment, as well as the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law. Both alleged that they were wrongfully terminated as a result of raising issues about the work place environment and that reasons given by the County for their terminations were pretextual. Both matters were resolved favorably for the Employees by way of amicable settlements during the litigation process. 

 

Rideout, et al. v. Public Opinion, et al.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 1:09-cv-403  

Defended Employer against claims made by six former Employees of a South Central Pennsylvania daily newspaper and national media company. Employees resigned their positions and collectively filed suit alleging constructive termination arising out of allegations involving sexual harassment, hostile work environment, as well as race, gender, and age discrimination. Employer raised a number of defenses against the employees’ claims, including failure to exhaust administrative remedies, statute of limitations, and other various affirmative defenses. Aggressive pretrial representation created an imposition of discovery sanctions against the majority of the former Employees and ultimately resulted in the dismissal of their claims with prejudice (November 1, 2011). The remaining Employee’s claims were dismissed on Employer’s motion for summary judgment, as Employer showed that there was no evidence supporting those claims (December 22, 2011).

 

Sanders v. Triangle Printing Co., Inc.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 1:09-cv-1851

Defended Employer in age discrimination action filed by former Employee whose position was eliminated for economic reasons. Employee claimed that employer’s decision was based on his age, and that younger less- experienced Employees were retained instead. Employer vigorously defended its non-discriminatory selection process and provided a rational and detailed explanation for its decision to eliminate Employee’s position. The Court found that the evidence supported the Employer’s argument and summary judgment was granted in favor of the Employer.

 

Thomas v. County of York, et al. 

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 1:06-cv-2218

Represented Employee claiming the existence of a sexually- based hostile work environment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. Employee alleged that another employee in a supervisory capacity engaged in inappropriate conduct in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Ace and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, including inappropriate sexual comments and unwelcome physical contact directed at the Employee. An investigation was conducted by the County that resulted in a suspension of the Employee against whom the Complaint had been filed. Subsequently, other facts had arisen causing the complaining Employee to allege retaliation and resulting in her being forced to resign. Suit was subsequently initiated and the matter was favorably resolved in the form of an amicable settlement during the course of litigation.