Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of July 4. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated a dispositional order after the trial court adjudicated a minor delinquent for the unauthorized use of an automobile (UUA). The Court ruled that the lower court committed two errors. First, the Court held that the evidence was insufficient to prove the mens rea necessary to support the conviction for UUA. The Commonwealth’s evidence merely proved the juvenile drove a stolen vehicle. Second, the Court held that the lower court erred in adjudicating the minor delinquent because the Commonwealth did not prove that the child needed treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation.
#CriminalLaw, #Sufficiency, #MensRea
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the orders of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Board), which affirmed the decision of the Board’s Referee, denying unemployment compensation (UC) benefits to Claimant under Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law. The issue involved COVID-19, personal protective equipment (PPE), and the Claimant’s separation from Employer. Claimant argued that Employer did not provide adequate PPE and that he had to leave the job because of “a compromised respiratory system.” When the Referee asked him to elaborate on the ailment, he shot himself in the foot by answering, “That’s none of your concern. That’s between me and my doctor.” The Court concluded that Claimant failed to prove his work environment was unsafe due to Employer’s failure to provide appropriate PPE or that Claimant’s health condition constituted necessitous and compelling cause to resign.
#AdministrativeLaw, #Unemployment, #COVID-19
The Pennsylvania Superior Court overruled the defendants’ preliminary objections that sought to compel arbitration. Plaintiff’s mother died shortly after her stay at Highland Park, a skilled nursing home facility. In connection with her admission to Highland Park, Decedent signed an Agreement to Arbitrate Disputes. Plaintiff filed a negligence action, asserting wrongful death and survival claims. The defendants filed preliminary objections, seeking to compel arbitration. The trial court overruled the POs. The defendants appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding the Arbitration Agreement unconscionable. The Court ruled that the Agreement was unconscionable because the circumstances under which Highland Park obtained Decedent’s signature imposed terms unfavorable to her without giving her any meaningful choice to accept or reject the Arbitration Agreement. Significant factors were “the incompleteness of the information that Highland Park orally provided to Decedent and the fact that Decedent had no family member with her and was not given a copy for a family member to review are particularly significant here given Decedent’s physical inability to read the Arbitration Agreement and other documents that she was signing.”
#CivilLaw, #PreliminaryObjections, #Arbitration, #Contracts, #SurvivalClaim, #WrongfulDeath, #Negligence
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled police officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop a suspect when they saw the individual near a vacant house in a high-crime area, and the person acted nervously when an officer approached. First, the Court ruled that the officers seized the suspect when they stood in front of him and blocked his path as he exited an alleyway, even though the officers did not verbally order him to stop. The Court wrote that “there was no need for the officers to tell defendant to ‘stop,’ because the two officers standing at the end of the walkway sufficiently exerted their authority such that an objectively reasonable person would understand the need to stop and direct attention to the officers.” The Court was not persuaded by the officer’s testimony that it was a high-crime area without further elaboration. Thus, the Court ordered that the contraband recovered be suppressed.
#CriminalLaw, #ReasonableSuspicion, #4thAmendment, #Search&Seizure
The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed Supreme Life’s convictions in an utterly horrible homicide. The case involved a fight moments after the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over a team of cheaters from outside Boston. The defendant stabbed two people, killing one. The defendant claimed that he was defending himself and his son. When he testified in his defense, he admitted that he lied during his post-arrest statement. The prosecutor called the defendant a liar in her summation. The Appellate Division characterized the prosecutor’s tactic “as a cudgel to explicitly argue defendant’s testimony at trial was more lies told by an admitted liar.” In addition to repeatedly calling the defendant a liar, the prosecutor told the jury that the defendant “is definitely guilty of the murder.”. The Court held that it is “improper for a prosecutor to use derogatory epithets to describe a defendant.” The Court also faulted the trial court for failing to instruct the jury that it should consider the affirmative defenses as to all the lesser-included offenses. Given the number of errors, the Court reversed the convictions based on plain error review.
#CriminalLaw, #ProsecutorialMisconduct, #JuryInstruction
In this contract dispute, the Third Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the District Court’s damages calculation. Transit Wireless, LLC, secured a contract to bring telecommunications services to NYC’s subway system. Transit subcontracted with Fiber-Span, Inc. to develop remote fiber nodes to amplify telecommunication signals in the first six subway stations to receive such services. Transit raised technical concerns about the nodes. In response, Fiber-Span retrofitted the nodes, which created other problems. Transit asserted that Fiber-Span remained in breach of contract after the retrofitting, but it nevertheless took the network live. And although it became clear that Fiber-Span would not replace the nodes, Transit continued to use them for two more years. Transit sued in New York state court for the total value of the contract and more. Fiber-Span later filed for bankruptcy in the District of New Jersey, and the state claims ended up in the Bankruptcy Court. The Bankruptcy Court and, on appeal, the District Court came to different conclusions on a series of issues. The Third Circuit ruled that “Transit’s decision to keep using the nodes was consistent with the acceptance of non-conforming goods. And while Fiber-Span indeed breached the contract, the damages it owes must reflect the difference in value between what Transit received and what it was promised.”
#CivilLaw, #Contracts, #Damages
The Third Circuit vacated the District Court’s order appointing a custodian to take control of a corporation. The eight-person Board of Directors of Republic First Bancorp, Inc. became evenly split into two factions – one led by the current CEO (the “Hill Directors”) and one led by the former CEO (the “Madonna Directors”) – with competing visions for the future of Republic First and its bank subsidiary. The deadlock persisted until one of the Hill Directors died. The Madonna Directors immediately used their newfound numerical advantage to start rearranging the bank’s leadership and to take steps to fill the vacancy on the Board with an ally. The Hill Directors sued in the District Court to make them stop. Within hours of receiving the complaint, the District Court ordered the Madonna Directors to cease their actions while considering whether to appoint a custodian. Nine days later, without an evidentiary hearing or fact-finding, the District Court appointed a custodian to take control of Republic First and to hold a special shareholders’ meeting to fill the vacant Board seat. The following month, the District Court – without prompting from any shareholder or Board member – directed the custodian to add a seat to the Board and to fill that seat at the special shareholders’ meeting. The Third Circuit held that District Court abused its discretion because “the decision to displace the corporate governance structure of a publicly-traded company did not reflect the required caution, circumspection, or justification for such a drastic step.”
#CivilLaw, #Corporations, #Receivership
In this appeal centered on the right of citizens to representation in local government, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered how the governing body of a municipality must fill a vacated seat previously held by the nominee of a political party: Must it select one of the three candidates submitted by the political party to which the prior officeholder belonged, or may it keep the seat vacant until the next general election? The Court ruled that N.J.S.A. 40A:16-11 empowered the municipal committee of the political party whose nominee previously occupied the empty seat to submit three names to the governing body. Section 11 mandates that the governing body chooses one of the municipal committee’s three nominees.