Opinion Summaries for the

Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of September 26. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Watts

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) of a Schedule I controlled substance. The defendant unsuccessfully argued that he should not have been held criminally responsible for DUI because he used marijuana legally pursuant to a valid medical marijuana card issued under the Medical Marijuana Act.

Criminal Law, Statutory Interpretation

Commonwealth v. Gamby

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for indecent assault after he grabbed the victim from behind and kissed her neck. The Court interpreted the statute’s reference to “other intimate parts” to mean “those parts of the body that are personal and private, and which a person ordinarily allows to be touched only by other individuals with whom the person has a close personal relationship, and which are commonly associated with sexual relations.”

Read Justice Donohue’s dissenting opinion here.

Read Justice Wecht’s dissenting opinion here.

Criminal Law, Statutory Interpretation

Commonwealth v. Humphrey

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Mental Health Procedures Act authorizes a trial court to dismiss criminal charges filed against an incompetent defendant where the court finds that it would be unjust to resume the prosecution due to the passage of time and its effect on the criminal proceeding.

Read Justice Brobson’s concurring opinion here.

Read Justice Dougherty’s dissenting opinion here.

Criminal Law, MHPA

Commonwealth v. Taylor

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the defendant’s fifth PCRA petition as untimely. The Court held that the decision in Commonwealth v. Koehler, holding that lower courts have the authority to remedy claims of judicial bias of higher courts, does not apply retroactively.

Read Justice Dougherty’s concurring opinion here.

Read Justice Donohue’s dissenting opinion here.

Criminal Law, PCRA

Commonwealth v. Stevenson

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that to convict a defendant of indirect criminal contempt for violating a PFA order, the Commonwealth must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that, at the time of the violation, the defendant had actual knowledge of the PFA order, regardless of how the defendant gained this knowledge. It is unnecessary for a member of law enforcement or a person designated by the court to provide notice.

Read Judge Mundy’s concurring opinion here.

Read Judge Wecht’s dissenting opinion here.

Family Law, PFA, Notice

Commonwealth v. Gallaway

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed an issue of first impression: Whether a jury’s observation of a videotape in which the defendant is wearing prison clothing carries the same risk to his presumption of innocence as the jury’s in-person observation of the defendant in prison clothing at trial. The Court held that “in determining whether a jury should be permitted to view a videotape which shows a defendant in prison clothing, it is sufficient for a trial court to analyze the challenged evidence under Rule 403 of our Rules of Evidence, which requires a court to weigh the probative value of the evidence against the danger of unfair prejudice. However, in considering the danger of unfair prejudice resulting from the jury’s observation of a videotape showing the defendant in prison clothing, the court should assess the degree to which the videotape will serve as a constant reminder of the accused’s condition that may affect a juror’s judgment, or whether it is likely to be a continuing influence throughout the trial, creating a risk that the jury will consider impermissible factors in reaching its decision.”

Read Justice Wecht’s dissenting opinion here.

Criminal Law, Evidence

Cowher v. Kodali

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the narrow question of whether the defendants waived their right to a new trial under the general verdict rule. The rule applies and mandates waiver when a general verdict rests upon both valid and invalid grounds, and the litigant challenging the verdict failed to request a special verdict slip that would have clarified the basis for the verdict. The Court ruled that the defendants must suffer the consequences of the rule because they proposed a verdict slip that only requested the jury indicate a single dollar amount for a survival action and did not ask the jury to itemize pain and suffering, past wages, and future wages.

Read Justice Mundy’s concurring and dissenting opinion here.

Civil Law, Personal Injury

Bell v. Wilkinsburg Sch. Dist.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a school district was not required to obtain prior approval from the Department of Education before changing the mode of transportation for charter school students, from school buses to public transportation.

Read Justice Mundy’s dissenting decision here.

Administrative Law, Education Law

Olszewski v. Parry

The Pennsylvania Superior Court declined to find waiver in this appeal from the grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff and a plaintiff’s verdict on the remaining counts. The dispute was over an easement. The trial concluded with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant did not file post-trial motions and appealed. The plaintiff argued waiver under Pa.R.Civ.P. 227.1(c). But the Court ruled that the defendant could challenge the existence of an easement on appeal because when the court grants a pretrial motion for summary judgment, but other claims go to trial, the party that lost the summary judgment motion is not required to file post-trial motions objecting to the summary judgment order. The Court then affirmed the lower court’s order declaring that there was an easement.

Civil Law, Civil Procedure, Appellate Procedure

Hunnel v. Kawczewicz

In this dispute about the interpretation of a deed, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order that granted the intervenor’s motion for summary judgment. Appellants owned property and initiated the underlying action to obtain a declaration of their ownership of the property’s oil and gas rights. The Superior Court agreed with the trial court’s interpretation of a deed, finding that it included an “exception” of oil and gas rights.

Property Law, Deeds

Wykel v. Knapp

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a mortgage continues to encumber a wife’s interest in a property when only her husband signed the mortgage. The Court relied on the entireties presumption, which provides that, concerning properties held by the entireties during the marriage, either spouse has the power to act for both without specific authority, so long as the benefits of such action inure to both.

Civil Law, Real Property

Unruh Turner Burke and Frees v. Tattersall Dev. Co.

In this collection case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Appellants’ motion to dissolve a mandatory preliminary injunction. The injunction enjoined Appellants from transferring funds to avoid payment of the judgment.

Civil Law, Preliminary Injunction

In re Appeal of Prospect Crozer LLC

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found “structural error” and vacated the trial court’s orders that assessed Taxpayer’s real property at $74 million for tax years 2017-2019. Taxpayer argued that the orders were null and void because the judge issued them after he had forfeited his judicial office by assuming a position with the Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes. Taxpayer also challenged the orders on their merits because the trial court did not state a reason for accepting the valuation of the taxing authority’s expert over that of Taxpayer’s expert.

Administrative Law, Structural Error

In re Estate of Potocar

An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a trust was a “sole use trust” and subject to deferred inheritance tax treatment under section 2113 of the Inheritance and Estate Tax Act.

Administrative Law, Trusts & Estates

Bethke v. City of Philadelphia

In this Right-to-Know-Law action, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court granted Bethke’s application for a stay of the proceedings in the trial court, pending his appeal of two non-final orders. The Court granted the application because Bethke met each of the four prongs of the test for a stay.

Administrative Law, Application for Stay


Scott v. Josey

The New Jersey Appellate Division dealt with a modern-day twist on a case centering on underinsured motorist coverage and the States’s 2017 Transportation Network Company Safety and Regulatory Act. The claim arose out of a motor vehicle crash involving an Uber Eats delivery driver. The plaintiff sought to cash in on the Act’s generous mandate to provide at least $1.5 million in underinsured motorist coverage. Here, though, the Court ruled that the Act applies to apps that provide rides for people and not food delivery. So, the Act covers Uber, but not Uber Eats. The Appellate Division also discussed the timeliness of the appeal pursuant to Rule 2:2-3(a).

Civil Law, Personal Injury

L.R. v. Cherry Hill Bd. of Educ.

The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the order of a special master and the trial court that denied the plaintiff’s statutory request for certain student records. The Court ruled that recent amendments made by the Department of Education did not apply retroactively. And in any event, under either set of rules, providing records with all personal identifying information redacted except for the students’ initials would still constitute information related to an individual student and not be subject to disclosure.

Administrative Law, OPRA


United States v. Fallon

The Third Circuit largely affirmed the defendants’ convictions involving a fraudulent scheme to defraud private entities and the government of funds they were entitled to for returning old and unused pharmaceuticals. The Court declined to suppress evidence, reasoning that the good-faith exception applied even if a warrant was overly broad. The Court then held that the District Court properly utilized the Fed. R. Evid. 403 balancing test in excluding the defendants’ proposed expert on civil contract law and did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on civil contract law. The Court ruled that there was no material difference between the indictment and verdict sheet such that the defendants were prejudiced by “constructive amendments.” But the Court vacated convictions for money laundering because the financial transactions at issue occurred before the fraudulent activity, and that ruling necessitated remand for resentencing.

Criminal Law, White Collar Crime

United States v. Castro

The Third Circuit analyzed the five prerequisites for coram nobis relief outlined in Ragbir v. United States and then affirmed the District Court’s denial of the defendant’s petition. He based the coram nobis petition on the Supreme Court’s decision Rehaif v. United States, in which the Court held that under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), an illegal alien in possession of a firearm must be found to have known he was an illegal alien at the time of his arrest.

Crimmigration, Coram Nobis

New Jersey Bankers Assoc. v. Att’y Gen. New Jersey

The Third Circuit avoided a thorny First Amendment issue regarding N.J.S.A. 19:34-45, which provides that “no corporation carrying on the business of a bank shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” The plaintiff was the New Jersey Bankers Association (“NJBA”), a non-profit member-funded trade association representing 88 banks in New Jersey. The Third Circuit ruled that the NJBA had Article III standing but that the statute did not apply to professional associations, only to actual banks. Furthermore, the Court ruled that NJBA did not meet the prudential standing requirements to make a First Amendment challenge to the statute on behalf of third-party banks.

Civil Law, First Amendment, Standing

Geist v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co.

In this underinsured motorist suit, the Third Circuit reviewed the text of Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law and affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case. The Court disagreed with the plaintiff’s contention that Geist the District Court misinterpreted sections 1731 and 1734 of the Law. The plaintiff argued that the statutes require an insurer to obtain a written election to provide UIM-coverage limits lower than bodily injury coverage limits when a policyholder adds a new vehicle to an existing automobile insurance policy, and, if the insurer fails to do so, it must provide UIM-coverage limits equal to the bodily injury coverage limits.

Personal Injury, Insurance Dispute

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