Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of October 10. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.
Commonwealth v. Fitzgerald
The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order that dismissed the defendant’s charges. Because it could not find the victim, the Commonwealth sought to prosecute the case using a 9-1-1 call and body camera footage. The trial court ruled that the introduction of the evidence violated the Confrontation Clause because the victim was not available for cross-examination about the cause of her injuries. The Superior Court disagreed, relying on Davis v. Washington and Commonwealth v. Williams.
Criminal Law, Confrontation Clause
Commonwealth v. Jamison
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order that denied the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. After the Commonwealth rested its case at trial, the defendant had a change of heart and pled guilty. But during the plea colloquy, he “expressed the view that he was not guilty and that the Commonwealth had gotten witnesses to lie, but repeatedly reaffirmed that he wanted to plead guilty notwithstanding these beliefs when the trial court advised him that he could proceed with the trial.” Before sentencing, he moved to withdraw his plea. The trial court denied the motion. The Superior Court affirmed, reasoning that the only evidence supporting the defendant’s innocence claim was his subjective belief that the Commonwealth’s witnesses lied. Furthermore, the Commonwealth would have been prejudiced if the motion had been granted.
Criminal Law, Guilty Plea
Lancaster v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm’n
In its original jurisdiction, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court granted an application for summary relief on a petition for review from several municipalities. The municipalities filed the petition challenging the validity of Section 59.18 of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Regulations, which mandates outdoor gas meter locations but permits a natural gas distribution company’s consideration of indoor gas meter locations when a gas meter is in a building within a locally designated historic district.
Administrative Law, Public Utilities
Chilutti v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed “whether a party should be deprived of their constitutional right to a jury trial when they purportedly enter into an arbitration agreement via a set of hyperlinked ‘terms and conditions’ on a website or smartphone application that they never clicked on, viewed, or read.” The Court invoked Article 1, Section 6 of the state constitution in holding that the plaintiffs “demonstrated there was a lack of a valid agreement to arbitrate; therefore, they are entitled to invoke their constitutional right to a jury trial.”
Read Judge Stablie’s dissenting statement here.
Civil Law, Arbitration
Delaware Valley Landscape Stone, Inc. v. RRQ, LLC
The Pennsylvania Superior Court dealt with trustees who were not lawyers but wanted to represent their trust without the assistance of counsel. The Court ruled that trustees could not do so without engaging in the unauthorized practice of law because artificial entities, such as corporations, may only appear in court through counsel. The Court ordered them to get lawyers or face the consequences of the unauthorized practice of law.
Civil Law, Rules of Civil Procedure
Gross v. Mintz
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed an order of the trial court that (1) held a mother in contempt for violating prior custody orders regarding the parties’ children, (2) prohibited her from utilizing any legal process regarding an incident that happened in a New York City hotel room, and (3) awarding the husband $20,000 in attorney’s fees. It took the Superior Court about eleven single-spaced pages to recount the rancorous background of the case. But the issues boiled down to whether the trial court erred in holding the mother in contempt and awarding attorney’s fees as sanctions for violating prior custody orders. The Superior Court held that the lower court did not err.
Family Law, Custody Dispute
Orozco v. Tecu
The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order that denied Mother’s petition seeking the issuance of an order containing specific factual findings regarding her minor child, necessary to petition the United States Citizenship Immigration Services for special immigrant juvenile status (“SIJ”). The Court ruled that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to issue the SIJ order because the federal statutory scheme puts the factual determinations necessary for SIJ status solely within the purview of state courts.
Wilson v. Smyers
In this custody case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order that expanded Grandmother’s custody rights. On appeal, Mother argued that the trial court misapplied 23 Pa.C.S. § 5328(c)(1) (considerations when awarding grandparent custody). The Superior Court disagreed, holding that “the trial court did not error or abuse its discretion when it determined that Mother’s additional testimony about her history with Father was irrelevant; the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that Grandmother and the Child had a prior, beneficial relationship under Section 5328(c)(1)(i); and the court’s award would not result in parental interference under Section 5328(c)(1)(ii), as Mother retained the right to determine how best to reveal to the Child the truth about his parentage.”
Family Law, Custody
The appellate courts in the Garden State took a respite from opinion writing this week.
Kennedy v. Superintendent Dallas SCI
The Third Circuit reversed the District Court and granted the defendant’s petition for habeas corpus, ruling that the Commonwealth violated his Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial right.
Criminal Law, Speedy Trial
Baghdad v. Att’y Gen.
The Third Circuit denied the defendant’s petition for review of the immigration judge’s and the Board of Immigration Appeals’ ruling that he was removable due to his conviction for shoplifting. He unsuccessfully argued that he was not convicted of an aggravated felony.