Pennsylvania Record

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A Supreme Court ruling falls on deaf ears in Pennsylvania

Federal Court

By The Pennsylvania Record | Jul 22, 2019


We’ve all tried to talk to a friend who has their nose buried in their phone, then looks up and says “Huh?” It’s one of life’s major annoyances – being forced to repeat oneself because someone isn’t paying attention.

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court probably aren’t used to this. When they speak, people are supposed to listen. Whether judges in Pennsylvania have, though, is debatable.

In 2014, SCOTUS told us in Daimler that businesses shouldn’t have to face lawsuits in states in which there is no connection to the case other than the company doing business there. For example, an Indiana woman shouldn’t be able to sue a New Jersey company in Philadelphia simply because that company sells its product in Pennsylvania.

But one of Pennsylvania’s appeals courts – the Superior Court – has ignored this decree, ruling that state law requires a business to consent to jurisdiction in Pennsylvania when it registers to do business here. In fact, the Indiana-New Jersey scenario described above was given the green light by the Superior Court in a pelvic mesh lawsuit.

Why would an Indiana woman, or anyone else around the country, want to travel hundreds of miles to try a case in Philadelphia? The answer is obvious - a $12.5 million verdict delivered in a court that has a reputation for jackpot justice.

In another case, the Superior Court allowed New York firefighters to sue a Florida company in Pennsylvania. A Connecticut rug company was also dragged into Pennsylvania courts against its will.

Thankfully, federal judge Eduardo Robreno, tasked with handling all federal asbestos cases, actually heeded the SCOTUS ruling. He said it brought a “sea change” to this area of the law.

In June, he ruled that a Virginia woman can’t sue a Virginia company in Pennsylvania. He held that the state’s registration requirement is unconstitutional and flies in the face of Daimler, and that decisions to the contrary “can no longer stand.”

Robreno has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to affirm this ruling, while in the meantime, the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme courts continue to wrestle with the issue.

Should our state courts continue to ignore Daimler, the matter could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, an attorney at the Washington Legal Foundation told us. Given that Daimler was a unanimous decision, we won’t be surprised when the justices look annoyed to have to repeat themselves.

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Superior Court of Pennsylvania Washington Legal FoundationPennsylvania Supreme Court