Welcome to Sullivan | Simon’s summaries of last week’s precedential appellate decisions from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey state courts, as well as the Third Circuit. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.
Franczyk v. Home Depot, Inc. (Administrative Law, Workers’ Comp)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that plaintiff could not bring a workplace injury claim against her employer after a customer’s dog attacked her, and the employer allowed the customer to leave without being identified. No exception to the Workers’ Compensation Act’s “exclusivity provision” applied.
Read Justice Todd’s concurring opinion here.
Commonwealth v. Ani (Suppression, Digital Evidence)
If you are a litigator in criminal law and want to learn about suppressing digital evidence from a cell phone or computer, read this opinion. The Pennsylvania Superior Court gives an in-depth discussion of this critical issue.
Commonwealth v. Rollins (DUI, Statutory Interpretation)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Vehicle Code Section 1543(b)(1)(iii) is constitutional. It shares the same “not less than” language found in Section 1543(b)(1.1)(i) and fails to explicitly state a maximum term of imprisonment. And though Section 1543(b)(1.1)(i) is unconstitutional, they are distinguishable because they are graded differently.
Read Justice Brobson’s concurring opinion here.
Vellon v. Dep’t of Transp, Bureau of Driver Licensing (Administrative Law, License Suspension)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court again ruled on the recidivist consequences of DUIs. Here, a driver was arrested for DUI while in ARD for a prior DUI. He was eventually sentenced on both DUIs on the same day. He had no prior DUIs. The Supreme Court held that the driver should receive only one recidivist license suspension.
Franks v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (Civil Law, Insurance Dispute)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the absence of a valid waiver of stacked UIM coverage following the removal of a vehicle from an insurance policy did not result in the default stacked coverage mandated by Section 1738(c) of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law.
Shrom v. Pa. Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Bd. (Administrative Law, Environmental Law)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that landowners met the eligibility requirement in Section 706(3) of the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act because they paid the Section 503 registration fees for the underground storage tanks before the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund issued its eligibility determination.
Read Justice Mundy’s concurring opinion here.
Commonwealth v. Shanholtz (Criminal Law, Court Costs)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the lower court’s order granting defendant up to one year to pay court costs. Though defendant was indigent, the Court ruled that the lower court complied with Pa.R.Crim.P. 706 by conducting a hearing.
Commonwealth v. Rowe (Criminal Law, DNA Testing)
Defendant sought touch post-conviction DNA testing, claiming the combination collection method and the “next generation sequencing” testing method were not previously available. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the defendant failed to establish the unavailability of effective DNA collection and testing capable of producing probative results when he pleaded guilty.
William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pa. Dep’t Education (Education Law)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued an opinion spanning almost 800 pages in this landmark case. The Court held that the “disparity [in public education] among school districts with high property values and incomes and school districts with low property values and incomes is not justified by any compelling government interest nor is it rationally related to any legitimate government objective.” As a result, students attending low wealth districts are deprived of equal protection of law.
The Marcellus Shale Coal. v. Pa. DEP (Agency Law, Statutory Interpretation)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and held that several agency regulations, serving primarily to aid the agencies in information gathering attendant to the issuance of permits for unconventional gas well operations, are valid and enforceable.
Read Justice Mundy’s dissent here.
Read Justice Wecht’s concurring and dissenting opinion here.
Read Justice Dougherty’s concurring and dissenting opinion here.
Hand v. Fuller (Property Law, Tenancy)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of a nonsuit. The Court determined that Tenant was not entitled to relief under the City of Philadelphia’s lead paint disclosure ordinance.
Fulton Cnty. v. Sec’y (Sanctions)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sanctioned Fulton County and one of its attorneys in this case, which was prompted by the Secretary of the
Commonwealth’s decertification of certain voting equipment that Fulton County acquired from Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. in 2019 and used in the 2020 general election. The Court found that the “County and its various attorneys have engaged in a sustained, deliberate pattern of dilatory, obdurate, and vexatious conduct and have acted in bad faith throughout these sanction proceedings.”
Read Justice Dougherty’s concurring opinion here.
Read Justice Brobson’s concurring and dissenting opinion here.
In re Vacation of a Portion of Paper Mill Road (Administrative Law, Real Property)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court concluded that a county’s Board of View did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that a contested road was not useless, inconvenient, or burdensome and denying the Petition to Vacate.
Estate of Lasiw v. Pereira (Civil Law, Discovery of Electronic Information)
The New Jersey Appellate Division held that defendants failed to demonstrate that plaintiff’s request to inspect decedent’s electronic medical records for potentially relevant metadata under limited and controlled circumstances was unduly burdensome.
United States v. Coleman (First Step Act)
The Third Circuit remanded this case because the District Court did not expressly identify the relevant 21 U.S.C. § 841(b) provision that grounded defendant’s sentence. As a result, the Third Circuit could not determine if the District Court correctly denied defendant’s motion under the First Step Act.
United States v. Kousisis (Criminal Law, Amount of Loss)
The Third Circuit vacated the District Court’s amount-of-loss calculation and forfeiture order in this “complex fraud case.” The Court upheld defendants’ wire fraud convictions and included a laudable survey of the evolution of federal wire fraud.
United States v. De. Ins. Dep’t (Insurance Law)
In this dispute between Delaware and the IRS, the Third Circuit ruled that while the McCarran-Ferguson Act protects state insurance laws from intrusive federal action before any such reverse preemption occurs, the conduct at issue – in this case, the refusal to produce summonsed documents – must constitute the “business of insurance” within the Act’s meaning.