Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of June 20. Click on a case name to read the court’s entire opinion.
Click here for Dissenting Opinion
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that its legality of sentencing jurisprudence—i.e., that challenges implicating the legality of a sentence cannot be waived—applies equally to constitutional challenges to Revised Subchapter H of SORNA. Therefore, the Superior Court erred in ruling that the defendant’s constitutional challenges to the lifetime registration requirements of Revised Subchapter H of Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act were waived because he did not raise them at the time of his sentencing or in a post-sentence motion but, instead, raised them for the first time in his brief to the Superior Court.
#CriminalLaw, #Sentencing, #SORNA
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Superior Court. The issue was whether a surviving spouse could revoke her decision to take the elective share of the decedent’s estate even after the time limitations set forth in Section 2210(b) of Pennsylvania’s Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code (“PEF Code”). Much of the argument centered around In re Daub’s Estate, a century-old case. The Court held that it was not categorically indifferent to equitable concerns, but it refused to adopt equitable doctrines—such as the “tolling principle” that the Superior Court divined in this case—that are inconsistent with the clear commands and objectives of the PEF Code. The Court ruled that the surviving spouse’s attempt to revoke her election was inconsistent with Subsection 2210(b)’s time limit and the clear intent it embodies.
#FamilyLaw, #Probate&Wills, #SpousalElection
Click here for Dissenting Opinion
In a split decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a parolee living in a halfway house could not be convicted of violating 18 Pa.C.S. § 5123(a.2), which criminalizes possession of contraband by a prisoner or inmate. The was an appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief. The defendant was convicted of the charge at trial, and his lawyer never challenged the sufficiency of the evidence. On direct appeal, two members of the panel hinted that the evidence might not have been sufficient, though the issue was not raised. The defendant filed a PCRA petition challenging his trial counsel’s stewardship, particularly counsel’s decision not to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. The PCRA court dismissed without a hearing, and the Superior Court reversed, finding that counsel rendered ineffective assistance because a parolee is not an inmate subject to that statute.
#CriminalLaw, #PCRA, #Sufficiency
The New Jersey Appellate Division considered whether a settling tortfeasor may pursue a contribution claim against an alleged joint tortfeasor if the settlement with the plaintiff was never reduced to judgment. In short, a patient was seen by a doctor at a hospital and then was discharged to recovery center where a second doctor treated the patient. When complications arose, the patient sued the first doctor and hospital, who in turn sued the recovery center and the second doctor. When the first doctor settled, the second doctor argued that he could not be held liable for contribution because the settlement was not reduced to a judgment, but instead was only a settlement. The Court held that the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law (the JTCL), N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-1 to -5, permits a settling tortfeasor to pursue a contribution-only claim against a nonsettling purported joint tortfeasor if the settlement is reduced to a consent judgment. Since this settlement was not reduced to a judgment, the Court held that the third-party complaint should be dismissed.
#CiviLaw, #Damages, #Contribution
The New Jersey Appellate Division considered an issue of first impression in these six consolidated appeals: “Whether in the context of Rule 4:6-2(e) motions to dismiss with prejudice, insurance policies issued by the defendants covered business losses incurred by the plaintiffs that were forced to close or limit their operations as a result of Executive Orders (EOs) issued by Governor Philip Murphy to curb the COVID-19 global health crisis.” The Court concluded that 1.) the plaintiffs’ business losses were not related to any “direct physical loss of or damage to” covered properties as required by the terms of their insurance policies.; 2.) the plaintiffs’ business losses were also not covered under their insurance policies’ civil authority clauses, which provided coverage for losses sustained from governmental actions forcing closure or limiting business operations under certain circumstances; and 3.) the defendants’ denial of coverage was not barred by regulatory estoppel. Alternatively, the Court concluded that “even if the plaintiffs’ business losses otherwise satisfied the requirements of the relevant clauses, coverage was barred by their insurance policies’ virus exclusions and endorsements because the EOs were a direct result of COVID-19.” As a result, the Court affirmed the motions judges’ grant of Rule 4:6-2(e) dismissals of the plaintiffs’ complaints with prejudice for failure to state a claim.
#CivilLaw, #InsuranceDispute. #COVID-19
The New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether a marketability discount should be applied to the valuation of Robert Sipko’s interests in Koger Distributed Solutions, Inc. (KDS) and Koger Professional Services, Inc. (KPS). George Sipko formed Koger, Inc., and later gifted 1.5 percent of the company’s stock to his twin sons, Robert Sipko and Rastislav Sipko — both of whom were actively involved with the company. George formed KDS and KPS in 2002 and 2004, respectively, with both Robert and Ras each owning 50 percent of each company’s shares. A family disagreement arose, and Robert resigned from Koger on March 10, 2006. Before his resignation, Robert signed two documents memorializing the transfer of his 50 percent interest in both KDS and KPS. The document involving the transfer of KDS stock bore the date “02/03/2006.” The document that memorialized the transfer of KPS stock, however, was dated “12/31/04.” Robert sued George, Ras, and Koger on November 13, 2007, alleging that he was an oppressed shareholder and presenting an expert valuation of the companies. The trial court ruled in Robert’s favor. The Appellate Division reversed, ruling that the trial court failed to determine the application of a marketability discount to the value of KDS and KPS. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. The Court held that “in light of all the defendants’ conduct regarding KDS and KPS to strip Robert of his rightful interests, equity cannot abide imposing a marketability discount to the benefit of defendants. The trial court’s acceptance of Robert’s expert’s valuation of the company fell within its broad discretion and was fully supported by the record.”
#CivilLaw, #Shareholder, #Equity
The New Jersey Supreme Court described the question presented as whether the defendant “freely initiated further communications with the police immediately on the heels of a nearly six-hour unlawful interrogation that led to a full confession.” Anyone who has followed the Court’s recent Fifth Amendment jurisprudence will surely know the answer: No, he did not freely initiate further communications. The defendant was under investigation regarding the disappearance of his wife. He had already been arrested for endangering the welfare of their child and was in the hospital after a botched suicide attempt while in custody. At the hospital, he was questioned for six hours by detectives, who read his Miranda rights. The defendant gave unclear and ambiguous statements throughout the interrogation as to whether or not he needed an attorney. On appeal, no party contested the legal conclusion that the interrogation should have concluded. The following day, the detectives interrogated the defendant again, this time at the prosecutor’s office. The Supreme Court ordered all statement suppressed because it could not “conclude that, after Rivas invoked his right to counsel, and was subjected to a nearly six-hour unbroken interrogation in violation of our state law privilege against self-incrimination — an interrogation that elicited a damning confession and Rivas’s offer of cooperation to locate his wife’s body — Rivas freely and voluntarily reinitiated conversations with the Elizabeth detectives before they left the hospital.”
#CriminalLaw, #5thAmendment, #Miranda
The New Jersey Appellate Division considered the propriety of a negotiated plea agreement provision that permitted the State to revoke its sentencing recommendation if the defendant was arrested on new charges that are not adjudicated prior to sentencing. The Court ruled that a no-new-arrest or no-new-charges provision violates a defendant’s right to due process and is fundamentally unfair. The Court’s decision “has no bearing, however, on those plea agreement provisions that limit the State’s right to revoke its sentencing recommendation or recommend a harsher sentence if a defendant fails to appear at sentencing, provided the defendant is afforded a fair hearing pursuant to established case law.”
#CriminalLaw, #PleaAgreement, #DueProcess
The Third Circuit reversed the District Court’s order that certified a proposed class of plaintiffs in this class action suit. The initial plaintiffs went shopping at Ollie’s bargain stores and encountered “obstacles blocking their path of travel, including inventory on the floor, clothing racks placed too close together, boxes, pallets, and structural pillars.” They sued Ollie’s under Title III of the American’s With Disabilities Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” they offer to the public. The plaintiff’s “core contention” was that Ollie’s deliberately directed the placement of merchandise within aisles causing a corporate-wide failure to maintain accessible aisles. They sought permission to sue on behalf of every similarly disabled individual who shops at any Ollie’s store in the United States and has or will encounter interior access barriers. The Third Circuit rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments as to numerosity as well as commonality and found that they had not carried their burden under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1).