Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of June 13. Click on a case name to read the court’s entire opinion.
Lugheads, read this summary! The Pennsylvania Superior vacated the defendant’s conviction for employing any person as a salesperson who has not been licensed as required. The Court ruled that Buchanan’s employee, who merely signed three documents required for a car sale, did not act as a “salesperson” within the meaning of the Act.
This case presented the Pennsylvania Superior Court with a factual scenario of first impression—U.S. citizens sought to adopt their foreign-born nephew, who has been residing with them in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa, where there was no foreign adoption decree made or entered into in conformity with the laws of the child’s home country. The Court ruled that the lower court erred in denying with prejudice and without a hearing petitions to confirm consent and for adoption. “Once Petitioners filed their petition to confirm birthparents’ consents and petition to adopt Child, the court should have issued Petitioners notice of a hearing as prescribed in section 2531 and in compliance with 23 Pa.C.S. §§ 2721-2725.”
#FamilyLaw, #Adoption, #StatutoryConstruction
The Pennsylvania Superior Court quashed this appeal from an order in a landlord-tenant dispute. The lower court rendered a verdict in favor of the landlord after the tenant failed to appear for the arbitration and trial. When the court reduced the matter to an order, it stated that the tenant had “no right to a trial de novo or appeal from this decision to the Court of Common Pleas. The parties have the right to appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania within thirty (30) days of this decision.” The court then entered judgment in the landlord’s favor. The Superior Court determined that the losing party had ten days to file post-trial motions after he was provided with the verdict. The lower court erred because the judgment was entered simultaneously with the verdict.
#CivilLaw, #RealEstateLaw, #Jurisdiction
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s (WCJ) decision and order. The WCJ granted the modification petition filed by UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital and changed Claimant’s benefit status from total to partial based on a December 3, 2019, Impairment Rating Evaluation. The Commonwealth Court held that, following its decision in Pierson v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company LLC), the Court has consistently held that Act 111 does not abrogate or substantially impair a claimant’s vested rights in workers’ compensation benefits because there is no right to ongoing temporary total disability status.
The New Jersey Supreme Court did not extend the “pipeline retroactivity” of N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(14), which added a new mitigating factor at sentencing where “the defendant was under 26 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense.” Here, the defendant was sentenced before the Legislature enacted the new mitigating factor. But his direct appeal was pending when the Legislature passed the statute, and he was under 26 years old when he committed his crime. He argued his case should be remanded for a new sentencing wherein he could take advantage of the new law. But the Supreme Court disagreed and held that the statutory language did not indicate that it would apply to defendants sentenced before the provision’s effective date.
#CriminalLaw, #Sentencing, #StatutoryInterpretation
The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s designation of B.B. as a Tier II Megan’s Law registrant and vacated the provision of the order excluding his personal identifiers from the Internet Registry. The Appellate Division ruled that the trial court abused its discretion in scoring factor six at nine points. The evidence supported a score of three points. However, the trial court’s exclusion of B.B.’s personal identifiers from the Internet Registry was a mistaken exercise of discretion. The “evidence on which the trial court relied is not the type of expert opinion or other evidence specific to the unique aspects of B.B.’s offenses or character relevant to his risk of re-offense that the Court in In re Registrant G.B., 147 N.J. 62, 74 (1996), held may warrant departure from a statutory notice provision.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court visited a topic near and dear to Sullivan | Simon’s mascot, Sam the Goldendoodle (yes, he is adorable). At issue was the common law rescue doctrine. Tragically, a neighbor was severely injured when she tried to rescue a drowning dog. She then sued the dog’s owner, claiming that he negligently allowed the dog to enter the water, thus inviting her rescue attempt. The Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs’ complaint was correctly dismissed because the neighbor’s decision to jump into a canal to save a dog’s life did not give rise to a cognizable claim under the rescue doctrine.
#CivilLaw, #RescueDoctrine, #PersonalInjury, #Liability
The New Jersey Appellate Division considered an issue of first impression: Whether the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) applied to claims arising from a sexual predator’s criminal assaults against a young schoolgirl where those crimes were committed on a school bus. The Court determined that “under the circumstances of this case, we conclude the LAD does not apply, especially where, as here, there was no evidence that the predator’s compulsive and repetitive behavior was the result of any proven intention to discriminate specifically against young women.” The Court concluded that “the LAD was simply not intended to provide a civil remedy for child sex abuse committed by compulsive pedophiles.”
The New Jersey Appellate Division decided a case that dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the statute of limitations in a personal injury matter. The accident occurred on June 21, 2018. The complaint was filed on June 29, 2020, eight days after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations in N.J.S. 2A:14-2(a). The plaintiff claimed his suit was timely filed because the Supreme Court had tolled the statute of limitations in its June 11, 2020 Fourth Omnibus Order. The Appellate Division disagreed and affirmed the lower court’s order dismissing the claim. The Court ruled that the Supreme Court’s order did not add days to the statute of limitations but just tolled it while the order was pending.
#CivilLaw, #StatuteOfLimitations, #COVID-19
The New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed Rule 4:5-4. The Rule requires responsive pleadings to “set forth specifically and separately” the affirmative defense of discharge in bankruptcy and the federal statutory injunction against prosecuting enforcement of a debt discharged in bankruptcy under 11 U.S.C. § 524. The defendant argued that the plaintiffs waived the affirmative defense of discharge in bankruptcy by failing to assert it in their answer to his counterclaim, during discovery, and during the trial. The Court ruled that enforcing the waiver of the affirmative defense under Rule 4:5-4 would be inconsistent with substantial justice.
The New Jersey Appellate Division held in a matter of first impression that “service of a Tort Claims Act notice of claim on a county is sufficient when sent to the county clerk rather than the board of county commissioners.” Plaintiff and her husband filed this personal injury action, alleging Cumberland County’s negligence caused her to slip and fall. Rather than answer the complaint, the County moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, asserting that Plaintiffs failed to comply with the Tort Claims Act’s notice requirements. The trial court granted the motion. The Appellate Division reversed because “the Tort Claims Act failed to identify who it is a claimant must serve with a notice of claim when suing a county.”
#CivilLaw, #PersonalInjury, #Service, #TortClaims Act
The Third Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for cyberstalking but reversed the District Court’s restitution order. The defendant asserted the law is overbroad and, thus, facially invalid. The Third Circuit read the statute narrowly and affirmed the conviction. However, the Court determined that Georgetown Law School did not qualify for the “special” cyberstalking restitution statute because the school itself was not harassed. Moreover, Georgetown did not qualify under the general restitution statute because the school did not suffer damage to any property rights.
The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the defendant’s habeas corpus petition. The Court ruled that the defendant “filed his ineffective-assistance claim ten months late. Plus, he failed to assert it on state habeas first.” And even if the Court “looked past these mistakes, his conviction would stand; the jury would have convicted him even if his lawyer had been adequate.”
#CriminalLaw, #Habeas, #IneffectiveAssistance
The Third Circuit waded into an employment issue between FBI agents and the United States. In 2018, the Federal Government went through its most prolonged shutdown in history. Federal workers — including FBI agents — did not get paid. When the government reopened, the agents received back pay and contributions into their retirement accounts. The rub was that the missing contributions would have risen by 10 percent throughout the shutdown. Thus, Special Agent John Doe and his colleagues sued, seeking the difference. Though the relevant statute waives sovereign immunity to “recover benefits,” the Third Circuit ruled that this action was not to “recover benefits”. Therefore, sovereign immunity shielded the Government from the suit.
The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s summary judgment order in Navient’s favor. The Panzarellas sued the student loan company, alleging it violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA). The Panzarellas asserted that Navient called their cellphones without their prior express consent using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) in violation of the TCPA. The Third Circuit ruled that Navient did not use an ATDS in violation of the TCPA when it called the Panzarellas.
A prisoner sued the staff at his jail, alleging they deprived him of the ability to research evidentiary and court rules ahead of and during his civil trial. The District Court dismissed the complaint, and the Third Circuit affirmed. Both courts found that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because, at the time of the alleged violation, a prisoner had no clearly established right to access legal materials at the trial stage of a civil case. The Third Circuit noted that such a right exists now.