Opinion Summaries for the

Below are 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.


Commonwealth v. Stoops (Criminal Law, Restitution)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed defendant’s sentence of restitution imposed for damage to police vehicles sustained at the end of a chase. The Court noted that the test asks if the damages would have occurred but for the criminal conduct and ruled that, here, defendant’s conduct was the but-for cause.

Read J. Collins’s concurrence here.

Commonwealth v. Coniker (Criminal Law, Mootness, Collateral Consequences Doctrine)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed two of defendant’s convictions for harassment, finding the evidence was insufficient. The Court first determined that under the collateral consequences doctrine, the appeal was not moot, though defendant had already completed his sentence of probation.

Commonwealth v. Spence (Criminal Law, DUI)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed defendant’s convictions for DUI and related charges. The Court ruled that, even though a blood test was not performed, the evidence was sufficient to establish defendant was under the influence of a drug to the degree that impaired his ability to drive safely.

Commonwealth v. Powell (PCRA, Timeliness)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s “Writ of Praecipe for Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus” that claimed his sentence was illegal. The Court treated the petition as an untimely serial PCRA petition because no exceptions to the PCRA’s time bar applied.

Commonwealth v. Smith (Criminal Law, Traffic Offense)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that Rule of Criminal Procedure 462(C) is a mandatory rule. Thus, in a de novo appeal to the Court of Common Pleas from a traffic conviction, if the officer fails to appear, the matter must be dismissed even if the defendant also fails to appear.

Commonwealth v. Troell (Criminal Law, Discretionary Aspect of Sentencing)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the sentencing court did not err in calculating the defendant’s offense gravity score as a twelve for aggravated indecent assault of a child

Erie Ins. Exch. v. Mione (Civil Law, Insurance Law)

In a rare unanimous ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that an injured motorist was not entitled to UIM benefits based on policies for vehicles in his household other than the vehicle in which he was injured because those policies contained household exclusions.

Commonwealth v. Salter (Criminal Law, Discretionary Aspect of Sentence)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected the defendant’s argument that she was impermissibly given an aggravated-range sentence for failing to show any emotion or remorse at her trial. The claim appeared to have traction with the Court. But the defendant’s heinous crimes against her infant child likely hampered her argument.

Herold v. Univ. of Pittsburg (Administrative Law, Employment Law)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that an occupational disease that manifests more than four years after an employee’s last exposure to hazards causing that condition is not subject to the exclusive remedy mandate of the Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act


State v. Olenowski (Criminal Law, Expert Testimony)

Read this opinion if you practice in NJ. The New Jersey Supreme Court bailed on the Frye test and adopted principles similar to the standard outlined in Daubert to examine the admissibility of expert evidence in criminal and quasi-criminal cases. “The focus in criminal cases, as in civil ones, belongs on the soundness of the methodology and reasoning used to validate the expert opinion or technique. The standard adopted here applies not only to testimony based on scientific knowledge but also to that based on technical or other specialized knowledge.”

State v. Gomes (Criminal Law, PTI)

In a much-anticipated ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that defendants who received conditional discharges for certain marijuana offenses before the enactment of the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act are no longer categorically precluded from future admission into PTI.

State v. Ingram (Criminal Law, Suppression)

In a case ripped from a 1L’s textbook, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the order denying defendant’s suppression motion, ruling that this driveway was part of the curtilage. Thus, when an officer walked onto the driveway, he was not lawfully there because he did not have a warrant.

State v. Young (PCR, Ineffective Assistance)

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a criminal defendant cannot establish ineffective assistance of counsel when the alleged deficient performance occurred prior to charges being filed.

Liberty Ins. Corp. v. Techdan, LLC (Employment Law, Workers’ Comp)

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2(a) and -5.2(d), the trial court should have charged the jury to allocate percentages of fault and should have molded the judgment based on the jury’s findings.

Statewide Ins. Fund v. Star Ins. Co. (Insurance Law, Insurance Coverage Dispute)

In this insurance coverage dispute between a public entity joint insurance fund (JIF) and a commercial general liability insurance company, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a JIF established under N.J.S.A. 40A:10-36 affords liability protection to public entities through “self-insurance.” 

State v. Vanness (Criminal Law, Ineffective Assistance)

The New Jersey Superior Court dealt with layer upon layer of ineffective assistance of counsel claims. In the end, the Court ruled that PCR counsel was ineffective for filing an untimely motion to reconsider the denial of a PCR petition when he should have filed a second, successive petition.


The Third Circuit was busy spreading the love (or debating a change to the local rules) and chose not to issue any precedential opinions during the week of Valentine’s Day.

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