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. Snyder (Criminal Law, Discretionary Aspect of Sentencing)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected the defendant’s challenge to the discretionary aspect of her sentence. The Court credited the sentencing court with adequately stating on the record its reasons for deviating from the guidelines and considering all the information presented at the sentencing hearing before imposing an above-guidelines sentence.
Commonwealth v. Thompson (Criminal Law, Search and Seizure)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement is still in effect post-Alexander. The Court reasoned that the defendant’s argument to the contrary failed to recognize that the limited automobile exception is doctrinally distinct from the inventory search exception.
Commonwealth v. Stahl (PCRA, Timeliness)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s PCRA petition as untimely because none of the statutory exceptions to the PCRA’s one-year time limit applied to the claims of ineffective assistance of PCRA counsel. Furthermore, Bradley did not provide an exception to the PCRA’s time bar.
Commonwealth v. Midgley (PCRA, Ineffective Assistance)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s PCRA petition. The defendant argued seven issues on appeal. The Court addressed each one and ruled none were meritorious.
Commonwealth v. Carera (PCRA, 3 Strikes Law)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s PCRA petition, which challenged the application of PA’s Three Strikes Law and cited Roselli v. Smith, which held that the imposition of a sentence under the Three Strikes Law implicates Apprendi. The Court distinguished Roselli and ruled the enhancement was lawful.
Ball v. Chapman (Election Law, Absentee & Mail-in Ballots)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Election Code requires disqualifying ballots that arrive in undated or incorrectly dated return envelopes. The Justices divided evenly as to whether that disqualification violates federal law.
Read Justice Donohue’s concurring statement here.
Read Justice Dougherty’s concurring and dissenting opinion here.
Read Justice Brobson’s concurring and dissenting opinion here.
In re Estate of Rawlings (Family Law, Probate)
In a scant three pages, the Pennsylvania Superior Court remanded this probate dispute to the orphans’ court for further proceedings to determine whether there is a conflict of interest between decedent’s children as debtors to the estate and the executor/estate’s interests as the party owed the debt.
Costa v. Ward (Election Law, Legislative Subpoena)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dismissed petitions for review challenging the subpoena duces tecum to produce copies of election-related documents. The Court concluded that the matter was not ripe for judicial review because there had not yet been a confrontation between the parties.
Martinez v. City of Reading Police Dept. (Administrative Law, Mootness)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed an order that denied the petitioner’s request to obtain police body camera footage pursuant to Act 22 of 2017. The Court held that the matter was moot because petitioner wanted the footage to defend a summary citation, but he was already acquitted in that matter.
Pa. Senate Intergovernmental Operations Comm. v. Pa. Dep’t of State (Administrative Law, Election Law)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dealt with a dispute between a state senate committee and Secretary of State. The committee sought certain voting records. The Commonwealth Court ruled that the committee did not have the right to seek a writ of mandamus and could legislatively enforce its subpoena duces tecum.
Brandywine Hosp., LLC v. County of Chester Bd. of Assessment Appeals (Administrative Law, Appellate Procedure)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that all of appellant’s issues were waived because it filed a 1925(b) Statement that was 19 pages long with 42 numbered issues and 49 sub-issues in paragraph 42, a total of 90 issues and sub-issues.
Pottstown Sch. Dist. v. Montgomery Cnty. Bd. of Assessment Appeals (Administrative Law, Appellate Procedure)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that the appellant did not violate Walker by filing a single notice of appeal on three cases because the Supreme Court created an exception in certain civil matters. The Commonwealth Court then held that a hospital did not prove it should be tax exempted.
Hyman v. Rosenbaum Yeshiva of N. Jersey (Summary Judgment, Defamation)
The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that summary judgment was appropriate because the ministerial exception, which bars tort claims where the injured party is a minister formerly employed by a religious institution and the claims are related to the religious institution’s employment decision, applied to plaintiff’s defamation claim.
N. Bergen Mun. Utili. Auth. v. I.B.T.C.W.H.A. Local 125 (Arbitration Agreement, Collective Negotiations Agreement)
The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that the Chancery Division erred in ordering arbitration of the Union’s grievance about a term in an expired collective negotiations agreement (“CNA”). The Court restrained the grievance arbitration because the current CNA’s arbitration clause did not cover the grievance between the parties.
County of Passaic v. Horizon Healthcare Servs., Inc. (Civil Law, Arbitration)
The New Jersey Appellate Division compelled arbitration in an action between a county and its healthcare plan manager. Though the arbitration provision lacked the waiver mandated in Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Group, the county was a sophisticated party with sufficient bargaining power to resist the arbitration agreement.
Kennedy v. Weichert Co. (Civil Law, Employment Law)
The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that in light of 2018 amendments to the Real Estate Brokers and Salesmen Act, the ABC test does not apply to determine whether a realtor was an employee of a real estate broker for the purposes of the Wage Payment Law.
Robey v. SPARC Group LLC (Civil Law, Consumer Law)
The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s order dismissing plaintiffs’ complaint. The Court held that plaintiffs stated a claim by alleging that a retailer falsely advertised clothing as being discounted when the retailer had never sold the clothing at a higher price
Burrell v. Staff (Civil Law, Labor Law)
The Third Circuit dealt with inmates who challenged a county’s policy of conditioning child support debtors’ access to regular paid work release. The County required the inmates to work at a recycling center for half their sentences, sorting through trash, in dangerous and disgusting conditions, for sixty-three cents per hour.
Graber v. Doe (Civil Law, Interlocutory Order)
In a split decision, the Third Circuit ruled that the lower court’s interlocutory order that the plaintiff may pursue a Bivens action is not appealable under the collateral order doctrine.