Opinion Summaries for the

Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of July 11. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Warunek

The Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated a restitution award of over $600,000 as part of the defendant’s sentence for leaving the scene of an accident. The trial court awarded the restitution to the victim and insurer. At sentencing, defense counsel agreed with the award, and no post-sentence motion was filed challenging the restitution. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court had no authority to impose restitution because he had not admitted pursuant to the plea that his criminal conduct was the cause of the victim’s injuries or resulting medical costs. The Superior Court found it critical that the record did not establish the requisite causal connection between the admitted criminal conduct and the victim’s injuries. Thus, the restitution was an illegal sentence.

#CriminalLaw, #Sentencing, #Restitution

In re C.K.M.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the order that denied Appellant’s oral motion for release from juvenile placement on the basis that Appellant had been in placement beyond the time limitations set forth in Section 6353 of the Juvenile Act. The Court held that the time limit stated in Section 6353(a) applies to a child’s initial commitment period, not a child’s total commitment period. Moreover, Section 6353(a) permits a court to extend a child’s initial commitment beyond four years or for longer than the child could be sentenced if convicted of the same offense as an adult.

#CriminalLaw, #JuvenileLaw, #StatutoryInterpretation

Laret v. Wilson

In this action to partition real property, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order granting Wilson’s preliminary objections. The parties entered into an Article of Agreement to purchase real property. They never completed payments under the Article of Agreement, and Appellant sought to recover some credit for the money he paid under the Article of Agreement. Wilson filed preliminary objections arguing that Appellant failed to state a cause of action in partition because he was not a legal property owner. The Court ruled that Appellant pled an interest in the property by virtue of the Article of Agreement. Thus, the trial court erred in sustaining Wilson’s preliminary objections and dismissing Appellant’s complaint.

#CivilLaw, #PropertyLaw, #PreliminaryObjections


State v Lopez

The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the defendant’s convictions for murder, felony murder, and other offenses. The verdict was based, in part, on the testimony of an eyewitness who saw the sixteen-year-old defendant shoot the victim in the head. The defendant argued that the trial court incorrectly ruled that his statement could be used for impeachment purposes, despite the State’s concession that it was elicited in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. The Court ruled that the violation of the defendant’s right to counsel under Article 1, paragraph 10 of the New Jersey Constitution, or the Sixth Amendment, did not require the statement to be excluded for all purposes, including impeachment. The Court reasoned that preventing impeachment use of the defendant’s statement would add little appreciable deterrence to police conduct.

#CriminalLaw, #JuvenileLaw, #6thAmendment, #StatutoryInterpretation

Hollywood Care Diner, Inc. v. Jaffee

The New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed a procedural question ripped from the pages of a CivPro exam. In this legal malpractice action, the trial judge issued the typical notice to litigants required by Rule 4:36-2. That notice informed the parties that the discovery deadline would end in 60 days and that, absent a motion to extend the discovery, the court would issue an arbitration and trial date. But the Court waited only thirty days to issue an arbitration and trial date. The plaintiff moved for an extension of the discovery deadline after the arbitration and trial dates were set, but before the sixty days lapsed. The trial court denied the motion. The standard employed in the motion was contested. Under the Rules of Court, a party must show “good cause” to extend the discovery deadline before its lapse. But it must show “exceptional circumstances” to justify a similar request once an arbitration or trial date has been set. The matter was complicated because, in the interim, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff did not secure an expert report. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded., holding the trial court erred when it issued the trial and arbitration dates before the discovery deadline

#CivilLaw, #Discovery, #DED

In re Application of Englewood Cliffs

The New Jersey Appellate Division again dealt with fair share affordable housing in this deep dive into administrative law. The Borough of Englewood Cliffs filed this action seeking a declaration that its affordable housing plan was constitutionally compliant and seeking immunity from suit by third parties to comply with its fair-housing obligations. A non-profit agency and a property developer intervened. During years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement agreement. But before the Borough’s council could vote to ratify the settlement, one council member filed an action in lieu of a prerogative writ seeking to preclude two other council members from voting on the settlement because of a purported conflict of interest. The court refused that request, and those two council members voted in favor of the settlement. All parties executed the settlement, which included a host of enforcement and waiver provisions to ensure that no party wriggled out of the deal. The Borough’s council had a shakeup after the 2020 elections, and the newly constituted council sought to back out of the agreement. The trial court denied that request. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that the Borough was estopped on many grounds from relitigating the conflict-of-interest issues and, even if those issues were decided on the merits, the Borough would not be entitled to relief.

#AdministrativeLaw, #Estoppel

Monk v. Kennedy Univ. Hosp., Inc.

The New Jersey Appellate Division was asked to determine if the minority tolling rule applies to a deceased minor. More particularly, the Court had the unfortunate responsibility of deciding whether N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a), which tolls the statute of limitations brought “on behalf of minor plaintiffs”, applied to a deceased six-month-old baby. The baby’s parents waited more than four years to sue the doctors they blamed for their baby’s death. The Appellate Division ruled that the minor tolling rules apply to minor plaintiffs — that is, living plaintiffs who happen to be minors — and not to decedents who would still be minors had they not died. Therefore, the Court ruled that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the medical care providers because the statute of limitations began running at the time of the baby’s death, and the parents waited four-and-a-half-years to bring suit.

#CivilLaw, #StatuteOfLimitations, #MedMal, #PersonalInjury


United States v. Rodriguez

The Third Circuit affirmed the defendant’s sentence, ruling that the District Court correct applied two enhancements. After the defendant pleaded guilty to two drug-related crimes, the District Court applied sentencing enhancements – one for being the organizer or leader of a criminal activity involving five or more participants, the other for maintaining a premises for distributing drugs. The defendant appealed and argued that the enhancements did not apply. The Third Circuit held that the District Court correctly considered the factors listed in U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(a) when it determined that the defendant was the leader of a conspiracy. Moreover, the District Court found that the defendant exerted significant control over a premises where drugs were sold. Therefore, there was a sufficient factual basis for the U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(12) enhancement.

#CriminalLaw, #Sentencing, #Enhancements

United States v. Scarfo

The Third Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions in a 169-page tome that included a table of contents. The four defendants were convicted for their roles in the unlawful takeover and looting of a publicly traded mortgage loan company. Each was convicted of more than twenty counts of criminal behavior. In this consolidated appeal, the defendants’ combined efforts challenged almost every aspect of their prosecutions, including the investigation, the charges and evidence against them, the pretrial process, the Government’s compliance with its disclosure obligations, the trial, the forfeiture proceedings, and their sentences. One claim merited relief: the District Court’s assessment of one defendant’s forfeiture obligations was improper under Honeycutt v. United States, holding that 21 U.S.C. § 853(a)(1), a forfeiture provision similar to the ones relied on by the Government here, did not permit the imposition of joint and several liability on a defendant for property that he did not acquire.

#CriminalLaw. #Restitution, #JointSeveralLiability

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