Opinion Summaries for the

Below are 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 entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Coleman (Criminal Law, Sentencing)

Under 42 Pa. C.S. § 9715(a), any person convicted of third-degree murder who has previously been convicted of murder must be sentenced to life imprisonment. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that this mandatory sentence applies where the defendant killed three people simultaneously.

Read Justice Donohue’s concurring opinion here

Commonwealth v. Drummond (Criminal Law, Jury Instruction)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a judge’s jury charge analogizing jurors’ application of the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to jurors’ hypothetical decision-making regarding surgery involving a “precious one” diminished the standard of proof in criminal cases and posed a significant risk to due process rights.

Read Justice Donohue’s concurring opinion here.

Read Justice Mundy’s concurrence and dissent here

Commonwealth v. Conley (Criminal Law, VOP)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated the sentence imposed following the revocation of defendant’s county intermediate punishment and consecutive terms of probation. The trial court lacked the statutory authority to anticipatorily revoke the probation. Moreover, at sentencing, defendant’s misdemeanor terroristic threats conviction should have merged with the felony count.

Sanders v. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Civil Law, Privilege)

In this medical negligence case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed in part and reversed in part orders overruling defendant’s privilege objections to plaintiffs’ discovery requests. Plaintiffs are the parents and estate administrators of three infants who died after contracting an adenovirus in defendant’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Read Justice McLaughlin’s concurring and dissent here.

McGuire v. City of Pittsburgh (Administrative Law, Indemnity)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a federal jury’s finding that a police officer acted “under color of state law” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 did not constitute a “judicial determination” that he acted within the “scope of his office or duties” for purposes of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

DeRosa v. Gordon (Family Law, Swingers)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court dealt with a custody dispute centered around a divorcing couple who were admitted “swingers” when the wife left the husband for one of her other partners, who happened to be the father of her child. The case dealt mainly with paternity by estoppel.

Barrett v. M&B Med. Billing, Inc. (Civil Law, Pro Se)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that a non-lawyer corporate officer was not allowed to represent the corporation during a damages-only trial.

Bold v. Dep’t of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing (Administrative Law, DUI)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a driver’s license should be suspended for 18 months. PennDOT adequately established that the driver was in actual physical control of his car while he slept in it in a bar parking lot with the engine running.

In re Proceedings by the Redevelopment Auth. Of Erie (Administrative Law, Real Property)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld an order that permitted a public redevelopment authority’s condemnation of a blighted property. The landowner unsuccessfully claimed that the redevelopment authority lacked the power to take the property and failed to provide him with proper notice.

Monroe v. CBH20 (Civil Law, Summary Judgment)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed an order granting judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment. The trial court erred because the complaint sufficiently pled the state of mind of recklessness to defeat judgment on the pleadings, and the evidence created genuine issues of material fact.

City of New Castle v. Intern’l Ass’n. of Firefighters, Local 160 (Administrative Law, Arbitration)

The ​​Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed an arbitrator’s decision that the City of New Castle violated a collective bargaining agreement. There was no merit to the City’s argument that the trial court erred because the arbitration award ordered the City to do an illegal act.


In re E.S. (Criminal Law, Juvenile Law)

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it is within the discretion of a family court judge to determine which goes first–a juvenile’s motion to suppress or the State’s motion to waive the juvenile to the Criminal Part. The Court listed three factors the lower court should consider.

State v. Ramirez (Criminal Law, Discovery)

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that a prosecutor may withhold a sexual assault victim’s address with a motion under Rule 3:13-3(e) supported by a sworn statement from the victim attesting they do not want the address disclosed to the defendant or defense counsel.

Largoza v. FKM Real Estate Holdings (Civil Law, Venue)

In this dispute involving a property’s purchase, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed an order dismissing plaintiffs’ complaint based on a forum selection clause requiring plaintiffs to submit to the jurisdiction where defendant is headquartered. However, the Court remanded for the trial court to make factual findings concerning plaintiffs’ waiver argument.


Gonzalez Aquino v. Att’y Gen. (Crimmigration)

The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition to defer a removal under the Convention Against Torture. The Court denied the petition for review because none of the four procedural errors, which the petitioner claimed, affected the outcome of the proceedings in the lower court.

Mazo v. NJ Sec’y of State (Election Law, First Amendment)

The Third Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of New Jersey’s consent requirement for election ballet slogans. The Court ruled that though the ballot slogans have an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. Therefore, the District Court was correct in applying the Anderson-Burdick balancing test to evaluate the law’s constitutionality.

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