Driver’s License Suspension for Failure to Pay Ticket
A Pennsylvania man unexpectedly lost his driver’s license when he failed to respond promptly to a traffic ticket. Burgess v. PennDOT, 991 A.2d 1014 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010).
The man’s problems started when he was cited for speeding and driving an unregistered car. The law enforcement agency didn’t arrest the man, but mailed him a citation after the incident. When he failed to respond to the citation, PennDOT sent the man a letter advising that he would lose his driver’s license in 20 days if he did not respond to the citation immediately. The man did not respond to the citation within the 20 days. Instead, two months after receiving the notice about losing his license, he pled guilty to the citation and paid the fine.
PennDOT then suspended his license for an additional 15 days, because he was convicted of a moving violation while his license was under suspension. The moving violation was the original speeding and driving an unregistered vehicle citation. His guilty plea amounted to a conviction.
The man appealed the additional 15 day suspension of his license, claiming that by pleading guilty to the citation for speeding and driving an unregistered vehicle he was effectively responding to the citation and his doing so should have ended the first suspension. He argued that PennDOT should not be permitted to treat his “conviction” as having occurred during a period of license suspension.
The man lost his appeal. License suspensions do not end in automatic restoration of drivers’ privileges. When Pennsylvania drivers lose their driving privileges due to traffic tickets, DUI charges, failure to pay past fines or for any other reason, they must complete a “restoration” process before their privileges are restored. Drivers who simply assume that they can drive legally at the end of their suspension period are mistaken. To start the restoration process, a driver can request a free restoration letter from PennDOT by calling (800) 932-4600. The letter is also available at no charge through an online request to PennDOT at www.dot.state.pa.us. Follow the menu on the first page headed “On-line Driver and Vehicle Services.” A restoration letter advises the suspended driver of everything he or she must do to become a legal driver again. Those conditions may include resolving previous open citations, paying fines and going through driver education and testing again.
Sleeping on the Job & Unemployment
An employee fired for sleeping on the job won her unemployment claim recently after convincing the court that she was not at fault for falling asleep at work.
The employee was a ‘money room technician,” whose duties involved counting money at a city parking garage. Working a shift that began in the late afternoon and ended at midnight, the employee spent a lot of time alone in a “counting room,” doing nothing. She requested additional work, so that she could avoid become drowsy and falling asleep but her supervisors did not give her tasks to fill her time. The employee suffered from diabetes and sleep apnea; she claimed that advised her supervisors that her sleep apnea sometimes caused her to fall asleep without realizing it. After hearing complaints from other employees that the employee was sleeping on the job, a supervisor found the employee asleep in the counting room and fired her.
In the unemployment compensation hearings, the supervisors denied that the employee had ever complained about medical conditions that could cause her to fall asleep. The hearing officer found that the employee was more credible. The employee testified that she repeatedly asked for more work so that she would not “konk out,” sitting alone in the counting room for lengthy periods. She also claimed that when asking for more work she was specific about her problems with sleep apnea.
The appellate court agreed with the hearing officer and found that the employee was not guilty of willful misconduct that could justify a denial of unemployment compensation. The court found that an employer seeking to avoid paying unemployment compensation must prove that the employee was aware of a work rule and violated it intentionally and deliberately. In the case of the sleeping employee, the court found that the city parking garage did not prove that the employee’s conduct was willful. In addition, the court found “physical illness can constitute good cause” for an employee’s failure to follow a workplace rule.
Employees with health problems cannot systematically violate work place rules and collect unemployment. But where an employee shows legitimate reasons that add up to “good cause,” the employee may be entitled to unemployment compensation after being fired for breaking work place rules.
Drug Treatment for Teens
Parents of drug dependent teens can have their children involuntarily committed to residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities. A little known and rarely used section of Pennsylvania’s Drug & Alcohol Abuse Control Act permits parents and legal guardians to petition the county court to determine whether a minor is in need of court ordered drug or alcohol treatment, either out-patient or in-patient. A minor is a person under 18 years of age.
If the parent or guardian’s petition identifies facts that show “good reason” for treatment, the court has the authority to take the minor into custody and to require an assessment by a psychiatrist, psychologist or certified addiction counselor. The minor is entitled to a lawyer, but is not entitled to have the lawyer present at the assessment. After the assessment, the minor is entitled to a hearing before a judge. If the judge finds “clear and convincing” evidence at the hearing that the minor is drug or alcohol dependent and in need of treatment, the judge can commit the minor to treatment for up to 45 days. At subsequent review hearings, the judge can continue to commit the minor to treatment for any number of successive periods up to 45 days each. At least every 45 days the minor is entitled to a review hearing before the judge.
Minors who are court ordered into in-patient rehabilitation are unlikely to stay in care unless they actually benefit from the treatment by actively engaging in the recovery program because most in-patient rehabilitation facilities discharge patients who refuse to cooperate with treatment. But skilled facilities are often able to help drug and alcohol dependent teens transform their behavior and commit to treatment. Parents and legal guardians sometimes can succeed in saving a young person’s life by seeking the court’s help in getting a minor into drug and alcohol treatment.
71 P.S. §1690.112a.
See also In Re F.C. III, 2 A.3d 1201 (PA 2010).
Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines
Pennsylvania’s Support Guidelines establish the amount of child support owed by one parent to the other. A parent is entitled to receive child support if he or she has physical custody of the child for more overnights than the other parent. Where parents share physical custody equally, the parent who earns more money owes the other parent child support.
The amount of child support is calculated from the combined total net income of both parties. The Pennsylvania Support Guidelines include a specific dollar amount, called the “basic support obligation,” for each child of the family, based exclusively on the parents’ total net combined income. The separate responsibility of each parent to pay a share of the Support Guideline amount is then calculated proportionately, based on the percentage of the total combined income earned by each parent. If a mother who owes a father child support earns 74% of the parents’ total combined income, she is ordered to pay 74% of the Support Guideline figure. When parents share custody equally, the higher earner pays support to the other parent, but with a discount of up to 20% to compensate for the expenses of shared custody.
Recently, a Pennsylvania father who thought he was entitled to a reduction in his support payment moved for modification of his support order and was frustrated when the support hearing officer instead increased the support payment amount. Brikus v. Dent, 5 A.3d 1281 (Pa. Super. 2010).
The mother did not request any changes prior to the hearing and the father’s request was specifically for a decrease in his obligation. On appeal, the Pennsylvania appellate court affirmed the hearing officer’s decision. The court held that it was not necessary for the mother to request an increase or to take any position prior to the hearing. Instead, the court found that support hearing officers have the obligation and authority to determine the parties’ current incomes and set an appropriate order based on those calculations. Hearing officers also may “attribute” income to parents who are found to be earning less than their actual income earning capacity.
When parents’ incomes go up or down their child support orders can be modified if either parent files a petition with the court requesting modification. Before filing a request for a change in your child support, it is wise to check with a lawyer to review the possible results.
All Gambling is Not Legal
A Pennsylvania State couple arrested and convicted of illegal gambling for operating a Texas Hold ‘Em poker business in their garage appealed their case claiming that poker is not gambling, even when betting is involved. The couple claimed that poker is a game of skill, not of chance. Commonwealth v. Dent, et al., 992 A.2d 190 (Pa. Super. 2010), appeal denied, 20 A.2d 484, 487 (PA 2011).
Pennsylvania law defines gambling as an enterprise based on payment, chance and reward. All three elements must exist to make a game or event gambling. Gambling is illegal in Pennsylvania, except where specifically permitted by law. Pennsylvania law limits legal gambling to licensed casinos and racetracks, and to licensed charitable small games of chance. The Pennsylvania state lotteries and regional power-ball lotteries are also legal.
The Pennsylvania appellate court rejected the couple’s appeal, finding that while poker involves some skill, “the element of chance predominates.” Noting that throwing dice is purely a game of chance, while playing chess is purely a game of skill, the court observed that poker falls somewhere in between dice throwing and chess. But the court concluded that players’ use of skill in poker does not change the fact that it is largely a game of chance. “No amount of skill can change a deuce into an ace,” the court stated. The court found that a skilled player can win more often but “is always subject to defeat at the turn of a card, an instrumentality beyond his control.”
With the growth of licensed casinos in Pennsylvania and the expansion of legal casino gambling to include table games and poker, Pennsylvania residents and visitors can play and bet on poker games legally, but only in casinos.