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Commonwealth v. Young

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

December 22, 2021

A highly-fractured Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed its prior decisions in Commonwealth v. Walker and Always Busy Consulting, LLC v. Babford & Co., Inc.(“ABC“) in which the Court dealt with notices of appeal in cases with multiple docket numbers. In Walker, the Supreme Court held that, when one or more orders resolves issues arising on more than one docket or relating to more than one judgment, separate notices of appeals must be filed on each docket number. In ABC, the Court created an exception to Walker by holding that filing a single notice of appeal from a single order entered at the lead docket number for consolidated civil matters where all record information necessary to adjudication of the appeal exists, and which involves identical parties, claims and issues, does not run afoul of Walker or Pa.R.A.P. 341. The instant matter arose out of the prosecution of two individuals for the hazing-related death of a student at Penn State University. After a series of preliminary hearings, dismissals, refiling of charges, and new preliminary hearings, the prosecution included a total of six dockets for two defendants, three applying to each individual defendant. Given the awkward procedural history — including pre-trial motions and corresponding trial court opinions and orders — some pleadings and orders contained only some of the relevant docket numbers. The Commonwealth filed interlocutory notices of appeal based on some of those pre-trial rulings but did not file six notices of appeal, one for each docket number. The Commonwealth asserted that it fell within the ABC exception to Walker. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the exception to the Walker rule enunciated in ABC was not broad enough to encompass the present matter. Nevertheless, the Court remanded to the Superior Court to determine, in its discretion, whether the Commonwealth should be granted relief through application of the safe harbor provision of Pa.R.A.P. 902. This case included four concurring or concurring-and-dissenting opinions. Given the disarrays of the justices of the Supreme Court on an issue as simple as a notice of appeal, one wonders how the Court expects individual litigants to comply with its mandates.

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