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 opinion.
Klar v. Dairy Farmers of Am., Inc. (Civil Law, Dram Shop)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined an opportunity to broaden liability for individuals who provide alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons. The Court held that an organization which hosted an event at which alcohol was provided, but was not a liquor licensee, could not be held liable for injuries caused by a guest who became intoxicated at the event.
Commonwealth v. Towles (Criminal, Capital PCRA)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the PCRA petitioner failed to prove that the District Attorney’s Office pressured a witness into testifying falsely at a capital homicide trial. And since petitioner did not prove that the DA’s Office induced false evidence, the petition was untimely because there was no new fact on which to predicate the untimely petition under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b).
Read Justice Donohue’s concurrence here.
Read Justice Wecht’s concurrence here.
Pennsylvania State Police v. Am. Civil Liberties Union of Pa. (Administrative Law, Right-to-Know Law)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Commonwealth Court abused its discretion when it sua sponte remanded this case to the Office of Open Records after the OOR determined that the PSP failed to meet its burden of proving that an exception to disclose under the right-to-know law applied. Here, the ACLU sought a nine-page regulation that explains how the PSP monitors the social media of its staff.
Read Justice Mundy’s dissent here.
Bindas v. Pa. Dep’t of Transp. (Administrative Law, Easement)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that PennDOT and its predecessor, the Department of Highways, failed to comply with 36 P.S. § 670-210, thus invalidating an easement. The Court ordered that a board of viewers be appointed to determine compensation for the landowner whose property the defunct easement encroached upon.
Read Justice Donohue’s dissent here.
In re Koepfinger (Family Law, Power of Attorney)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that, when a court concludes that a power of attorney is a nullity, any action taken under the auspices of the power of attorney is likewise a nullity. As a result, the Court ruled that an irrevocable trust was invalid because it was created by a purported agent under a void power of attorney.
Morris Props., Inc. v. Wheeler (Civil Law, Legal Malpractice)
This legal malpractice case began when Hurricane Sandy damaged a roof on plaintiff’s property. It retained defendant, a law firm, to represent it in an action against its insurer. The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendant-law firm, finding that plaintiff failed to prove proximate causation.
Wilson v. United States (Civil Law, Prison Litigation)
The Third Circuit ruled that Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1042.3, which requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to certify either that they have expert support for their claims or instead will proceed without an expert, did not apply to Federal Tort Claims Act and therefore did not apply to the inmate’s medical negligence suit at issue here.
United States v. Titus (Criminal Law, Sentencing)
Defendant was convicted of running a pill-mill. The Third Circuit affirmed his convictions but vacated his sentence. The Court ruled that the Government failed to sustain its burden of proving which prescriptions were illegally written because the Government failed to prove its method of extrapolation adequately represented the true number of illegal prescriptions issued.
Epsilon Energy USA, Inc. v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC (Civil Law, Joinder)
The Third Circuit dove deep into Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 and joinder in this dispute over a joint operating agreement involving natural gas projects. The Court reiterated a three-step test to determine whether a party must be joined or the case dismissed. Here, the Court remanded for further fact-finding to implement the test.
Zenith Ins. Co. v. Newell (Civil Law, Interlocutory Appeal)
The Third Circuit ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over an appeal regarding an award of partial summary judgment that declared plaintiff-insurer had a duty to defend the defendant in another action. The Court ruled that purely declaratory orders are not injunctive and cannot be enforced by contempt. Since the order at issue was not final and did not have the practical effect of granting or denying injunctive relief, it was not appealable.
United States v. Washington (Criminal Law, Statutory Construction)
The Third Circuit vacated defendant’s convictions for assaulting a federal officer because the alleged victims were private security contractors working under Federal Protective Services and were not federal officers, as defined by statute.
Druding v. Care Alternatives (Civil Law, Qui Tam)
In this qui tam action, realtors appealed from summary judgment claiming that a hospice’s submissions for reimbursement from Medicare were insufficiently documented, thus in violation of the False Claim Act. The Third Circuit ruled that the lower court did not properly apply the factors from Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 579 U.S. 176, 194 (2016), and remanded.