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Shrinking Sovereign Immunity in Pennsylvania?

August 31, 2010

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In <i>Meyer v. Community College of Beaver County</i>, and its companion case <i>Barr v. Community College of Beaver County</i>, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court severely limited the reach of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act’s grant of immunity to governmental entities. In these cases, the plaintiffs all were enrolled students in the Beaver Community College’s police training program, which after some fairly egregious errors was decertified, potentially making the credits earned by the students meaningless. Plaintiffs brought suit by alleging contracts and warranty theories, as well as violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
Beaver Community College attempted to dismiss the claims on the ground that it was immune from such claims under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, did not buy the argument. It wrote: “Upon our review, we agree with Appellants that the approach taken by the Commonwealth Court is not sustainable. As Appellants ably explain, the language of the statute conferring governmental immunity, and of that implementing the exceptions, pertains to conduct causing "injury to a person or property." 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 8541, 8542. The Commonwealth Court previously has recognized that these terms reflect the main policy consideration historically underlying tort law, whereas, the central focus of contract law is the protection of bargained-for expectations.”
The decision invariably provides another avenue for plaintiffs to implead governmental entities that otherwise may have been immune from suit under the previous, more liberal interpretation of governmental immunity. In turn, non-governmental co-defendants will benefit tactically from the existence of an additional defendant. As such, this limitation on the governmental immunity may bring about new strains of litigation against government entities.
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Special thanks to Alison Weintraub for her contributions to this post. Please contact Bob Cosgrove at <a href=""></a> if you have any questions.


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