How Much Did Election Lawsuits Cost Pennsylvania’s Taxpayers?

Most people probably don’t realize that public officials can’t simply build a lawsuit without inheriting the cost — and we’re talking every single cent of it. That’s because when a federal legislator decides to sue, it’s on the defendant to…well, defend. And in this case, Pennsylvania was the defendant. All combined, the 2020 election litigation cost our state a whopping $3.4 million in attorneys fees. 

That’s the result of 24 cases from 2019 until just last month. By the end of November, Trump’s team had sued anybody and everybody in hopes of illegally invalidating the state’s votes. Every single lawsuit was thrown out. 

On November 21, Trump supporter and United States Senator Pat Toomey wrote, “President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.”

But that didn’t stop others from following in Trump’s footsteps.

Only days later, Republican Representative Mike Kelly — from our own Butler County — decided to launch a lawsuit of his own in order to challenge Act 77, which facilitated no-excuse mail voting in Pennsylvania. Many people didn’t acknowledge the dog and pony show at the time, but we weren’t fooled — only a year earlier, nearly all Republican lawmakers voted to pass Act 77. Because it made sense. It still does.

The absurdity of these lawsuits shouldn’t be lost on anyone — especially since we’re the ones paying for it. Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said, “It was shocking, to be honest. [He was] trying to disenfranchise millions of Pennsylvania voters.”

On March 16, Trump told Fox News: “Our Supreme Court and our courts didn’t have the courage to overturn elections.”

Well, that’s because free and fair elections are not supposed to be overturned. But he would have had it so, for no other reason than to boost his own ego. Don’t forget: this was the most secure election in our country’s history.

Natural Gas Company Will Pay $1.9 Million After Environmental Damage

Our environment is our most important commodity. Without it, many of the world’s species are doomed to extinction. And courts have had a tough time finding ways to hold big companies who damage our environments culpable — and liable. Recently, a consent decree was filed in the United States Middle District Court. It will settle a legal dispute between natural gas supplier Chesapeake Appalachia, the federal government, and Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection for about $1.9 million.

The agreement was made without Chesapeake admitting to guilt for damaging streams and wetlands. The Oklahoma City corporation quickly filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy ( A Texas bankruptcy court is now tasked with approving or disapproving of the decree. 

Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on behalf of at least 76 properties in Beaver, Bradford, Sullivan, Suquehanna, And Wyoming Counties after complaints that the gas provider dumped dredged material into streams and wetlands, contaminating the areas after construction projects.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and DEP were all notified of the illegal and unauthorized activity back in 2014, and an audit was conducted. 

Gas and oil companies are required to assess potential environmental damages before new construction projects take place. In this case, Chesapeake failed to uphold its end of the bargain by mitigating damages.

The new agreement was drawn up to ensure that those permits are obtained and upheld in the future, thereby mitigating damage done to dozens of acres of wetland and streams in the aforementioned counties. In order to continue construction, a third-party will ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act of Pennsylvania.

Chesapeake will also be required to audit two full years of construction activity for the EPA, DEP and Army Corps of Engineers, create a representative employment position to guarantee oversight, and pay fines of at least $1,000 for each future violation.

The agreement could be terminated if the courts find that Chesapeake is holding up its end of the bargain — but this is unlikely due to the fact that a previous 2014 case with similar findings in West Virginia resulted in a separate settlement.

EPA Mid-Atlantic Acting Regional Administrator Diana Esher said, “This substantial federal-state settlement highlights the cooperative efforts of EPA and PADEP to protect the Commonwealth’s waters and wetlands. These natural areas are critical ecological and economic resources for all Pennsylvanians.”

This agreement will not repair the damage already done on the East Coast because of wetlands pollution, however. For example, about 80 percent of the hellbender population has been wiped out.

Senior attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity Brian Segee said, “Hellbenders are under pressure from a multitude of threats throughout their range, and those threats are only expected to worsen in the coming years. Until it’s reversed, the Trump administration’s denial of protection to these endearing salamanders will doom them to continue on a path toward extinction.”

What Are Pennsylvania Employee Data Privacy Lawsuits?

For more than two decades, digital security experts have been trying to protect your information from would-be hackers — who might be working to steal it from as far away as a Russian office overseas or as close to home as a sixteen-year-old working from his mother’s basement. And it hasn’t gotten easier to protect this information, which is why you’ve heard about data breach after data breach from huge companies with familiar names.

Employers have always collected personal information. They need your name, number, address, and social security number just to run business smoothly — and make sure you’re paid promptly. 

And that’s why hackers have increasingly targeted them. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that every employer had the duty to protect each employee’s information. Failing to implement adequate security could land them in hot water legally, especially when identities are stolen or negligent behavior on the part of big corporations leads to an individual’s financial loss.

There was an important class-action case known as Dittman v. UPMC. Barbara Dittman and her attorneys sued the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport alongside a number of other plaintiffs on whose behalf they fought after their private information was stolen. All 62,000 employees who worked for UPMC experienced this theft.

Dittman and her attorneys argued that UMPC did not take the appropriate precautions to protect the data, such as setting up strong firewalls or establishing authentication protocols for accessing the private information store on the company’s servers.

This was the case that made it clear that Pennsylvania workers had the right to hold onto their private information, and that it was up to employers to protect it. But a few years later, that information is still under constant attack, and courts are struggling to hold companies liable for these damages as hackers get better at stealing. And that means more lawsuits are inevitable in the future.

Pennsylvania Senators Fight To Remove Child Sex Abuse Statute Of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a legal mechanism put into place to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits or prosecutorial overreach by limiting the amount of time a plaintiff or prosecutor has to build a case either in criminal court or in civil court. Notably, the statute of limitations for civil litigation cases involving victims who were children when subjected to sexual abuse is limited to a short timeframe. 

Oftentimes, there isn’t enough time for a victim to process the long-term trauma of the abuse, accept that it happened, speak out about what happened, and try to build a lawsuit based on what happened. It’s too much.

President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) said, “I’ve gotten to the point where enough is enough. These poor individuals have suffered the most heinous crime you can imagine.”

Here and now, Corman acknowledged that the law needs to change, and that he would support House Bill 951, which would open up the statute of limitations to allow adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to process lawsuits against their abusers and anyone else who helped facilitate the commission of these crimes.

For example, survivors were previously barred from suing the employers of the abuser — but that changed in light of a sex abuse scandal that came to light when victims came forward to implicate priests. Now, survivors can also sue the Catholic church for fostering an environment in which abuse is more likely.

Corman said, “If there’s enough vagueness [in the bill] at least to be argued, I’m prepared to let all the lawyers have their day, the judges to have their day, and most importantly victims of these terrible crimes to have their day.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court. Now it’s time to deliver justice and closure for those who spoke up, relived their trauma, and bolstered the system for future victims.”

Originally, the plan to open the statute of limitations would have been put forth to the voters — but the bureaucracy failed to deliver in time for the primary election last year. That’s why many legislators have changed their mind to prefer the new law over the constitutional amendment.

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) said, “But, if you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result.”

In order for HB 951 to become law, the state Senate will have to pass it when legislators reconvene on April 27. How fast will it receive a vote — and how many Senators will support the bill’s passage? That’s what we’re waiting to find out.

Pennsylvania Challenges To 2020 Election Finally Over

Most people probably didn’t even realize that the weird lawsuits contending the 2020 election results were still ongoing, but alas — until recently, they were. The United States Supreme Court finally shut down the last Pennsylvania lawsuit after a Republican congressional candidate’s appeal fell flat. The lawsuit challenged the state’s mail-ballot deadlines, like many other failed legal challenges had already done.

The ruling doesn’t change the outcome of the election — or even the outcome of where Pennsylvania state’s electors were to be assigned — and so the Supreme Court ruled that the case should be dismissed as moot. That means Pennsylvania can finally finish the very big job of counting 10,000 mail-in votes that didn’t arrive until after Election Day. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously extended the deadline for mail-in ballots until three days after Election Day. Republicans have routinely argued that counting should end on Election Day, even though that’s never how it’s actually worked. The rules don’t change just because we didn’t have a result like we usually do. And of course mail-in ballots generally favor Democrats — especially since then-president Trump told his supporters to vote in person and not by mail — and so of course Republicans would want to challenge the results.

One of the most obvious outcomes of the outright dismissal is that future legal challenges related to election results can be litigated without biased precedent affecting the verdict. 

Right now, hundreds of legislative changes are in the queue to restrict how and when people are allowed to vote. These changes sometimes make voting more secure, but primarily they seem to restrict the ability of people of color to cast a vote.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson Wanda Murren said, “We are pleased that yet another court ruling has affirmed the accuracy and integrity of Pennsylvania’s November 2020 election. Pennsylvanians can be proud of the work done in every county election office to ensure that every voter’s ballot was cast and counted fairly.”

The COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuits Have Begun

The Biden administration has a growing problem on its hands: essential workers and their families are beginning to sue in a tide of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Many essential workers are aggravated that their health — and sometimes even their lives — were put on the line just so they could make less than the millions of people who lost their jobs due to coronavirus were making on unemployment.

A United States appeals court will now decide if wrongful death lawsuits belong in state or federal court.

According to Reuters, the Biden administration argued to the appeals court — alongside 19 states — that the government had nothing to do with Tyson Foods Inc’s decisions to keep its plants open during the pandemic. Therefore, the wrongful death cases should be heard in state court.

The U.S. Department of Justice and many left-leaning attorneys agree: the appeals court should uphold the previous ruling that said the suits belonged in federal court based on the function Tyson provides.

DOJ lawyers wrote, “Although the pandemic brought the importance of these functions into the public consciousness, federal officials’ acknowledgement of their importance and support for their continuance did not serve to federalize these fundamentally private actions.”

The relevant law states that state-law claims can be bounced to a federal court only when defendants were receiving specific direction from federal officials. A brief from the federal government seems to suggest that Tyson only kept its plants open at their direction.

Cases like these are already notoriously difficult to prove. The plaintiffs allege that the deceased caught coronavirus at work, but how do they prove it beyond any doubt? A previous COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit in Texas shows us the arguments that are likely to be made.

In the Texas lawsuit Tyson Foods representatives said that allowing the case to move forward would “open the floodgates to potentially thousands of speculative claims.”

Tyson said in a motion to dismiss: “That Mr. Chavez is one of the many thousands of Americans who have died of complications related to COVID-19 is a tragedy. But the complaint brought by his estate fails to adequately plead a plausible claim against Tyson.”

It continued, “To establish causation, Plaintiffs must plead — and ultimately prove — that Mr. Chavez [an employee at Tyson Foods’ Center plant in Shelby County, Texas, who died on April 17] contracted COVID-19 from his work rather than elsewhere, and then, that he contracted COVID-19 due to Tyson’s alleged negligence rather than some other cause.”

And therein lies the rub. The plaintiffs need to make the judge believe that there is little cause to doubt the truth that they or their deceased loved ones came down with the disease because they caught coronavirus while working. Even authorities have had difficulty tracing the spread of the virus from one person to the next. How are we supposed to do it in court? Sadly, it isn’t enough to prove that an employer simply didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect employees — although that’s a start.

Legal Challenge Alleges That Pennsylvania’s Pollution Plan Is Outdated

A new lawsuit is taking aim at the recent EPA approval of a Pennsylvania plan it says is outdated. The Environmental Protection Agency was subject to significant cutbacks during the Trump administration — the head of the EPA notably didn’t even believe in man-made climate change, which made him a strange choice to help fight it — and those cutbacks haven’t yet been completely rectified by the Biden administration.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and says that Pennsylvania’s plan for dealing with pollution is outdated at best.

Senior Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity Robert Ukeiley said, “Rubber-stamping weak and outdated measures that fail to control pollution from the methane gas industry is not how we’re going to transition to a clean energy economy. The EPA needs to ensure it’s requiring the best, most modern technology to control pollution from fossil fuels so the cost of dirty energy pollution is internalized and the economic playing field for clean energy is leveled.”

According to the EPA, Pennsylvania state is subject to increased ozone pollution, a type of smog associated with asthma, death, increased life span, and significant ecological and environmental damage. The pollution isn’t contained just to the state, though, and contributes to smog in other states downwind. 

The lawsuit said that Pennsylvania’s current standards have led to consistent violations of national standards.

Pollution affects minority populations disproportionately, turning the lawsuit into a race issue as well. 

Residential areas prone to increased smog see more ER visits, more school absences, more prescribed medications, and a higher incidence of death. The lawsuit also contends that the increased pollution has worsened the symptoms of COVID-19, making the pandemic hit Pennsylvania harder than it had to. 

Patients with underlying conditions like asthma are also more prone to serious complications from COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Pennsylvania Residents Fear IRS Audit After Unemployment Errors

In the summer of 2020, Annette Ravinsky received two checks totalling almost $10,000 — which was a surprise, since she hadn’t requested any state or federal aid due to coronavirus-related financial worries. Thankfully, Ravinsky knew she didn’t qualify and didn’t cash the checks. After all, she hadn’t worked in nearly three decades. She called the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to report potential fraud.

And she returned the checks. The department noted that the case was closed and to expect no further troubles. Ravinsky also asked an attorney how to proceed. She thought the entire process went smoothly, even if it was somewhat of an inconvenience.

But that wasn’t the end of her problems. She and 50,000 others reported unemployment or social security benefit fraud to the IRS. None of these people were made aware that Pennsylvania state authorities would still report the returned fraudulent checks as income to the Internal Revenue Service.

Ravinsky said of the ordeal, “I am very, very, very angry right now because I did not ask for any of this. The state had a responsibility to verify. Now, I am left holding the bag.”

And it gets even worse, because some people did apply for benefits — but couldn’t access the funds due to glitches in Pennsylvania websites. Just like those who reported tax fraud, these people still owe taxes on that money. And they have no way of paying.

Attorney Sharon Dietrich with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia said, “It is sort of like the cherry on top of the whole [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] crisis. You don’t get the money plus you get screwed with the IRS.”

Many of the victims of these combined glitches and fraud are retired senior citizens, Ravinsky included. Nancy Sweetland is an 82-year-old who filed for financial assistance in April last year. The debit card she received from Pennsylvania State was requisitioned through United States Bank, but arrived defective due to one of the aforementioned glitches. She could not move money around using the card, nor could she use it to make purchases.

Phone lines over at the Labor and Industry department were constantly flooded with calls, and Sweetland failed to get through to anymore. Her messages were unanswered. According to the tax formed she received in the mail earlier this year, the account for the debit card was subject to $18,000 worth of benefits — and she would be taxed on all of them. 

Sweetland said, “Any email address that I ran across I sent [an email] to and I never got a response. I am just kind of at my wits’ end.”

Other state residents have received tax statements that show payments in excess of what they actually received. 

Audit investigation supervisor Susan Mease emailed a reply to Sandy Kolenda after Kolenda noted one such problem: “So you did receive [the checks], not sure if you have them and just never cashed them.”

Kolenda said, “I was crying. What do you do? I am one person up against the Department of Labor and Industry. It is incredibly frustrating and scary.”

Pennsylvania Constitution Fast-Track Amendment Planned In Response To Child Abuse

A statute of limitations is a “cap” placed on certain times of criminal or civil litigation. Have a personal injury or medical malpractice claim? Then you only have a few years to file a lawsuit due to the short statute of limitations. By comparison, there is no statute of limitations on criminal liability for the commission of a murder. Many Pennsylvania residents and legislators are looking to amend the state constitution to provide more time to victims of child sexual abuse to come forward.

This is because victims often suffer abuse when they are children, which makes coming forward to make a claim before the statute of limitations runs out even more unlikely.

Representative Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) said that he hopes a bipartisan resolution to amend the state constitution will pass with significant numbers. “We’ll be able to pass a standalone quickly and get this on the May ballot as originally intended,” he said.

Rozzi has reason to feel so strongly about the passage of this amendment: he was allegedly raped by a priest when he was only thirteen years old. 

Jenn Kocher, a spokesman for GOP-majority Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, said, “As always, we look forward to reviewing any plan the House is able to pass over to the Senate and that includes an emergency constitutional amendment.”

Pennsylvania state law gives many victims a significant window in which to file charges or a lawsuit, but not necessarily within the timeframe of adulthood — which is when most victims choose to step forward. The law closes that window at ages 18, 20, or 30. 

The amendment would give them a two-year reprieve.

Pennsylvania lawyer Ben Andreozzi said, “Those victims are literally at the mercy of the Pennsylvania Legislature.”

An emergency amendment wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for voters, who approved its during a vote in 1967.

Lawsuits Planned In Pennsylvania Amidst Social Security Scams And Benefits Interruptions

COVID-19 has devastated many hard-working Americans. Some have been laid off. Some have lost businesses. Others have lost loved one. But the long-term toll is probably greater than most realize. Because so many people are out of work, the average person will have to pay into Social Security for longer to receive a larger benefit. Coupled with the rise of scams, and you can understand why officials are so concerned.

Last year, Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement: “This Consumer Protection Week, my Office is warning consumers that scam artists are out in full force, employing new tactics to achieve their same nefarious goals. I urge Pennsylvanians to be vigilant of this scam and, if you believe that you have been victimized, please contact my Office immediately. We are here to protect you, and we are working hard to put an end to these scams.”

Notably, the number of con artists are on the rise since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — in part because they feed upon the financially exigent. Those who are already facing financial ruin are far more likely to fall prey to the scams.

A glitch in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has left many Pennsylvania residents confused and angry — especially after a series of glitches caused many to be paid accidentally. Some of these overpayments ran in the thousands of dollars. When officials realized what had happened, many weekly payments were reduced. This made it harder for residents who had already spent the first round.

Janice Roundtree said, “I’m really glad there was a moratorium on the utilities because I don’t know how we would have survived if they hadn’t done that. We would have had to be in some shelter or something.”

A subsequent Keystone Crossroads Investigation said that the website for such assistance had glitched out, leading to billions of dollars in overpaying — but more importantly, the system was unable to cope with the traffic increase, which led those subjected to the glitch without any way to receive new information. 

Community Legal Services litigation direction Sharon Dietrich said, “It was kind of shocking as PUA rolled out how many problems were connected to GSI.” Dietrich’s office also said that the program’s operation was led in an “unconstitutional and illegal manner,” especially after benefits were cut off without any first notifying affected residents.

Social Security is a federal benefit, which means where you live won’t have any real impact on your ability to receive that benefit (as long as you’ve paid into the pool like everyone else by working and paying taxes each year). For example, there wouldn’t be any difference in how you would apply to receive your Los Angeles Social Security benefit or your Philadelphia Social Security benefit. They work the same way. But each state has its own system to provide COVID-19 benefits to its systems in addition to federal aid, which means each system is subject to succeed or fail — on its own.

Now, a round of litigation is expected due to Pennsylvania’s failed response.