Opinion Summaries for the

Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of August 22nd. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Ruffin

It’s good that George Washington didn’t cover his boat’s license plates with a fancy frame before he crossed the Delaware River, or we might be living under Merry Ol’ England’s control. The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that officers had probable cause to stop Defendant because the frame encircling his license plate prevented the officer from viewing the state tourism website imprinted on the bottom of the plate. The officer testified that he could view the alphanumerical characters but “had difficulty” reading “visitPA.com” at the bottom. The Court held that the obstruction violated 75 Pa.C.S. § 1332. This is the opposite holding the New Jersey Supreme Court reached recently in State v. Carter.

#CriminalLaw, #Suppression, #MotorVehicleCode

In re Estate of Wisniewski

The Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a testy opinion chastising the Orphans’ Court and the appellant, a lawyer. A state inmate died while his lawsuit was pending. The appellant was his attorney in the litigation, and the decedent owed her money for legal fees. The decedent’s family did not want to pursue the litigation. The appellant tried to file a petition for letters of administration, but the Register of Wills rejected it. The appellant sought relief in the Orphans’ Court and lost, so she appealed. The Superior Court noted that the Orphans’ Court had appellate jurisdiction only over the Register of Wills, not original jurisdiction. Since the Register of Wills rejected the filing, there was nothing to appeal. Thus, the Orphans’ Court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the claim. As a result, the Superior Court quashed the appeal.

#FamilyLaw, #AppellateProcedure

Lomax v. Sullivan

The Pennsylvania Superior Court confronted a quixotic action to quiet title. The plaintiff alleged that a property was conveyed by a fraudulent deed. After the fraudulent transfer, the property changed hands several times, including at a sheriff’s sale for failure to pay taxes. Under 53 P.S. § 7283(e), the transfer of the property for failure to pay taxes thereupon became “forever . . . final and conclusive,” such that its validity thereafter could “not be questioned for any cause whatsoever.” As such, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order that granted the defendant’s preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer.

#CivilLaw, #RealProperty

Hellenic Capital, LLC v. Tran

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed an order of the Court of Common Pleas that denied Defendant’s petition to open a confessed judgment. Defendant executed the judgment notes in connection with his purchase agreement for an LLC and a separate purchase of a 100% membership interest in another LLC. Defendant later learned that there was a mechanics lien on a property subject to the purchase agreements. He stopped paying, and Plaintiff entered the confession of judgment. Defendant filed a petition to open the judgment, claiming that the notes were not negotiable instruments, and Plaintiff, therefore, was not a holder in due course. In the alternative, he argued that the LLC Purchase Agreement and Stock Purchase Agreement were part of the same transaction as the notes, and Plaintiff was also an assignee of those purchase agreements. The Superior Court rejected both claims and affirmed.

#CivilLaw, #RealProperty, #ConfessionOfJudgment

Williams v. The Geo Group, Inc.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order granting Ms. Williams’ discovery motion and compelling the production of evidence. The case involved allegations of negligence concerning a prison inmate’s suicide. Williams’s son committed suicide at a prison operated by the GEO Group. Williams alleged that Decedent covered the window of his cell and the officer on duty failed to intercede. Williams filed two suits against the various defendants, and the trial court consolidated the cases. Williams served GEO with interrogatories and requests for the production of documents. GEO provided all requested materials except a report called a “psychological autopsy” (“Report”). GEO asserted that the Report was privileged as a peer review document, as a work product document, and due to the attorney-client privilege. The trial court compelled the production of the Report. GEO appealed and argued that the Report was privileged and not relevant. The Superior Court disagreed, finding that the Report was not prepared as a function of peer review and therefore was not privileged under the Peer Review Protection Act. Moreover, the Report was not subject to Pa.R.C.P. 4003.5 because the contributors were acting in the regular course of their employment with GEO. Thus, they did not qualify as “experts retained or specially employed by another party in anticipation of litigation,” as specified under Pa.R.C.P. 4003.5(a)(3). Lastly, the Court ruled that under Pa.R.C.P. 4003.1, the Report was relevant to discovery purposes.

#CivilLaw, #PrisonLitigation, #Negligence, #Discovery, #Privilege


Kumar v. Piscataway Twp. Council

The New Jersey Appellate Division was tasked with determining whether a municipality may approve a resolution to place non-binding public opinion questions before the electorate when initiative petitions concerning identical issues are on the same ballot. The Court ruled that the municipality was not authorized under N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 to pass the resolutions regarding the public opinion questions because the electorate was considering the same issues on the ballot in their vote on the initiative questions.

#AdministrativeLaw, #ElectionLaw

Sanjuan v. Sch. Dist. W. N.Y., Hudson Co.

The New Jersey Appellate Division interpreted an arbitrator’s authority under N.J.S.A. 18A:6-16, affirming in part and reversing in part. Sanjuan appealed from a Law Division order confirming an arbitration award that sustained tenure charges filed by the West New York Board of Education against her; demoted her from assistant principal to a fourth-grade teacher; and determined she was not entitled to back pay withheld from her under N.J.S.A. 18A:6-14 for a one-hundred-and-twenty-day suspension-without-pay period that was imposed upon the Board’s certification of the charges. Sanjuan’s appeal required the Court to consider issues of first impression: (1) whether the arbitrator had the authority to demote Sanjuan under N.J.S.A. 18A:6-16; and (2) whether the arbitrator had the right to deny Sanjuan backpay arising from her suspension-without-pay period after determining her employment should not be terminated. The Court affirmed the arbitrator’s determination that Sanjuan was not entitled to back pay withheld from her during her suspension-without-pay period based upon his determination that her conduct was unbecoming of a teaching staff member. The Court reversed and remanded because upon determining Sanjuan’s conduct was unbecoming but that she should not be terminated, the arbitrator lacked the statutory authority to demote her from her assistant principal position, and he could only reduce her salary. The Court ruled that Sanjuan should be reinstated to her assistant principal position.

#EducationLaw, #Arbitration, #StatutoryInterpretation


Vurimindi v. Att’y Gen.

The Third Circuit utilized the “categorical approach” and determined that Pennsylvania’s stalking statute does not constitute a removable offense. The Court ruled, “Because Pennsylvania’s stalking statute is indivisible as to intent, we apply the categorical approach. And under the categorical approach, Section 2709.1(a)(1), which sweeps more broadly than its generic counterpart in the INA, is not a categorical match. Vurimindi’s offense of conviction, therefore, does not qualify as a removable offense.”

#Crimmigration, #Removal

Kelly v. Realpage, Inc.

In this purported class action, the Third Circuit vacated the District Court’s denial of a motion for class certification. Appellants’ rental applications were denied based on inaccurate consumer reports from RealPage, Inc., a consumer reporting agency. RealPage would not correct the reports unless Appellants obtained proof of the error from its sources. And the identity of RealPage’s sources was not included in the disclosures to Appellants, despite requests for their files. Appellants sued RealPage, claiming it had violated its obligation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to disclose on request “[a]ll information in the consumer’s file at the time of the request” and “[t]he sources of th[at] information.” 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(a). Appellants sought damages and attorneys’ fees for themselves and on behalf of a purported class and subclass. The District Court denied Appellants’ motion for class certification because Appellants failed to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance and superiority requirements and that their proposed class and subclass were not ascertainable. The Third Circuit disagreed and ruled that because the District Court based its predominance analysis on a misinterpretation of Section 1681g(a) and erred in applying the ascertainability precedent.

#CivilLaw, #ClassAction

Shark River Cleanup Coal. v. Wall Twp.

In this citizen-suit under the Clean Water Act, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff’s suit. Shark River Cleanup Coalition, a non-profit citizen’s group, delivered a Notice letter to Defendant, alleging a Clean Water Act violation. A year after serving its pre-suit Notice, the Cleanup Coalition sued, alleging a Clean Water Act violation relating to the same sewer line condition it complained of in its Notice to Defendants. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on issues about the Notice and the suit’s merits. The District Court ruled that Plaintiff’s Notice was defective. The Third Circuit ruled that the District Court erred by requiring the Cleanup Coalition to provide more than what was enough information for Defendants to identify the location of the alleged CWA violation. However, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling because Plaintiff’s Notice was deficient on another ground: It did not include sufficient information to permit Defendants to identify the specific standard, limitation, or order alleged to have been violated.

#CivilLaw, #EnvironmentalLaw, #CleanWaterAct, #Notice

Kirtz v. Trans Union LLC

The Third Circuit ruled that the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s text “clearly and unambiguously authorizes suits for civil damages against the federal government.” Kirtz commenced this action against Trans Union, American Education Services, and the US Department of Agriculture, alleging negligent and willful violations of the FCRA. AES and Trans Union filed answers to Kirtz’s Amended Complaint, but the USDA filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the United States’ sovereign immunity. The District Court agreed with the USDA that the FCRA did not unequivocally express Congress’s intent to waive sovereign immunity and granted the USDA’s motion to dismiss. The Third Circuit reversed, siding with the Seventh and D.C. Circuits that the statute’s plain text operates as a waiver of sovereign immunity.

#CivilLaw, #FCRA, #SovereignImmunity, #StatutoryInterpretation

Potter v. Cozen & O’Connor

This case involving the third-party standing doctrine will make for an excellent question on a Civ Pro exam. Potter sued the Cozen & O’Connor firm and two of its attorneys, claiming breach of fiduciary duty and professional malpractice sounding in tort and contract. Cozen moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing under the “shareholder standing rule” that Potter did not have the legal right to bring claims of the corporate entities in their own names. In opposition to that motion, however, Potter characterized Cozen’s motion as a challenge to their Article III standing and, hence, a facial attack on the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). The District Court ruled in Cozen’s favor but dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1). The Third Circuit reversed, holding that “the third-party standing rule is merely prudential, not constitutional and jurisdictional, and is therefore properly considered under Rule 12(b)(6), not Rule 12(b)(1).” The Court vacated and remanded because there are different considerations in deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) that could produce a different outcome in this case,

#CivilLaw, #CivilProcedure, #Jurisdiction, #Standing

In re Bestwall LLC (Bestwall LLC v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc.)

In this bankruptcy litigation, the Third Circuit reversed the District Court’s Order that quashed subpoenas that Bestwall issued. As part of its bankruptcy proceedings in North Carolina, Bestwall LLC wanted access to data owned by ten trusts created to process asbestos-related claims against other companies. That data is held by the trusts’ claims processing agent, which is located in Delaware and opposed Bestwall’s request. The Bankruptcy Court sided with Bestwall and authorized the issuance of subpoenas. Once Bestwall served those subpoenas, the trusts asked the District Court for the District of Delaware to quash the subpoenas, repeating the same arguments made in the Bankruptcy Court by their claims processing agent. Certain asbestos claimants whose information was in the database also joined in the motion to quash. The District Court quashed the subpoenas. The Third Circuit reversed, ruling that collateral estoppel prohibited the relitigation of the claim. The Court found that Bestwall satisfied collateral estoppel’s four elements: (1) the identical issue was decided in a prior adjudication; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom the bar is asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and (4) the party against whom the bar is asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question.

#CivilLaw, #Bankruptcy, #CollateralEstoppel

In re Essar Steel Minnesota, LLC (Mesabi Metallics Co. v. B. Riley, FBR, Inc.)

In this week’s second bankruptcy case, the Third Circuit ruled that the District Court had jurisdiction over a post-confirmation “adversary proceeding asking the Court to interpret and enforce a discharge injunction issued in its prior restructuring plan and confirmation order.” The Third Circuit held that because “the contempt proceeding here arose out of the previously entered plan and confirmation order—which implicated explicitly enumerated core proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)—it was also a core proceeding over which the Bankruptcy Court had jurisdiction.” Furthermore, the Bankruptcy Court’s decision that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the adversary proceeding conflicted with Travelers Indem. Co. v. Bailey, where the Supreme Court recognized bankruptcy courts have jurisdiction to interpret and enforce their prior orders.

#CivilLaw, #Bankruptcy, #SubjectMatterJurisdiction

Crosbie v. Highmark, Inc.

The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s award of summary judgment for an employer sued for retaliation. Crosbie reported signs of possible fraud. More than a year later, his coworker accused him of harassment. His employer investigated the accusation and fired him within two days. Crosbie shot back, suing under the False Claims Act for retaliation. Crosbie claimed that he was fired because of his fraud reports. The employer replied that the people who had decided to fire Crosbie knew nothing about his reports and had good reason to fire him. Agreeing, the District Court granted summary judgment. Crosbie appealed and cited the quality of the harassment investigation. It was so flawed, he argued, that it must have been a sham. The Third Circuit held that Crosbie could not show retaliation just by pointing out an investigation’s flaws.

#CivilLaw, #EmploymentLaw, #SummaryJudgment, #Retaliation

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