Monday, June 29, 2020

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Addresses Law on Retroactivity of Other Decisions Ruling a Statute Unconstitutional

Sometimes a decision out of the worker's compensation arena can provide guidance on issues that effect civil litigation matters.

On June 16, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision in Dana Holding Corporation v. WCAB (Smuck), 44 MAP 2019 (Pa. 2020)(Op. By Saylor, C.J.)(Dougherty, J., concurring), which provides guidance on whether another decision striking down a statute as unconstitutional had retroactively effective or not.

In the case of Dana Holding, the Court addressed the issue of the retroactivity of the law set down in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District) to the case at hand, i.e. to a case that was on direct appeal when the Protz case was decided.  The decision in Protz struck down the IRE process in worker's compensation matters.

The Defendant/Employer in Dana Holding had filed an appeal seeking a clarification as to when a new law should be applied retroactively. The Court agreed to hear the Appeal, but on a limited basis, specifically, whether the retroactivity of the Protz ruling should begin on the date of the IRE or the date of the decision. 

Ultimately, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s holding that the retroactivity of the Protz decision dates back to the date of the IRE in the context of a worker’s compensation matter.

After reviewing the prior Pennsylvania caselaw on the retroactivity of new law under the circumstances presented in this matter, the Court held that, unless the appellate decision rendering the new law specifically states that it is to be applied prospectively, the new rule of law is to be applied retroactively to cases where the issue in question is properly preserved at all levels of adjudication, including any direct appeal. 

Turning to the Dana Holding case specifically, the Court held that the parties had preserved the constitutionality of the IRE provisions during the litigation of the initial Modification Petition. The litigation involving the Modification Petition was ongoing at the time Protz was issued. Thus, the Court held that the Protz decision should be applied retroactively to the date of the IRE in this matter.

I send thanks to Attorney Michael Foley of the Foley Law Firm in Scranton, PA for bringing this case to my attention.

Anyone wishing to review the Majority Opinion in Dana Holding may click this LINK.  The Concurring Opinion can be viewed HERE.

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