Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

1207 Posts and Counting

Now that we’ve deposed McKinley, lets rename Mt. Rushmore.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 31, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,207

Image: uscitylink.com

Image: uscitylink.com

Who was Rushmore anyway?  A nobody.  He was an attorney who used to come to that location to hunt.  Look it up.

Of course, you could name it after the sculptor who carved those great faces into the Moutain.  That would mean naming it after  Gutzon Borglum.

So would it be Mt. Borglum or Mt. Gutzon?  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either way.

We can’t call it Mt. McKinley or even Mt. Obama, since there are already four other Presidents on it.

So what about Presidential Mountain?  That sounds pretty good.  But would we be offending the native Americans who lived there?  We wouldn’t want to do that.

What do you think of Mount Geronimo?  Mt. Sitting Bull?

Presidential Mountain it is!

Whew! This mountain naming business is hard work.




Don’t fall into the trap of interfering with a contract.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 31, 2015 | © 2015


ADLER,BARISH,DANIELS, LEVIN & CRESKOFF v. ALLEN EPSTEIN et al., 428 Pa. 416, 393 A.2d 1175 (1978)


Section 766 of the Restatement of Torts sets forth the elements of this cause of action:

Intentional Interference with Performance of Contract by Third Person

One who intentionally and improperly interferes with the performance of a contract (except a contract to marry) between another and a third person by inducing or otherwise causing the third person not to perform the contract, is subject to liability to the other for the pecuniary loss resulting to the other from the third person’s failure to perform the contract.”

Interesting. Lawyers sometimes leave a law firm to set up a new practice and invite clients of their old firm to transfer their cases.  Although the client has the right to change lawyers, the lawyer does not have the right to interfere with the contract between the old law firm and its client, even if he represented the client at the old firm. In addition, there are ethical issues to consider. This becomes especially important when there is a contingent fee involved.  The case linked above and the later cases linked to it discuss this issue in greater detail.

Image: cbssports.com

Image: cbssports.com

The event that brought this topic to mind was the outpouring of emotion over the hiring of Mike Vick by the Steelers this weekend.  Even after the contract had been signed, people were threatening various reprisals.  While none of those threats would be serious enough to cause the Steelers to breach their contract with Vick, the principal applies.  If, hypothetically, the Stadium Authority induced the Steelers to breach their contract with Vick by threatening to close Heinz Field, Vick would have a cause of action against both the Steelers and the Authority, who induced the breach of contract.

The moral of this story: “Mind your own business.”



Trump’s Soliloquy

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 25, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,205

Image: chicagonow...

Image: chicagonow…

Watching Donald Trump on TV is like eating a bag of chips.  You know that its not good for you, but you can’t stop.

Tonight he made a speech in Iowa which was carried live in part on three news networks.  He rambled through long self-congratulatory stories. It was entertaining, even though baffling at times.It was a lot like the monologue that late night comedians deliver.  Except the monologues are shorter and always have a punch line.  Trump can be confusing. But the basic message can be summarized in a few simple thoughts.

• The Chinese, Japanese, South Koreans, Iranians, Russians and just about every foreign head of state regularly outsmart the the American President, Secretary of State and anybody working for them.

• American leaders never win because they are not smart as Trump and are way too nice to the opposition.

• The other Republican candidates, especially Bush and Rubio, are just as dumb and weak as the Democrats and cannot be trusted to make good deals with the Chinese, Japanese, etc.

• The solution to illegal immigration is simple.  Round ‘em up, send them back and build a big wall to keep them from returning. Make Mexico pay for the wall.

• Stop giving citizenship to children of illegals born in America.  (This would take a Constitutional Amendment, of course)

• Abolish political correctness.

NEWS FLASH: Those smart Chinese have read “The Art of the Deal” backwards and forward. They have been beating the Americans for years doing all of the things they learned in the book.  As a matter of fact, they wrote the book — although their version was called “The Art of War,” So what are we supposed to do now?

OBSERVATION:  Most experts used to agree that it was impossible for the US and Mexico to go to war. If I were a smart Mexican President.  I’d surrender immediately and let President Trump annex the whole country.  The illegal immigration problem would be solved instantly.  They’d all be here!



Sunday Rumination on the Week’s News

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 23, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,204

Image: gaping void.com

Image: gaping void.com

Complete this thought: “Life is short… . .”

Ashley Madison has it half right. Life really is short and it gets shorter all the time. We know it, but we don’t really believe it, at least most of the time. It’s contrary to our nature.

But if you really did believe it, with your dwindling time on this planet, would you do something totally selfish or would you do something else?

Early in the last century, when coal-fired locomotives and coal furnaces were still in use, a father and his children were walking the tracks somewhere east of Pittsburgh, picking up fuel that had been dropped along the way. So absorbed were they in their task, that one of the children failed to observe an oncoming train. With only seconds to spare, the father leaped into the path of the train and pushed his child to safety.

Of course, no one will never know whether he or she could do something like that until the choice is presented.

And yet, heroism is not as rare as we might think. The American marines who rushed an armed terrorist on a train were only the latest in a long list of people in the wrong place at the wrong time and chose to spend what might have been the last seconds of their relatively young lives saving the lives of strangers.

Yes, in nearly every terror attack where the opportunity to save others was present, somebody took it and most of them died.

The fact that life can end in a heartbeat makes it more precious than anything we can ever own. So what do you plan to do with the balance of your most precious asset? Have an affair?


Witch hunts are as American as Apple Tarts.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 20, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,203

Image: nypost.com

Image: nypost.com

Three people can keep a secret, Ben Franklin once wrote, if two of them are dead.

And when the secret inevitably is revealed . . .. as Ricky used to say to Lucy, somebody has a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Maybe so, but not to us, the public.  Whether somebody’s email address and credit card appears in Dolly Madison’s (or whoever she is) website is none of our business.

So take the pledge with me that you won’t read or listen to gossip about that stuff.

I thought you wouldn’t. Oh well, take heart.  You’re gonna be in good company.Unless, of course, somebody stole your identity.  ‘Splain that to a gloating world.

Witch hunting is a long-standing American tradition.  We’ll drag ‘em out in the street, put ‘em in stocks and throw a lot of rotten fruit and vegetables at them.

And what about the hackers who caused all this?  What are we going to do to them?  Nothing.

And one fine day, they’ll come after the rest of us.


Yes, Virginia, it is possible to work yourself to death in Pennsylvania.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 20, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,202


Image: dyer law.com

Image: dyer law.com

Robert Dietz was one of those unfortunate souls you see out in the cold weather repairing utility lines while you pass by in your warm comfortable car.  He was a jackhammer operator on a water line repair crew. On the day/night in question he went to work at about six AM and was still at work at about 9:30 PM, when he had a heart attack and died.

The issue was whether his widow was entitled to benefits. In order to be entitled to benefits, Mrs. Dietz had to prove a causal link between the work he was doing and his death.  There was medical testimony that there were multiple causes, smoking, pre-existing medical conditions, cold weather, stress, etc.  The company’s medical witness testified that it was only a matter of time before Dietz had a heart attack and that it could have happened while he was reading a book at home or asleep. Moreover, it was not known whether Mr. Dietz was actually jackhammering when the heart attack occurred, or perhaps taking a smoking break.

The case went up the Worker’s Compensation appeals ladder and then down on remand, and back up where in landed, after 8 years, in the Commonwealth Court.  The Court found that the death was work related and thus compensable, noting:

“Our Supreme Court has explained that ‘where a decedent was performing his or her usual job assignment at the time of the fatal heart attack, and the connection between the work and the heart attack was supported by competent medical testimony, decedent’s claimant was entitled to compensation.’ Bernard S. Pincus Co., 388 A.2d at 663 (emphasis added). Where exertion leads to a fatal heart attack, there is no need to pinpoint the exact work duty which caused the exertion. Plumbers Contractors, Inc. v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board (Lewellyn), 402 A.2d 555, 557 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1979). In other words, ‘[i]t is not necessary to prove and identify the precise work details which caused a heart death that resulted from decedent’s exceptional work activity.’  Pennsylvania State Oral School v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board (Gerek), 475 A.2d 175, 178 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).”
And there you have it.  You can indeed work yourself to death under Pennsylvania law.  But whether your widow will be entitled to death benefits depends upon the facts of the case.

Is it Unconstitutional to Make Sleeping in Public a Crime?

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 17, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,201

Here’s a very interesting article from Jurist, the Pitt Law School publication that follows legal news around the world.

Image:  clatt.com

Image: clatt.com

The Justice Department is attacking a Boise City ordinance that prohibits slewing in public.  Since everybody has to sleep, it is argued, this makes it a crime to be homeless.  The article gives a review of cases involving “status offenders.”  It may be a crime to offer to provide sex for money, but it cannot be a crime to be a prostitute.


From the Archives: Philadelphia’s Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program — July 2008.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 15, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,200

In order to celebrate Post No. 1,200, I am reprinting one of the first posts I wrote in this blog, dated July 21, 2008. At the time, the effects of the mortgage bubble collapse were being felt, including in Pittsburgh.  Hundreds of mortgage foreclosure actions were being filed followed by default judgments in about a month. Philadelphia pioneered a program for putting the brakes on in order to determine whether modifications were possible.  Allegheny County eventually followed suit. On April 16, 2009, PLBT reported: “The first mediation conferences under the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas pre-foreclosure program were scheduled to begin last week, although some were postponed due to court closings for the memorial service for the three slain police officers. Judge McCarthy was scheduled to hold conferences in the morning and Judge James in the afternoon. The conferences, according to a report from an attorney involved in numerous cases, are to be held in chambers, not in open court.”

Image investorvillage.com

Image investorvillage.com

Here is my July 21, 2008 post:

On July 17, 2008, Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas adopted a Joint General Court Regulation to provide for conciliation conferences for owner-occupied residential properties facing sheriff sale.

The first cases to be conciliated will be those scheduled for sheriff sale in August and September. Because it is difficult to identify owner-occupied residential properties with certainty, all of the sheriff sales in August and September are being postponed to November and December unless the plaintiff’s counsel files a certificate stating that the property is not an owner-occupied residence by a fixed deadline. The plaintiff’s attorney must then send a document identified as the “Important Notice” to the Defendant, to give the Defendant an opportunity to file an “Objection.” Cases scheduled for Sheriff Sale in earlier months and not yet sold are eligible for conciliation if the defendant complies with the requirements of the regulation.

Cases where the complaint is filed on or after September 8, 2008 involving owner-occupied residential properties will be given a special designation and the conciliation is scheduled immediately after filing. If an owner-occupied residential property is not so-marked by the plaintiff’s attorney, the defendant can file a written request for a conciliation conference up to 10 days before the sheriff’s sale.

Other cases filed before September 8 will be conciliated if the homeowner files a certification and request for conciliation.

Meanwhile, an organization called Philadelphia Foreclosure Rescue Effort has been recruiting volunteer attorneys to give free representation to homeowners at conciliation conferences. The attorneys are given two and 1/2 hours of free training, with an optional additional hour of mortgage foreclosure defense training.

Will this work? Conciliations do produce settlements — provided that both parties are motivated. In cases where default judgments and writs of execution have been entered, there would seem to be little motivation for the plaintiff to settle. The options left to the defendant are not very many at that point. Moreover, the defendants have often become so delinquent by this time that there is no real prospect of rescue. On the other hand, plaintiffs have begun to worry about the threat of federal and state legislative action. They may not wish to look like they are not negotiating in good faith. Also, the prospect of doubling and tripling the inventory of real estate owned (REO) properties now looks very real.

But conciliations scheduled at the time complaints are filed may be very beneficial to both parties. The defendant may only be 90 – 120 days delinquent. The defendants have been paired up with lawyers who would be quite happy to file a response to the complaint if the negotiations do not pan out. Before then, 95% of them would have permitted default judgment.

Is Allegheny County considering its own mortgage foreclosure conciliation program? Would Philadelphia’s be a suitable model?


– See more at: http://www.pittsburghlegalbacktalk.com/archives/8#sthash.IZdvvG2P.dpuf

Why Blog? 10.5 Reasons.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 14, 2015 | © 2015

No, 1,199



As we are about to hit 1,200 posts, its about time to reprint this post from June 11, 2009. It is one of the best.


Lawyers are often advised by marketing professionals to blog because it is good marketing. The AVVO blog recently announced an inexpensive and easy to use blogging vehicle for lawyers. If you have a modest marketing budget, investing in a blog will buy you more effective advertising than any other vehicle, including Google pay per click ads.

But if a lawyer never lands a single new client from blogging, the exercise is still worthwhile. Here are 10.5 reasons why:

1. Self education. In order to write a blog piece you need to read and find out what’s going on in the law and in the world. Doesn’t continuous self-education make a better lawyer?

2. Reinforcement of learning. The best way to remember newly-acquired information is to use it. The best way to really understand a concept is to explain it. Blogging forces you to do both.

3. Getting away from the old me-me-me. The essence of a law firm website is telling potential clients how great you are. That can get tiresome — with legal advertising websites rivaling the leading sleep aids for induced drowsiness. A blog looks outward at the world, not inward at the firm.

4. Practice makes perfect. If you wish to be a persuasive and polished writer, you must practice.

5. Busman’s Holiday. It is surprising how relaxing it can be after a day of toil to write something. You may not think so until you start to really get into writing your blog. Meanwhile, you are thinking and writing about work related matters.

6. Making Friends and Influencing People. Through your blog (assuming you are diligent and have good content) I guarantee that you will make the acquaintance of people worth knowing. They will consider you smart, informed and very persuasive — otherwise, they wouldn’t be reading your blog.

7. The Bully Pulpit. When you have a gripe, a beef or a strongly-held opinion, shazam! You have a forum!.

8. Developing New Expertise. All that reading and writing, scrounging for topics and keeping your ear to the ground to identify advancing trends, will cause you to develop and expand expertise on new topics. Moreover, you don’t have to tell anyone you know something about a field of the law, your blog does.

9. Developing a Portfolio. All the posts you ever wrote will be on the internet for a long time. You’ll receive comments popping up on posts written many months or even years ago — ones you’ve actually forgotten you wrote. You’ll find yourself saying to people: “Read my blog post(s) on the subject.”

10. Self fulfillment. You will feel a sense of accomplishment when you post something really good.

10.5 Strange as it may seem, you could be a force in someone else’s life. Someday, if you are lucky, someone will write to you or tell in person that you helped changed his or her life. Teachers often hear it years later from students. When you blog, you are the teacher and who knows who the student may be?



Why Does Anyone Like Donald J. Trump?

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 10, 2015 | © 2015

No. 1,198

Image: obamaconspiracy.org

Image: obamaconspiracy.org

Everybody knows at least one person just like that big blow-hard Donald J. Trump.  Self-absorbed.  Insults people.  Behaves in a flamboyant and unguarded manner. But nobody likes such a person.  And when he is someone with power over you, life can be nearly intolerable.

So why does anyone like Donald J. Trump?

Good question.  Some have tried to answer it by suggesting that his followers think just like him.  Maybe, but I have another idea.

I have known a few lawyers who share Trump-like qualities.  They often tyrannized over their secretaries and subordinates.  They can be bombastic at the drop of a hat.  They make enemies with ease. Yet, strangely, clients frequently thought that they were fantastic lawyers.

These clients equated the bull-in-china-shop style with being a rough and tumble, two-fisted  winner.  They often expressed the belief that  best lawyers are bulldogs who chomp down on an opponent’s leg and never let go. In other words, you can get your way (or your client’s way) by being a bigger bully than the next guy. Lawyers  have word for that kind of character — Rambo.  And that denomination is not, I assure you, an expression of admiration.

The biggest problem with Ramboism is that judges don’t abide bullies acting up in their courtrooms. And they usually know exactly how to tame the savage beast.  You can’t bully the judge.  You have to persuade him.

We have a lawyer marketing program around here called Gorilla Lawyer. Their logo is a big, mean (and dumb looking) gorilla wearing a shirt and tie.  This caricature didn’t look like a lawyer to me.  It looked like a gangster.

Some people want to hire a trump-like lawyer to bully their opponent.  I suppose the same people want a Trump-like President, to bully the Mexican Government or who knows who else?.  At least for now.  Some of them will get tired of the novelty.  Some will eventually figure it out.  And some will become the target of the next wave of insults.


keep looking »


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 40 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.


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