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. Alexander (Criminal Law, Jury Selection)

In this PCRA appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued important guidance on preserving a Batson challenge and the procedure for seating an alternate juror under Pa.R.Crim.P. 645.

Javitz v. Luzerne County (Administrative Law, Whistleblower)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a Whistleblower Law claimant must come forward with some evidence of a connection between the report of wrongdoing and the alleged retaliatory acts to sustain an action. The Court held that a former county employee produced such evidence in this matter.

PennEnergy Res., LLC v. Winfield Res., LLC (Civil Law, Arbitration)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court compelled the parties to arbitration in this contractual dispute. The Court also ruled that the denial of defendant’s summary judgment motion was immediately appealable because defendant essentially was requesting the trial court to compel arbitration in its motion for summary judgment.

Carpenter v. William Penn Sch. Dist. (Employment Law, Retaliation, Summary Judgment)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant. The lower court erred by making factual findings and credibility determinations in the light most favorable to defendant, which is inappropriate at the summary judgment stage of litigation.

In re Nomination Petition of Masino (Election Law)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the Court of Common Pleas erred in not allowing Objectors to amend their objections to signature lines, already challenging the signers’ registration status, to include an objection that the electors were not registered Democrats, and abused its discretion in quashing Objectors’ subpoenas.

Laster v. Unemployment Comp. Bd of Rev. (Employment Law, Unemployment Benefits)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court determined that the evidence showed that Claimant sought to rescind his withdrawal of the appeal of the denial of his benefits before the entry of the Referee’s Order that granted the withdrawal of the appeal.

Sunoco Pipeline, L.P. v. Pub. Util. Comm’n (Administrative Law, Utilities)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court halved a $2,000 fine that the Public Utility Commission levied on the Sunoco Pipeline. Sullivan|Simon shall play the world’s tiniest violin to mourn the pipeline’s loss of $1,000.

Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Montgomery Co. (Administrative Law, Lead Paint)

In this lead paint litigation brought by Montgomery County, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed with the paint manufacturers that the County failed to identify a statutory basis for its public nuisance action and failed to allege that the manufacturers proximately caused the alleged injuries. 

Sheils v. Bartles (Motion in Limine, Collateral Estoppel)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that where a jury in a confession of judgment case entered a verdict finding that one party to a written contract breached the contract and caused a construction project to fail, in a subsequent civil suit, that party is collaterally estopped from relitigating whether it breached the contract, causing the construction project to fail.

Carvell v. Edward D. Jones & Co., L.P. (Estates, Arbitration)

In this dispute over an estate, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed the decedent’s retirement as well as individual accounts and determined that each contained a binding arbitration provision. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying defendants’ preliminary objections in the nature of a petition to compel arbitration.


State v. Torres (Criminal Law, Search Incident Arrest)

Defendant challenged the police’s warrantless confiscation of his sweatshirt shortly after his interview with detectives. The New Jersey Supreme Court endorsed and applied the two-factor test of State v. Lentz, authorizing delayed warrantless searches of a person incident to that person’s arrest so long as (1) the delay itself and (2) the scope of the search was objectively reasonable.

State v. Miranda (Criminal Law, Consent Search)

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that defendant’s girlfriend had apparent authority to consent to a search of a shed where she and defendant stored their belongings. But the Court ruled that a consent search of a property is not consent to search everything in the property. Here, the Court suppressed a gun in a bag in the shed because there was no authority to search defendant’s bag.

In re Registrant R.H. (Criminal Law, Megan’s Law)

The New Jersey Appellate Division dealt with two motions to terminate Megan’s Law registration requirements under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). The Court held that the statute imposes a fifteen-year offense-free requirement on juveniles adjudicated delinquent of qualifying Megan’s Law offenses who seek termination of their registration obligation.

Merck & Co., Inc. v. Ace Am. Ins. Co. (Insurance Law, Summary Judgment)

In this dispute over insurance coverage, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a cyberattack was not a “Hostile/Warlike Action.” The insurer sought to deny coverage based on a cyberattack, but the Court ruled that it must provide coverage.

Caucino v. Bd of Trustees (Employment Law, Public Pension)

The New Jersey Appellate Division held that a contributing member of the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, who was permanently disqualified from employment in a school system because of a conviction for a crime enumerated in N.J.S.A. 18A:6-7.1 but unrelated to his employment as a teacher, is eligible for deferred retirement benefits under N.J.S.A. 18A:66-36.

Achey v. Cellco P’ship (Civil Law, Arbitration)

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that an arbitration clause in a Verizon cell service agreement is unenforceable in its entirety as it is permeated by provisions that are unconscionable and violative of New Jersey public policy. The Court held that the agreement at issue is a contract of adhesion.

N.J. Div. of Child Prot. & Permanency v. A.P. (Family Law, Expungement)

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that DCP&P was permitted to use expunged records in litigation concerning alleged abuse of defendant’s son. The Court held that N.J.S.A. 2C:52-19 allows the release and use of expunged records in these circumstances.


United States v. Laird (Criminal Law, Sentencing)

Defendant challenged the District Court’s application of the abuse-of-trust enhancement and calculation of the proper loss amount. She also faulted the District Court for failing to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the loss. The Third Circuit rejected those arguments and affirmed the judgment.

United States v. Nucera (Criminal Law, Juror Misconduct)

Defendant filed a post-sentence motion alleging that his verdict was tainted due to juror misconduct. In a robust 66-page opinion, the Third Circuit ruled that defendant’s evidence of juror misconduct did not satisfy the exceptions to F.R.E. 60(b)(6), barring a court from considering a juror’s statement or affidavit, or satisfy the constitutional exception created by the Supreme Court in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, for evidence of racial bias.

In re Niaspan Antitrust Litigation (Civil Law, Pharmaceuticals)

The Third Circuit ruled against a putative class of plaintiffs consisting primarily of union health and welfare insurance plans. They sought to recover damages based on the allegedly inflated prices charged by Abbvie for Niaspan. The Court rejected plaintiff’s proposed methodology for ascertaining class membership.

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