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 entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Agnew (PCRA, Ineffective Assistance)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the PCRA court erred in granting relief and reinstating Petitioner’s direct appeal rights nunc pro tunc because he could not establish actual prejudice resulting from prior counsel’s failure to seek the addition of an issue to Petitioner’s statement of errors.

Commonwealth v. Myers (PCRA, Timeliness)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s untimely PCRA petition. Defendant did not prove he was duly diligent in trying to discover the fact on which his facially untimely petition was based.

Chilutti v. Uber Technologies, Inc. (Arbitration, Right to a Jury Trial)

Plaintiff was injured while riding in a car provided by Uber. Central to the “case was whether a party should be deprived of their constitutional right to a jury trial when they purportedly enter into an arbitration agreement via a set of hyperlinked terms and condition” on a website or smartphone application that they never clicked on, viewed, or read.” The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that “there was a lack of a valid agreement to arbitrate. Therefore, Plaintiff is entitled to invoke their constitutional right to a jury trial.”

Mimi Investors v. Tufano (Statutory Interpretation, Pennsylvania Securities Act of 1972)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Section 1-401(b) of the Pennsylvania Securities Act of 1972 (“PSA”) does not contain a scienter ( a “degree of knowledge that makes a person legally responsible for the consequences of his or her act or omission.”) element. However, the PSA provides a defense to civil liability under Section 1-401(b) if the defendant can show they “did not know and in the exercise of reasonable care could not have known of the untruth or omission.”

In re Adoption of M.E.L. (Adoption, 23 Pa.C.S. §  2901)

The dispute in this matter concerned the meaning of “cause” in 23 Pa.C.S. §  2901. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether a proposed adoption by a mother’s long-term partner, in conjunction with the termination of the biological father’s parental rights, may constitute “cause” to excuse the relinquishment requirement with respect to the mother under Section  2901.

The Bert Co. v. Turk (Punitive Damages, Joint Tortfeasors)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the ratio calculation first discussed in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), and developed in State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003). The appeal narrowly encompassed the appropriate ratio calculation measuring the relationship between the amount of punitive damages awarded against multiple defendants who are joint tortfeasors and the compensatory damages awarded. The Court “generally endorsed the per-defendant approach as consistent with federal constitutional principles that require consideration of a defendant’s due process rights.”

In re Estate of Schaefer (Estates, Prenuptial Agreement)

In this dispute over Decedent’s IRA, the ​Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the orphans’ court erred because “the plain and unambiguous language of the IRA contract provides for inheritance by a surviving spouse only if there is no named beneficiary. As Decedent named Julie as his beneficiary, Florence does not inherit.”

Kozicki v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Rev. (Unemployment Compensation)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review erred by concluding that federal law requires states to use a claimant’s prorated net income as opposed to their highest quarterly wage. Moreover, “notwithstanding that Claimant testified that she submitted all of her financial records and only a portion thereof were considered by the Referee and the UCBR, Claimant was not given an opportunity to offer evidence in furtherance of her issues, and, thus, Claimant was denied due process.”

Best v. United Steel Paper (Employment Law, Union Dues)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court en banc remanded this case because the trial court erred in ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Employees’ Complaint. The Pennsylvania Public Employee Relations Act does not divest a court of jurisdiction to entertain suits for breach of contract merely because the alleged breach may arguably be an unfair labor practice.

Janesch v. Pa. House of Reps. (Right-to-Know Law)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the House of Representatives Appeals Officer’s final determination that affirmed the House’s partial denial of Requesters’ RTKL request seeking disclosure of documents related to the retention of outside legal counsel by the House, its members, and its employees.

Couloumbis v. Senate of Pa. (Right-to-Know Law, Privilege)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed with Requesters that 24 of the 1,039 pages produced by the Senate were not exempt from disclosure because they were not subject to attorney-client privilege, work product privilege, or speech and debate privilege.


The New Jersey appellate courts did not issue any precedential opinions last week.


United States v. Hallinan (Criminal Law, Forfeiture)

The Third Circuit ruled that the District Court was correct in denying a daughter’s challenges to the forfeiture orders against her father because she did not show she was a good-faith buyer or had superior interests to the government. Also, the Third Circuit ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to review the denials of her motions to quash because they were not final orders.

United States v. Rivera (Sufficiency, Farm Bill, Hemp)

The Third Circuit affirmed defendant’s conviction for possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute. Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction because the government did not prove her cannabis had more than 0.3% THC, i.e., that it was not hemp. But because defendant did not put the hemp exception at issue, the government bore no burden to prove that it was inapplicable.

United States v. Vepuri (Indictment, Theories of Liability for Conspiracy Charge)

At issue in this appeal was the portion of a conspiracy charge that alleged that defendants conspired to violate provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which prohibits introducing a “new drug” into interstate commerce unless an FDA approval “is effective with respect to such drug.” 21 U.S.C. § 355(a). The Third Circuit ruled that the District Court correctly dismissed that portion of the indictment, holding that the allegations set forth in the indictment did not state the offense. 

Schrader v. District Attorney of York Co. (Preliminary Injunction, First Amendment)

Schrader wanted to use documents released by the government to criticize it for how it handled her grandson’s life and untimely death. Yet she worried that Pennsylvania officials would use Pennsylvania law to punish her for doing so. The Third Circuit ruled that the District Court properly enjoined the officials from prosecuting her because the First Amendment protects her criticism.

Berkelhammer v. ADP Totalsource Grp., Inc. (Arbitration, ERISA)

Plaintiifs participated in the ADP TotalSource Retirement Savings Plan (“Plan”), an investment portfolio managed by NFP Retirement, Inc.  Displeased with NFP’s performance, they filed suit under § 502(a)(2) of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) not for their own losses, but derivatively on behalf of the Plan. The Plan’s contract with NFP contained an agreement to arbitrate disputes between the two entities. Plaintiff asserted that since they did not personally agree to arbitrate, the arbitration provision does not reach their claims. The Third Circuit held that the District Court correctly disagreed with Plaintiffs and ruled that they stood in the Plan’s contractual shoes and must accept the terms of the Plan’s contract. 

Culp v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (Tax Law, Jurisdiction)

The Culps filed a petition for redetermination of a tax deficiency. The Tax Court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction because the Culps failed to file within the time prescribed by 26 U.S.C. § 6213(a). The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Congress did not clearly state § 6213(a)’s deadline is jurisdictional.

Sapp v. Industrial Action Services, LLC (Arbitration)

In this dispute about whether a provision in a Purchase Agreement required the parties to arbitrate, the Third Circuit ruled that the parties did not agree to arbitrate. The contract contained an agreement to submit narrow disputes to an accounting firm for expert determination, not arbitration.

Gillette v. Warden Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility (Jurisdiction, Sovereign Immunity)

To aid his pending habeas corpus petition in the Virgin Islands Superior Court, Gillette subpoenaed the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) in the District of the Virgin Islands for documents related to his convictions under the laws of the Virgin Islands. The federal government was not a party to the habeas action and no convictions under federal law were being questioned in it. When Gillette did not receive the subpoenaed documents, he filed a motion to compel. The USAO removed the proceedings to the District Court and then moved to quash the subpoena. The District Court granted the motion based on a lack of jurisdiction, and the Third Circuit affirmed.

Perez, Jr. v. Johnsonburg (Qualified Immunity)

The Third Circuit vacated and District Court’s order and ruled that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s claim for an unlawful seizure.

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