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 opinion.


Durham v. Kelley (Civil Law, Prisoner Litigation)

The Third Circuit reversed an order dismissing a prisoner’s complaint against correctional officers for not allowing him to use his cane. The Court held that a state official can be sued for damages in their official capacities for purposes of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, unless barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Here, the Court held that the sovereign immunity was not available to defendants


Commonwealth v. Outlaw (Criminal Law, Contempt)

A spectator in Court at a motion to suppress stood and announced, “The judge is a cocksucker.” His conviction for contempt was affirmed by the Superior Court. The Court ruled that he should have referred to the suppression court as the “Honorable Cocksucker.” That last sentence isn’t true. But the Superior Court did fault appellant for failing to make the transcripts part of the record. 

Commonwealth v. Miller (Criminal Law, Preliminary Hearing)

An en banc panel of the Superior Court held that the lower court properly refused to hold defendant for trial after his preliminary hearing. Defendant was a police officer and prosecutor’s alleged he ran a woman’s license plate to get her address so his cousin could ask her out. The Court ruled that the prosecutor did not make out numerous charges relating to official misconduct.

Read Judge Olson’s dissenting opinion here

Moffitt v. Miller (Civil Law, Personal Injury)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that evidence of a pedestrian’s intoxication was admissible in a car-versus-pedestrian personal injury case because there was corroborating evidence establishing a nexus between the intoxication and the event. The Court also ruled that a clinician could testify as an expert on the effects of alcohol consumption. 

Sinoracki v. Children’s Serv. Ctr. of Wyoming Valley (Civil Law, Negligence)

A boy with terrible mental health issues was released from a mental health service provider without being involuntarily committed. Soon thereafter, he killed a neighbor. The decedent’s wife sued doctors and mental health providers that she alleged were negligent in failing to seek involuntary commitment. After a thorough examination of Emerich v. Philadelphia Ctr. for Human Dev., 720 A.2d 1032 (Pa. 1998), and its progeny, the Court held that defendants did not violate a duty to the decedent.

Kistler v. Dietrich (Civil Law, Negligence)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the order granting summary judgment in this negligence action. Plaintiff was riding his motorcycle and crashed into a car near an estate sale on defendant’s property. The estate sale attracted a lot of people and their cars were parked along the highway, causing congestion and leading to the crash. But the Court held that defendant had no duty to plaintiff.

Johnson v. Toll Brothers, Inc. (Civil Law, Statute of Repose)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court analyzed the word “lawful” in the statute of repose, which provides respite for contractors who complete “lawful” improvements on real property. The Court held that defendant’s conduct was “lawful” because it was a licensed home builder and that a certificate of occupancy was issued by the Commonwealth and plaintiff’s allegations that the construction violated certain building codes was not relevant. Furthermore, plaintiff’s claim did not toll.

Commonwealth v. Sloan (Criminal Law, Search & Seizure)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the denial of defendant’s suppression motion. The Court found that a police officer lawfully stopped defendant for speeding. Before the traffic stop concluded, the officer gathered enough evidence to believe that defendant’s had recently smoked marijuana. And the limited questions asked were pertinent to the traffic stop and not subject to Miranda warnings.

Simone v. Alam (Civil Law, Negligence)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that a co-owner of a rental property who is a tenant in common with defendant was an indispensable party to this negligence action. As a result, the Court ruled that the case was properly dismissed because the co-owner was not named as a defendant.

In re R.H.M. (Family Law, Collateral Estoppel)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that collateral estoppel bared mother from relitigating the issue of whether father raped her, which is the basis for her petition seeking to terminate his parental rights. The issue was previously litigated during proceedings under the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 62A01-62A20

Commonwealth v. Evans (Criminal Law, PCRA)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s PCRA petition. The Court rejected his claims that his lawyer was ineffective for failing to seek suppression of his pre-arrest statements to police even though his later arrest was done without an affidavit of probable cause. And his counsel was not ineffective for not seeking DNA of certain evidence because that DNA testing could have been beneficial to the Commonwealth’s case.

Quiah v. Devereux Foundation, Inc. (Civil Procedure, Transfer)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court clarified the steps a plaintiff must take when a federal court dismisses federal claims for lack of jurisdiction, but permits pendent state claims dismissed without prejudice may be transferred to state court in order to toll the statute of limitations. The Court held that a party must comply with with 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) and 42 Pa.C.S. § 5103(b).

Essington v. Monroe Cnty. Transit. Auth. (Civil Law, Negligence)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that the trial court properly granted preliminary objections because defendant (a transportation authority) neither owned, maintained nor controlled the real estate where the injurious crash took place. But the Court reversed summary judgment on other claims because a factual issue remained.

Verizon Pennsylvania, LLC v. Pennsylvania Public Util. Comm’n (Administrative Law, Public Utilities)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed an order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in this dispute between Verizon and FirstEnergy over utility pole attachment rates.


The New Jersey Courts did not issue any precedential opinions last week. Actually, there might not be any judges to write the opinions.

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