Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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No fiduciary duty arises in a consumer transaction for the purchase of a whole life insurance policy based upon the advice of a financial advisor where the consumer purchasing the policy does not cede decision -making control over the purchase to the financial advisor. In 1995, Bryan Holland, a financial advisor for IDS Life Insurance Corporation, made an unsolicited telephone contact, a "cold call," to Eugene and Ruth Yenchi. At a subsequent meeting and for a fee of $350, Holland presented the Yenchis with a financial management proposal containing a notice that it had been prepared by "your American Express financial advisor" (Holland) and that "[alt your request, your American Express financial advisor can recommend products distributed by American Express Financial Advisors and its affiliates as investment alternatives for existing securities." The Proposal offered the Yenchis a number of general recommendations, including that they monitor monthly expenses, consolidate their debt, consider various savings plans, consolidate current life insurance policies into one policy, review long-term care coverage, keep accurate records for tax purposes (medical expenses and charitable contributions), transfer 401(k) funds into mutual funds, and continue estate planning with an attorney and their financial advisor. The Yenchis implemented some of these recommendations. In 2000, the Yenchis had their portfolio independently reviewed. Through this process, they were advised that Holland’s recommendations would be financially devastating to the Yenchis. In April 2001, the Yenchis sued Holland and his company, American Express Financial Services Corporation, American Express Financial Advisors Corporation, and IDS Life Insurance Company. The Yenchis' asserted claims of negligence/willful disregard, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), bad faith, negligent supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Of relevance here, with respect to the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the trial court held that no fiduciary relationship was established between the Yenchis and Holland because the Yenchis continued to make their own investment decisions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, consistent with its jurisprudence, no fiduciary duty arose in such a situation. Consequently, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision to the contrary. View "Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial" on Justia Law

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Morrison Informatics, Inc. (the “Company”) filed a petition for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy relief in September 2009. In May 2011, the Company and two shareholders, who also were officers of the corporation, commenced a civil action in the court of common pleas against Members 1st Federal Credit Union, Mark Zampelli, and Scott Douglass. In the ensuing complaint, the Company and the Shareholders asserted that, beginning sometime after January 2005 and continuing into 2009, the Company’s finance manager, Zampelli, had colluded with a Credit Union relationships officer, Douglass, to embezzle Company funds. The complaint advanced claims against the Credit Union, Zampelli, and Douglass variously sounding in fraud, conversion, civil conspiracy, and negligence. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review concerned whether a federal bankruptcy trustee could be substituted as a plaintiff in a civil action previously commenced by the debtor in bankruptcy in a Pennsylvania state court, although the statutory limitations period expired prior to the attempted substitution. "Although we recognize that the interests of a debtor and a trustee may diverge in some respects, we find it most important that trustees’ interests are derivative, and accordingly, they generally cannot assert any greater rights as against defendants than debtors could have in the first instance." The Supreme Court departed from the Superior Court’s focus on the continued “existence” of the Company after the initiation of insolvency proceedings, and the Court rejected a strict rule foreclosing a relation-back approach to substitution of a bankruptcy trustee for a debtor. Instead, the Court held that relation back in favor of a federal bankruptcy trustee was appropriate, at least where the trustee has acted in a reasonably diligent fashion to secure his or her substitution, and there is no demonstrable prejudice to defendants. View "Morrison Info. v. Members 1st FCU" on Justia Law

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Appellant Lower Merion Township was a township of the first class. Article IV of its municipal code required every person engaging in a business, trade, occupation, or profession in the Township to pay an annual business privilege tax calculated as a percentage of gross receipts. Appellees Fish, Hrabrick, and Briskin (“Lessors”) each own one or more parcels of real estate in the Township that they rent to tenants pursuant to lease agreements. The Township notified Lessors that, for every such parcel, they were obligated to purchase a separate business registration certificate and pay the business privilege tax based on all rental proceeds. Lessors sought a declaratory judgment stating that, pursuant to the Local Tax Enabling Act (the “LTEA”), the Township’s business privilege tax could not be applied to rental proceeds from leases and lease transactions. Lessors did not challenge the validity of Article IV generally. Rather, they observed that the LTEA’s general grant of power in this regard is subject to an exception stating that such local authorities lack the ability to “levy, assess, or collect . . . any tax on . . . leases or lease transactions[.]” Lessors argued their real property rental activities fell within the scope of this exception. The trial court granted the Township's motion, denied the Lessors' motion and dismissed the complaint. A divided Commonwealth Court reversed, but the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court's judgment, reversed the Commonwealth Court and reinstated the trial court's order dismissing the complaint. View "Fish v. Twp of Lower Merion" on Justia Law