Dangerous Dogs in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dogs Statute aims to take the bite out of potentially dangerous encounters with canines. A common misconception about dogs is that only certain breeds of dogs pose a threat of serious bodily injury, or that a dog must be a certain size to be dangerous, but this is not the case. Just browse through the state’s current Dangerous Dog Registry, and you might be surprised to see your favorite miniature breed on that list. This is because the statutory definition of a dangerous dog is based solely on the animal’s record of interactions with people and other domesticated animals. A single unprovoked attack on a person could be enough for a judge to find a dog to be dangerous and its owner or keeper subject to a host of additional legal requirements.

How can a person be convicted of harboring a dangerous dog in Pennsylvania?

Any person found to be harboring a dangerous dog is guilty of a summary offense and will be required to take certain measures with the goal of ensuring public safety. If the owner of the dog is convicted in summary court proceedings, the owner or keeper of the dog must confine the dog as defined by the statute, which includes certain controls while outside confinement. The owner or keeper also is prohibited from selling, offering to sell, or giving away the dog. If the owner or keeper intends to keep the dog after the proceedings are completed, he or she must register the dog with the Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to Chapter 27 of Pennsylvania’s Title 7 on agriculture, this registration will require proof of the issuance of a surety bond as well as a certain level of liability insurance coverage. Additionally, the dog must be confined and controlled according to requirements of Chapter 27 for the duration of its life.

The required “bond” or insurance policy is typically prohibitively expensive. As a result, the practical effect of being convicted of harboring a dangerous dog is to have to euthanize the dog. This is obviously traumatic for many dog owners, who would do anything to keep their pet safe.

If an encounter with a dog has risen to the level of a judge finding that the animal is dangerous, the matter must be considered serious regardless of the dog’s breed, size or previous history of gentle behavior. Although proper professional training can help correct a dog’s behavior, the owner or keeper of the dog is subject to all applicable rules for as long as the dog is kept regardless of whether any other such incident occurs again. From posting clear notice on the property of the dangerous dog’s presence to microchipping and muzzling, monetary restitution to the victim is not the end of the process if your dog injures a person or another domesticated animal. That is why it is prudent for all dog owners to take prophylactic measures to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur.

What do I do if I’ve been attacked by a dog?

If you’re the victim of a dog bite, you have certain personal injury rights. You can bring suit against the owner or keeper of the dog. But Pennsylvania does not embrace a “strict liability” approach to these cases. In other words, you must prove the owner or keeper was negligent in the way they kept the dog on the occasion in question. Failing to keep a dog on a leash in a public place, failing to secure the dog behind a fence or in a home, or failing to keep the dog appropriately fed can all contribute to a negligence finding.

Conclusion

If you’ve been charged with harboring a dangerous dog, it’s important to defend the case rather than plead guilty. Defending the case can involve showing that the dog was provoked into attacking or not “at fault” in a given incident. But it’s best to keep your dog out of this situation to begin with, if you can. Keep him appropriately secured and away from tempting situations if at all possible. If you have questions, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation on your unique situation.

My Case is Easy: Do I need a Lawyer?

Shouldn’t law just be common sense? We hear this question all the time. If your case is easy and straightforward, do you still need a lawyer? The answer is yes. If you are going to court, you should have a lawyer by your side. But what if your case is easy? What if it’s open and shut?

Lawyers do more than “win hard cases,” or explain things that are complicated. A lawyer can help you understand the past cases that have been decided about your issue and can review the laws that the legislature has passed regarding your situation. A lawyer can also help you gather and organize the evidence that you have to make sure it is presented in a clear way.

Furthermore, the rules of evidence that govern what a judge or jury is allowed to even hear about are complex, and you need to be prepared to make sure you “get your evidence in” when you are at court.

The most important thing that lawyers do for you is to help you understand the type of judge that will be deciding your case. If your case is a jury trial, a lawyer will also have experience in knowing how juries make decisions. Although the case may seem simple to you, you may be surprised at how the other side paints it as more complicated or confusing. Having a good lawyer means having someone who can keep the case simple and explain it to the decision makers in your case.

Having a good lawyer also means having someone on your side who can show you the weaknesses in your case. No case is ever really easy—and it’s important to understand all the things that can go wrong as you proceed.

If you’re going to court, as either a plaintiff or a defendant, call Cornerstone Law Firm today to talk to one of the attorneys about how we can help you to present your case.

What is the penalty for filing a false PFA in Pennsylvania?

When someone lies in a Protection from Abuse petition, an incredible amount of consequences follow for everyone involved. The person who is named as the defendant in a PFA temporarily loses access to their guns and is often evicted from their home pending the outcome of the case. Sometimes the defendant is even evicted from a home where the victim did not live. Furthermore, the defendant named in a PFA is sometimes barred from seeing his or her own children during the pendency of the PFA.

For as long as courts have existed (and longer, of course), people have lied to get what they want. In Pennsylvania, some people have learned that they can lie on a petition and wreak these consequences on a defendant. So what are the consequences to the person who filed the PFA if what they said in the PFA is a lie? Can you pursue the person who filed and seek to have them punished for what they said in the PFA?

First, it is important to win the PFA. The initial step in seeking consequences is to win the battle over the PFA. This means going to the court appearance, hiring an attorney to defend you, and having the petition for a PFA dismissed. A good family law attorney can help you with this process and it’s important not to try it alone. If the judge does not believe your side of the story, the judge can enter a three-year PFA order against you, and at that point it will be all but impossible to pursue any action against the person who filed the PFA because the judge will have found the filing to be true.

Do not underestimate the potential danger in a PFA petition. PFAs are granted everyday in Pennsylvania, in every county, and often on nothing more than the word of the alleged victim who filed the PFA. Gathering evidence, preparing your defense, and having the right attorney to defend you are vital in this step of the process.

Review any false statements in the PFA. Once you have won the PFA action, the next possible step that you can take is to review whether there are any statements in the PFA that are factually false. It’s important to note that we are referring now to factually false statements and not merely opinions. Someone who says in a PFA, “I feel very afraid of this person,” is not likely to be prosecuted for perjury or face any other consequences. This is a statement of feeling or opinion, and even if it’s not “true,” or even if it’s not based on any objective facts, the alleged victim is generally entitled to their own opinion of the situation.

But of course, statements that can be proven to be lies or which are later contradicted under oath at the hearing can be the subject of a perjury charge. PFAs are filed under oath. The person who is sworn in and said the petition was true and correct to the best of their knowledge can face criminal charges for lying in the petition where specific facts are later disproven by video, physical evidence or by contradiction by the alleged victim at a hearing.

Consider whether the PFA petition was filed to set up custody or divorce, to lay the groundwork for a separate civil law action.  Most importantly, in considering a PFA that was filed against you, you should consult with your attorney about what other moves you believe the alleged victim is going to make in this matter. For example, did they merely file a PFA in order to surprise you with a divorce or custody petition? Did they file a PFA to put a cloud over your job or bring some sort of civil action against you claiming damages? Or was it just a moment of vindictiveness after a bad breakup? Understanding what the alleged victim’s next move is will be important in preparing to defend yourself against any other actions that they may take against you. In most cases, the best offense is a good defense: it is important that you beat the PFA charges. Whether you actually want to take action against the person who filed may depend on what other actions you think they may try to take against you. Playing this chess game can be exhausting, but it is important to think through it with an attorney who can give you good advice on your specific situation.

Conclusion: seek a family law attorney today. If you have questions about a PFA that’s been filed against you, contact one of the family law attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your case. Our attorneys have experience defeating PFAs, walking people through custody and divorce actions, and more. Call us today!

How do I subpoena a police report?

When you are trying to get ahold of a police report after a car accident, an assault, a neighbor dispute or for any other reason, you may find that the process is very confusing. Police departments do not always produce their reports upon request, and some will tell you that you have to file a subpoena.

Unfortunately, under Pennsylvania law, to subpoena a document you must have an active case that you are a part of. This means either that you are the criminal/defendant in the case or you are a party to a civil action where you are suing or being sued. Accordingly, if you are trying to serve a subpoena on a police department, you must be a party to one of those actions. Additionally, government entities have the power to serve subpoenas in certain types of investigations, but private parties do not have similar power.

If you are not a party to one of these actions, you can consider whether you should file one in order to subpoena the documents that you need. This might mean suing the neighbor or the individual that you are in a dispute with, or in extreme cases, suing the police department if you think that you have grounds to do so. In most cases and for most people, rather than subpoenaing a police report, you should consider one of two other options.

FILING A RIGHT TO KNOW REQUEST

A Right To Know is a request under Pennsylvania law to a government entity to produce records that are in their possession. This is the state law equivalent to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA). Some states call these Open Records laws. Simply put, the Right To Know request allows you to request documents that the police may be holding onto, including police reports.

However, police departments routinely refuse to produce police reports claiming that they are part of “an active criminal investigation.” This is sometimes true, even after they have said there will be no charges from an incident. Although this is not technically correct, it often practically results in a brick wall in trying to obtain these police reports.

PAY FOR A POLICE REPORT

If you have been a part of a car accident, you may have the right to obtain the police report by paying the police department for it. In addition, there are a number of websites that offer this service. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we routinely retrieve these as part of personal injury cases for clients. The difference and the reason that you can obtain it here is because investigating a personal injury is one exception that most police departments will properly recognize as a reason to obtain a police report.

CONCLUSION

If you are trying to obtain a police report as part of an investigation or as part of a personal injury case, call the experienced attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to talk about how best to go about obtaining the police report and also to discuss whether there are any other ways to get the information that you are after. Our attorneys can help determine the best course of action and figure out your next steps.

Eric Winter joins Cornerstone Law Firm

Photo of Attorney Eric Winter

Cornerstone Law Firm is pleased to announce the addition to our team of Eric Winter. Attorney Winter is highly regarded in the legal community and has several decades of experience handling a broad range of administrative law, criminal cases, immigration and more. Attorney Winter has handled over 100 jury trials and brings his passion for courtroom justice to the team.

Attorney Winter does more hunting law than anybody else in Pennsylvania and is one of the busiest immigration attorneys in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Eric has also done extensive work in family and civil cases, including tortes such as defamation, invasion of privacy and more. Eric’s knowledge of federal firearms law also allows him to help with gun rights restoration questions and similar areas. Cornerstone Law Firm is please to welcome Eric to the team.

Eminent Domain: Theirs for the Taking?

We might be cheering when traffic circles are installed to curb accident occurrences or when roads are widened to accommodate an increase in traffic. Over time, country fields can give way to schools and public parks as a result of growing populations. Done in the name of progress, these projects certainly provide a public benefit, but they can come with private detriment. It is commonly the case that private parties hold legal title to the land needed for these public improvements. For this reason, it is important for all landowners to understand their rights when their private property might be seized for a public purpose.

Eminent domain is the legal doctrine by which a governmental body is permitted to condemn private property for public use. Often called a “taking,” this ominous sounding legal power might seem unopposable, but it is no foregone conclusion that any proposed taking will be permitted as constitutional. The landowner has various grounds on which to challenge a taking because the exercise of this power must conform to legal requirements. It is for the government to show that its exercise of eminent domain does not violate the constitution or state law.

First, any taking of private land must be for public use. Pennsylvania’s Property Rights Protection Act amending Title 26 expressly limits the powers of state and local governments to condemn private property for use by private entities. Outside of the enumerated exceptions, the government must show that its intended purpose for the land serves a public benefit and is not being used for a private enterprise. Common examples of recognized public purposes are roadways and schools.

Second, the government must pay the private owner just compensation for the property. The private owner is not relegated to taking just any offer extended by the government. The fair market value of the property is the standard measure, but this measurement will change in the event that only a portion of the property is taken. When only a portion of the property is taken, just compensation will be the fair market value of the entire property less the value of the portion remaining (fair market value minus the portion not being taken).

In the ideal situation, the landowner and the government will reach an agreement regarding the sale price and proceed with the property transfer without court intervention. When the parties cannot agree on a price, or when the landowner does not wish to sell, a condemnation action will commence. Not all condemnation cases are resolved in favor of the government. Pennsylvania caselaw provides many examples of attempted takings which were not permitted by the courts, so it is important to understand your rights and how you can fight to protect your property.

If you have been notified that the government intends to seize your property, or if you are facing a condemnation action, the attorneys at Cornerstone Law can help. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

Contract Basics: The Pen Actually Can Be Very Mighty

You would be hard-pressed to find an adult in the United States who never has signed a contract. You rent an apartment; you sign a contract. You enroll your children in daycare; you sign a contract. You borrow money for school; you sign a contract. You join a gym; you sign a contract. This does not include the plethora of subscription services so common these days like entertainment streaming, cell phones, music services, product delivery services and so many more. We execute many contracts without a second thought, but not all contracts are created equally. Signing on the dotted line for that hotel room or rental car does not carry the same weight as entering into an agreement to buy or sell real estate, but the legal obligation you create when doing so remains the same.

Although the law is concerned where a contract is procured through fraud, misrepresentation, or duress, the courts aim to preserve our autonomy to contract with one another freely. The law does not concern itself with whether the terms of the agreement are reasonable or whether any party possessed enough knowledge to enter the agreement. The parties to any contract can have different levels of sophistication, and bargaining power might be unequal, but each one is legally bound to know the terms of the contract entered. The stroke of that pen comes with a duty to understand the document, and that is where many fall short.

Contracts can be difficult to understand simply because of the manner in which they are drafted. The legalese in many standard provisions can seem unintelligible to most, and some contracts will contain dozens of these confusing terms. However, ignorance is no excuse under the law, particularly when an agreement contains a provision indicating that the parties agree that its terms are fair, just, and reasonable. It is customary for contracts to contain such provisions which serve to cut off future challenges to that contract by one manner or another. These can be explicit waivers of rights, such as waiving your right to a jury trial to resolve future disputes, or implicit waivers like the one above. When you agree in writing that the contract is reasonable, you waive your right to challenge its reasonableness in the future even if you did not understand what you were signing.

While most would think to enlist the help of an attorney for contract drafting or negotiating, contract review is just as important. Agreements involving large sums of money or long-term obligations are most critical. A 5-year service contract can look great today, but circumstances can change for either party over that long a period, and that must be considered. An agreement requiring a sizable non-refundable down payment could result in a great loss if the agreement falls through for a reason other than a breach. From lawn service contracts to pre-nuptial agreements, any legally binding document must be reviewed thoroughly to ensure that you understand both your obligations and your rights under it.

Whether you need a contract drafted, negotiated, or reviewed, the experienced attorneys at Cornerstone Law can help. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

My Student’s Discipline at School Was Excessive – What Should I Do?

If your child is a K-12 student and has received discipline that you think is excessive, what options do you have? Can you sue the school or do anything to demand a lesser punishment? The answers to these questions depend on a few factors, but the most important factor is whether your student attends a private or public school. This article is specific to questions about Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade education. Different rules apply to the college level and other types of schools. As always, this article is not legal advice—each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney about the facts of your case.

Public School Students and Their Rights

In the public school setting, administrators are bound to follow the Constitution in making disciplinary decisions. This might sound strange at first because the Constitution doesn’t mention schools. But the federal Constitution does require that everyone has a right to due process when faced with punishment by a government entity as well as Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Our federal courts also recognize the Fourteenth Amendment as providing “substantive due process” rights that prohibit revoking someone’s rights in a way that violates various norms or rules. And of course, everyone has a First Amendment right to express their opinions and beliefs without fear of government reprisal, as well as to hold their religious views without interference by a government employee or entity.

Punishment handed out by a public school must comply with the provisions of the Constitution. This means that if a child is punished for expressing a First Amendment-protected viewpoint or for their religious beliefs, then the school is liable for this violation of Constitutional rights. In addition, schools must follow due process rights when punishing a student. They must give a student notice and a hearing before administering punishment.

The Supreme Court has drawn a general line at ten days of suspension. Punishment over ten days requires substantial due process rights, including a more formal hearing, often in front of the school board. The student and his or her parents have a right to present documents and witnesses, and should have the right to cross-examine the school’s witnesses and to present argument as to why lesser or no punishment should be considered. When students are punished for less than ten days, they still have a right to notice and a hearing, but the hearing can be informal and brief.

Students Rights and Private School

Private schools are generally not bound by the Constitution because, by their nature, they are private, not government-owned. As a result, like any private entity, they are free, as a general rule, to have rules or punishments that are not “fair” across the board.

But a few important restrictions still apply to private school discipline. First, private schools are still required to abide by the terms of their contract with the parents. Because parents are paying for their student’s education, what is laid down in any contract documents will be important.

Contract documents are not just the formal documents parents signed when they brought their child to the school. The documents that form a contractual relationship between parents and the school can include emails and correspondence with the school, and in most cases, also includes the parent or student handbooks that lay out expectations the parties can rely on.

Where a student is expelled, a refund or a partial refund may be required and to the degree that a student’s education is interfered with as a result of being expelled, there may also be damages available to the parents. Furthermore, if specific wrongdoing can be proven, a private party including a teacher or school may be liable if they harmed the student in more specific ways.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have helped parents and students in both public and private schools to stand up for their rights and receive vindication after wrongful suspensions, expulsions, and punishments. Our work has involved students who were expelled, suspended, or who lost “privileges” relating to extracurricular activities. Our attorneys are well situated to help you determine your rights and figure out how to handle a situation that you’re faced with. Call us today for a consultation and let us help you determine what steps to take.

Changing your name in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, you are free to request a change of your legal name to one of your choosing. You may petition the Court to permit a change to your first, middle or last name, or all of them. The process involves two major steps, but it doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. In today’s blog, we’ll talk through the steps and discuss why you need a lawyer to help.

There are two basic steps to getting a name change done in Pennsylvania. First, you’ll need to file a petition explaining to the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you live why you need or want the name change. This petition is not a standard form but rather allows the drafting attorney to fill in various details about you for the judge’s understanding. You will want to include the reasons for the potential change. You should also include information about your criminal background, if any, and financial situation. These details allow the Court to assess that you are pursuing the name change for legitimate reasons, and not to hide from creditors or escape a criminal background. A good petition will go a long way toward persuading the presiding judge to grant your request.

Second, you’ll need to go through a hearing—basically a very brief trial (without a jury, just a judge) on why you want the name change and whether there is any reason you should not receive one. Courts are granted broad discretion in the name change process, and they will order a hearing so they can see you and any relevant witnesses in person. The judge in your case may want you to testify or may simply have some questions for your attorney. Some name change hearings are informal, and some end up being lengthy. Having an attorney present to answer questions from the judge and make any arguments necessary to secure your name change is important.

Because the trial court judge in your county gets broad discretion on making the decision, appeals are very difficult to bring. If your county judge doesn’t grant your request, taking it up to the Superior Court is not likely to bring about a different outcome. This is why it’s important to do the petition and hearing well in the first place.

Name changes are common after marriage (where no hearing is required), when a child wants to take a different parent’s name, and for religious reasons. Name changes don’t have to be scary, and they can provide an opportunity for a psychological fresh start. If you want to seek a change in your name, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your situation.

May 2021 Update

May 2021 has been filled with trials and advanced litigation for the attorneys of Cornerstone Law Firm. On the civil side, attorney Joel Ready spent time litigating a partnership dispute in Lehigh County court, giving advice to several businesses to avoid personnel and human resources litigation, promulgating discovery in personal injury cases based in Berks County and preparing for a summer of trials. A number of Cornerstone Law’s criminal clients were able to obtain trial dates this month, allowing them to finally pursue their innocence in a proceeding before a jury.

On the transactional side, several businesses hired Cornerstone Law Firm to draft contracts and to create new bylaws and other operating agreements for their businesses and nonprofits. These ranged from employment agreements to more complex inter-business cooperation agreements, and also agreements to resolve potential areas of dispute between rival businesses.

Attorney Crossett has been involved in several mediation for personal injury clients, obtaining settlement for car accident victims and those injured in other accidents. Furthermore, Attorney Crossett has finalized complex land deals this month for clients with conflicting real estate claims.

At Cornerstone Law Firm we are happy that the world is slowly getting back to normal, and we are looking forward to the nice weather in the summer months!