The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to convene in Harrisburg on Tuesday and Wednesday to hear argument on a variety of issues, including right to counsel during psychological exams, the role of stare decisis in judicial discipline cases and the statute of limitations in underinsured motorist cases.
Right to Counsel
One of the first cases the court will hear is an appeal from a March 2016 Superior Court ruling that a litigant does not have an absolute right to the presence of counsel during an independent psychological evaluation.
In a March 9 opinion in Shearer v. Hafer, a unanimous three-judge panel of the court held in an apparent issue of first impression that Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure allow a trial court to issue protective orders expressly prohibiting the presence of third-party observers during the standardized portion of an evaluation. The psychologist conducting the evaluation at issue had said counsel’s presence could threaten the validity of data gathered during the test.
The decision affirmed a ruling of the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas, which granted Scott Hafer and Paulette Ford’s motion for a protective order in a case involving a car accident.
The court will also hear argument in the disciplinary cases of two suspended Philadelphia judges who were removed from office for ethics violations.
The question before the justices is whether, when imposing sanctions on a judge, the Court of Judicial Discipline is bound to follow the doctrine of stare decisis, requiring it to follow its prior decisions.
In separate sanctions rulings issued Dec. 16, the CJD removed both judges from the bench and barred them from holding public office in the future.
Both judges have already appealed the sanctions rulings to the state Supreme Court.
The decisions came after Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Angeles Roca and Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Dawn Segal were found earlier this year to have violated the state constitution and the Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in ex parte contact with former Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., who was later charged criminally and sentenced to 24 months in prison for fixing cases of political donors.
UM Arbitration Preservation
Is an unopposed demand for arbitration enough to toll the statute of limitations for bringing an uninsured motorist claim that is subject to mandatory arbitration, or does an arbitration petition need to be filed with a court?
That is the question the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to consider. Both sides said they are looking forward to a clear rule from the Supreme Court on the issue.
In late December 2016, the justices took up an appeal in Erie Insurance Exchange v. Bristol. The court specifically agreed to hear arguments about whether the statute of limitations in uninsured motorist claims subject to mandatory arbitration is “tolled only by the commencement of an official judicial action, or may extrajudicial actions also toll the statute of limitations.”
A three-judge panel of the state Superior Court in May 2016 ruled that the statute of limitations on an uninsured motorist claim had not been tolled despite the parties corresponding about the mandatory arbitration and even selecting arbitrators. The decision upheld a ruling from the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which had granted summary judgment for the insurance carrier.