Opinion Summaries for the

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.


Commonwealth v. Fortune (Criminal Law, Insanity Defense)

A convicted murderer appealed his judgment of sentence, claiming the trial court erred in precluding him from offering an insanity defense and denying the public defender’s request to withdraw due to an alleged conflict of interest. The Superior Court affirmed.

In re M.M. (Family Law, Child Abuse)

The issue before the Pennsylvania Superior Court was whether a juvenile court’s dependency adjudication may serve as a basis to amend a nonparty’s report of child abuse from “indicated” to “founded,” pursuant to the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL). The juvenile court adjudicated dependent M.M., the 12-year-old son of J.D.-S. The dependency proceedings began after the death of M.M.’s sibling. Allegations of child abuse were made Mother and Appellant, a family friend. In its adjudicatory order, the court found child abuse and determined that the reports of Mother and Appellant should be amended from “indicated” to “founded.” On appeal, Appellant maintained that the juvenile court exceeded its authority under the CPSL because she was not a party to the underlying dependency action. The Superior Court agreed and vacated the juvenile court’s order.

Williams v. Monroe Co. (Tax Sale, Notice)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court vacated the trial court’s order that denied Williams’s petition to set aside an upset tax sale and her objections to the upset tax sale. The Court ruled that the Tax Claim Bureau of Monroe County’s notice of the tax sale was insufficient.

Ghaderi v. State Bd of Osteopathic Medicine (Administrative Law, Statutory Interpretation)

An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court vacated the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine’s final adjudication and order. The Board denied Ghaderi’s petition to reinstate his license to practice osteopathic medicine from suspension after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a patient. The Court reversed, ruling that applying Act 53’s prohibition to Ghaderi would be an impermissible retroactive application of the law.


State v. Gargano (Wiretap Act, Marital Privilege)

This appeal required the New Jersey Appellate Division to consider whether the trial court correctly determined the State’s interception of privileged marital communications between codefendant spouses during the execution of wiretap orders issued under the Wiretap Act, required suppression of all other non-privileged communications intercepted following the first interception of privileged marital communication. The Court ruled that the trial court correctly determined suppression of the non-privileged interceptions was mandated under the Wiretap Act, which broadly requires suppression of “the entire contents of all intercepted wire, electronic[,] or oral communications obtained during or after any interception” that is “unlawfully intercepted” or “not made in conformity with” the wiretap order and authorization.

In re Proposed Construction of Compressor Stn. (CS327) (Environmental Law, Statutory Interpretation)

The New Jersey Appellate Division vacated a Highlands Applicability Determination (HAD) and remanded for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to consider whether a proposed compressor station qualifies as a “routine upgrade” to the owner company’s pipeline system, entitling it to a HAD under  N.J.S.A. 13:20-28(a)(11) (Exemption 11).


United States v. Montalvo-Flores (Suppression, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy)

Defendant moved to suppress evidence the Government obtained in its search of his girlfriend’s rental car. The district court denied his motion, holding that he failed to show he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that vehicle. The Third Circuit reversed because unrebutted evidence showed defendant had possession and control of the car with his girlfriend’s permission.

United States v. Mercado (Sentencing, Acceptance of Responsibility)

Defendant appealed the district court’s refusal to award a downward adjustment in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility. He argued the Guidelines preclude a district court from considering post-plea conduct unrelated to that pled-out offense. Citing the Guidelines’ commentary, the Third Circuit disagreed and affirmed.

Greenberg v. Lehocky (First Amendment, Standing)

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania amended Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 to prohibit harassment and discrimination in the practice of law. Plaintiff is a Pennsylvania-licensed attorney who regularly gives continuing legal education presentations about First Amendment protections for offensive speech. His presentations involve quoting offensive language from judicial opinions and discussing arguably controversial topics. Greenberg feared his speech at these presentations would be interpreted as harassment or discrimination under the Rule. He alleged the Rule violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally vague. The District Court agreed with him and enjoined enforcement of the Rule. The Third Circuit reversed, ruling that Plaintiff lacked standing. The Court determined that Rule 8.4(g) does not generally prohibit Plaintiff from quoting offensive words or expressing controversial ideas, nor will Defendants impose discipline for his planned speech. Thus, any chill to his speech is not objectively reasonable or cannot be fairly traced to the Rule. 

Associated Builders & Contractors Western Pa. v. Community College of Allegheny Co. (Employment Law, Project Labor Agreement)

Plaintiffs sued after Defendants used project labor agreements, claiming the agreements violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the National Labor Relations Act, the Sherman Act, and Pennsylvania’s competitive-bidding laws for government projects. The Third Circuit ruled that the complaints could not survive dismissal because Plaintiffs did not have standing.

Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative, Inc. (Antitrust Law, Sherman Act § 1)

Winn-Dixie Stores sued the Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative, Inc., its individual mushroom farmer members, and downstream distributors, claiming their price-fixing agreement violated § 1 of the Sherman Act. The primary issue involved the correct test for determining if the agreement to restrain trade violates the antitrust laws. The Third Circuit ruled that the district court correctly chose to apply the “rule of reason” test.

Rush v. City of Philadelphia (Summary Judgment, Qualified Immunity)

In this interlocutory appeal, a police officer challenged the district court’s denial of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed.

Al-Hasani v. Sec’y Dep’t Homeland Security (Immigration Law)

The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of an immigrant’s petition for review after the Department of Homeland Security, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, denied appellant’s application to be naturalized as a citizen.

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