CONFLICT OF LAWS

Somerset Legal Journal headnotes from approximately 1991 through the present.

For earlier cases, please visit the Somerset County Law Library.

 

CONTRACTS STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

 

It is the duty of the one asserting a cause of action to use all reasonable diligence to inform himself or herself properly of the facts and circumstances upon which the right of recovery is based and to institute suit within the prescribed statutory period. Mere mistake, misunderstanding or lack of knowledge on the part of the plaintiff is not sufficient to toll the running of the statute of limitations. Discover Bank v. Trina M. Henry, 65 Som.L.J. 135 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

Under the Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. 5521, also known as the borrowing statute, the period of limitations applicable to a claim accruing outside the Commonwealth shall be either that provided or prescribed by the law of the place where the claim accrued or by the law of this Commonwealth, whichever first bars the claim. Discover Bank v. Trina M. Henry, 65 Som.L.J. 135 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

When deciding which statute of limitations is appropriate, the long-standing rule of Pennsylvania is that the law of the forum determines the time within which a cause of action shall be commenced. This rule has not been changed despite the adoption of the significant contacts/interest analysis on substantive choice of law matters by the Supreme Court; rather the proper source of analysis is the terms the borrowing statute at 42 Pa.C.S.A. 5521. Discover Bank v. Trina M. Henry, 65 Som.L.J. 135 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

Delaware law imposes a 3-year statute of limitations for contract claims such as this, Pennsylvania imposes a 4-year statute of limitations for this type of action; thus, Delaware law applies, because it operates to first bar the claim. Discover Bank v. Trina M. Henry, 65 Som.L.J. 135 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

The Delaware tolling statute, Del. Code Ann. Tit. 10, 8117, that serves to delay the running of the statute of limitations for non-residents of Delaware does not apply to this case, because it applies only to those instances in which service becomes difficult as to a Defendant with prior connections to the state. Discover Bank v. Trina M. Henry, 65 Som.L.J. 135 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

The provisions of Pennsylvania's borrowing statute unequivocally evince the legislative intent to prevent a plaintiff who sues in Pennsylvania from obtaining greater rights than those available in the state where the cause of action arose, and the application of the Delaware tolling statute would be in direct opposition to this policy aim. Discover Bank v. Trina M. Henry, 65 Som.L.J. 135 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

PERSONAL JURISDICTION

 

Under Pennsylvania's choice of law rules, the challenge to the exercise of personal jurisdiction is based upon the necessity of a defendant's maintenance of minimum contact with a forum state before a court of that state may subject that defendant to its jurisdiction. There must be a sufficient connection between the defendant and the forum state as to make it fair to require defense of all the action in the forum; an essential criterion in all cases is whether the quality and nature of the defendant's activity is such that it is reasonable and fair to require him to conduct his defense in the forum state. Beam v. Reed, 54 Som.L.J. 31 (Nov. 8, 1996) (Cascio, J.)

 

PREEMPTION

 

The Supremacy Clause invalidates all state laws that conflict or interfere with an act of Congress. Federal law may preempt state law in any of three ways: (1) Congress explicitly defines the extent to which it intends to preempt state law; (2) in the absence of express preemptive language, Congress indicates an intent to occupy an entire field of regulation and has left no room for states to supplement the federal law; or (3) when compliance with both state and federal law is impossible or when state law stands as an obstacle to accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. Frontini v. Phillippi, 54 Som.L.J. 291 (February 24, 1997) (Fike, P.J.)

 

Congressional intent to preempt can be either expressly stated in a statute or implied form its construction or purpose. Absent an express statement, preemptive intent may be implied, although it cannot be lightly inferred. Frontini v. Phillippi, 54 Som.L.J. 291 (February 24, 1997) (Fike, P.J.)

 

Because compliance with both section 1720 of the MVFRL, regarding subrogation, and 42 U.S.C.S. 1395(b)(2) of the Medicare statute is impossible, federal law preempts state law regarding subrogation for repayment of medicare benefits in a suit against a third party tortfeasor. Frontini v. Phillippi, 54 Som.L.J. 291 (February 24, 1997) (Fike, P.J.)

 

Federal preemption of state law is a constitutional doctrine based upon the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

There are three recognized categories of preemption, namely: (1) Express preemption, (2) Implied field preemption, and (3) Conflict preemption. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Two presumptions must be considered by courts when invoking preemption: first where a State has exercised its police powers there is a presumption against preemption and secondly the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Congress through its enactment of the Federal Aviation Act did not explicitly preempt state authority. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

The Congressional regulatory scheme related to air safety and airspace management implies some field preemption exists; however, the scope of the preempted field does not encompass every area remotely related to air safety and management. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Congress did not intend, and precedent does not require, that a local ordinance, and by extension all state statutory law related to the subject, be declared unconstitutional merely because it may to some extent touch the field of air safety and management. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

A narrower implied-field-preemption view is consistent with the trend of the U.S. Supreme Court to less frequently find implicit field preemption, let alone broad field preemption. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.) Preemption in the area of air safety and management does not extend to the laws governing land use, even though such laws may affect airspace use as well. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Because the FAA intended for local agencies to refer to its model ordinance when addressing substantive regulatory issues, this demonstrates that it is incumbent upon local agencies to take steps to protect their interests. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

The Congressional regulatory scheme is not so pervasive as to imply a broad field preemption of all peripheral matters related to air safety and management, but rather the Congressional regulatory scheme shows the Congressional intent to occupy smaller and more narrowly defined areas of air safety and airspace management, none of which include the Congressional intent to preempt the construction and erection of the windmills in this instance. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Where a preemption issue is raised before the Court involving a federal regulation and a local ordinance, both of which speak to the same subject matter, the better analysis is the determination of whether conflict preemption exists, since field preemption is a theory of implied federal occupation of an area that is not specifically regulated; when the area is actually occupied by federal regulations the question is whether the State's laws conflict with the federal law occupying that area. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

There are two ways in which the federal regulations promulgated by the FAA can preempt a local ordinance on the basis of conflict preemption; namely, the regulations conflict because it is physically impossible to comply with both, or the ordinance "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941). Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Conflict preemption based upon the physical impossibility of compliance with both federal and state law is a rarity, and a conflict does not exist where the language of the ordinance mirrors that of the FAA's model ordinance. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)

 

Even if the FAA finds there to be no safety hazard, the County Board can still, without frustrating federal regulations, properly deny a variance if additional considerations so demand. Stonycreek Windpower, LLC v. Somerset County Board of Adjustment, County of Somerset, 61 Som.L.J. 420 (2004)(Fike, II, P.J.)