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. Murchinson (Criminal Law, PCRA)

An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the denial of PCRA relief. The Court held that new DNA testing was cumulative and not likely to compel a different result. This case will likely be a lodestar for litigants seeking new trials based on DNA evidence.

Read Judge Nichols’ dissenting opinion here.
Read Judge Olson’s dissenting opinion here.

Commonwealth v. Malone (Criminal Law, Rule 600)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed an order that dismissed the charges against defendant based on the Commonwealth’s violation of speedy-trial Rule 600. The Court held that the Commonwealth was not required to prove due diligence during the time the Rule was suspended due to COVID-19.

In re Petition of J.G.F. (Civil Law, Expungement)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the Orphans’ Court erred when it did not limit its review to the facts known to the physicians at the time they ordered petitioner’s involuntary commitment. The Orphans’ Court had granted petitioner’s request to vacate and expunge his involuntary civil commitment records.

Fraport Pittsburgh, Inc. v. Allegheny Cnty. Airport Auth. (Civil Law, Real Estate)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed an order that denied plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction. The issue revolved around a lease to operate all retail space in Pittsburgh’s airport. The error flowed from the lower court’s erroneous conclusion that the agreement was a service contract, not a lease.

Hanbicki v. Leader (Civil Law, Contempt)

This landlord-tenant dispute went bad, with the lower court finding the landlord in civil contempt and ordering him to pay tenant $100,000. The Court held that the trial court failed to provide landlord with the opportunity to purge himself of his contempt, which is a requirement in civil contempt proceedings.

Commonwealth v. Markowitz (Administrative Law, Gun Laws)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed an order of the Court of Common Pleas that denied defendant’s petition to restore his right to possess firearms.

Streets v. Celebration Fireworks, Inc. (Workers’ Comp. App. Bd.) (Administrative Law, Workers’ Comp)

The Commonwealth Court was asked whether specific loss benefits are payable following an injured worker’s death resulting from a work injury. Here, the worker had no dependents benefits when she died. Under such circumstances, the employer’s only statutory obligation was to pay funeral expenses.


State v. Bullock (Criminal Law, Miranda)

The New Jersey Supreme Court suppressed defendant’s statements in this two-step interrogation case. Initially, an officer brought defendant to a courtyard and questioned him with two other officers. The officer then advised defendant of his Miranda rights, but without waiting for permission to proceed, immediately interrogated defendant.

Accounteks.Net, Inc. v. CKR Law, LLP (Civil Law, Attorney’s Fees)

The New Jersey Appellate Division dealt with a fee-shifting contract and a Law Division ruling that ordered defendant to pay attorney’s fees. But defendant was not a party to the contract. Nonetheless, the Appellate Division ruled that defendant had notice of the fee-shifting contract and, thus, attorney’s fees were appropriate.


United States v. Upshur (Criminal Law, Sentencing)

The Third Circuit dealt with a question related to its recent decision in United States v. Banks, where it held U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1’s loss table was interpreted to reach actual loss, not intended loss. Here, the Court held that U.S.S.G. § 2T1.4, the Guideline for aiding and assisting tax fraud, reaches intended loss, not just actual loss.

Nitkin v. Main Line Health (Civil Law, Employment Law)

The Third Circuit affirmed an order that granted summary judgment in favor of an employer on hostile work environment and wrongful termination claims. The Court ruled that the incidents were not “severe or pervasive” and, thus, did not alter the conditions of plaintiff’s employment and create an abusive working environment.

Ishmael v. Att’y General (Immigration Law, Asylum)

The Third Circuit granted an immigrant’s petition for review. The Court held that an IJ improperly placed the immigrant in asylum-only proceedings. The IJ should have allowed the immigrant to raise a claim for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident in a complete-jurisdiction removal proceeding.

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