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 opinion.
Commonwealth v. Bartic (Indirect Criminal Contempt, Sentencing)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed defendant’s convictions for indirect criminal contempt, stemming from his violation of a final protection from abuse order. First, the Court determined that “the Legislature intended for Section 9721(b) of the Sentencing Code to apply to sentences imposed pursuant to Section 6114 of the PFAA.” Then, the Court disagreed with defendant’s claim that the trial court transgressed Section 9721(b), ruling that the trial court correctly considered the facts of the crime and defendant’s character.
In re N.J.B. (Guardianship)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the orphans’ court order that dismissed this petition to adjudicate a 24-year-old daughter as incapacitated and to appoint a limited guardian of her person. The orphans’ court correctly sustained Mother’s preliminary objections because guardianship proceedings are inappropriate for resolving the visitation dispute due to Father and Mother’s acrimonious relationship.
Betz v. UPMC Pinnacle West Shore Hospital (Wrongful Death, Discovery Dispute)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order that directed the Hospital to make reasonable efforts to identify the author of an anonymous report concerning the care and death of Richard M. Betz at the Hospital. Ascertaining the reporter’s identity would not violate the whistleblower protections of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act.
Freeman v. Akiladelphia Creative Contracting, LLC (Arbitration, Preliminary Objections)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order that overruled defendants’ preliminary objections. The arbitration clause in the parties’ contract was invalid for a home improvement contract under the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.
Ford-Bey v. Professional Anesthesia Svs. (Medical Malpractice, Discovery Dispute)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order that required Defendant-Hospital to produce a doctor’s notes “root-cause analysis.” The Court ruled that Section 311(a) of the Medical Care and Reduction of Error Act did not protect the notes from disclosure.
Roberts v. Pa. State Employees’ Retirement Bd. (Administrative Law, Retirement Code)
An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court said, “Whatever, Boomer,” and denied petitioners’ application seeking declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief on the basis that the 2017 Amendment to the State Employees’ Retirement Code (Retirement Code) is unconstitutional under article V, sections 1 and 16(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution and contrary to Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent.
In re 4714 Morann Avenue (Administrative Law, Forfeiture)
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s order that denied the Commonwealth’s petition for forfeiture. The trial court correctly concluded that the Commonwealth’s requested forfeiture of a home would impose an excessive penalty in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s Law Against Discrimination claims. The Appellate Division’s judgment conflicted with Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc., 132 N.J. 587 (1993), and L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education, 189 N.J. 381 (2007). Under Lehmann, sexual touching of areas of the body linked to sexuality happens, by definition, because of sex.
State v. Nieves (Criminal Law, Expert Testimony, Shaken Baby Syndrome)
In these appeals, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered the scientific reliability of expert testimony that shaking alone can cause the injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome (SBS), also known as abusive head trauma (AHT). The Court affirmed the decisions of the trial courts, which barred the evidence. The court ruled that there is a dispute in the medical and scientific community about the validity of shaking only SBS/AHT theory despite its seeming acceptance in the pediatric medical community. “Where the underlying theory integrates multiple scientific disciplines, as here, the proponent must establish cross-disciplinary validation to establish reliability.”
Avila v. Att’y Gen. (Crimmigration, Asylum)
The Third Circuit granted Ms. Avila’s petition for review, vacated the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) order, and remanded. The Court ruled that the BIA failed to consider whether Avila’s particular social group (PSG) was cognizable in light of the specific country conditions in Honduras.