Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of May 2. Click on a case name to read the court’s entire opinion.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court likely issued this opinion as a reminder to practitioners about correct appellate practices. The Court footnoted multiple errors made by the defendant’s counsel in perfecting the appeal. And the Court wrote at length to articulate the distinction between a weight and a sufficiency challenge. The Court affirmed the judgments of sentence, affirming that sometimes it’s just better to hire the pros at Sullivan | Simon than to go at it alone.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed an order from the Court of Common Pleas that granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges based on the Commonwealth’s violation of Rule 600(c). The critical issue was the county’s COVID-related judicial emergency declaration. All parties agreed that the pandemic had no impact on this case and that there was no discernible backlog of cases. The Superior Court ruled, however, that the declaration’s language suspended the rule-based speedy trial right for all cases, including the instant one. As such, the Commonwealth did not violate the rule.
#CriminalLaw, #COVID-19, #SpeedyTrial, #Rule600
The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected the defendant’s novel argument that medical marijuana is not a Schedule I controlled substance for purposes of the DUI statute. The Court relied, in part, on its recent en banc decision in Commonwealth v. Stone in concluding that medical marijuana continues to be a schedule I controlled substance. The Court also affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.
#CriminalLaw, #DUI, #DWI, #MedicalMarijuana
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the order that refused to appoint Appellant as an administrator of Decedent’s estate. Decedent passed away intestate, and the only potential heir disclaimed and renounced his interest in the estate. Appellant, a party adverse to the estate in pending litigation as a principal creditor at the time of Decedent’s death, per 20 Pa.C.S. § 3155(b)(4), filed a Petition to the Register of Wills for Appointment of a Personal Representative. Eight days later, Appellant filed an Amended Petition. The Register of Wills denied the Amended Petition. Appellant appealed the decision to the orphans’ court, which affirmed, and the Superior Court affirmed. The Court determined that the orphans’ court did not err in finding that the estate would be better administered by a disinterested personal representative.
In a 55-page novella, the Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated in part, affirmed in part, and remanded this case in which the lower court granted preliminary injunctions. The lower court enjoined Appellants from making false, unsubstantiated, and defamatory statements about Appellees. The Superior Court vacated that portion of the orders because they restricted free speech. The Court affirmed the remaining parts of the injunction orders and remanded with instructions.
#CivilLaw, #PreliminaryInjunction, #FirstAmendment
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) decision to deny KPMG’s bid protests. The Court concluded that Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) “provided DHS with adequate information upon which DHS could be assured that PCG would perform the contract according to the RFP’s specified requirements and that PCG did not obtain an unfair competitive advantage.”
In re Nomination Petition of Bingham as Candidate for the Office of Democratic Comm. Person Ward 45, Division 9
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reviewed the order of the lower court that dismissed a citizen’s objections to a candidate’s petition to be included on a ballot for an election. The objecting citizen served the candidate by leaving a copy of the Objection Petition in the mailbox on the outside wall of the candidate’s residence. The Commonwealth Court held that this service did not comply with the administrative orders and rules.
#AdministrativeLaw, #ElectionLaw, #Service
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed an order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which affirmed a referee’s order denying unemployment compensation benefits. The Board concluded that Claimant was ineligible for UC benefits under Section 402(e) of the Unemployment Compensation Law. The petitioner was a nurse but was fired when she refused to get a flu vaccine. The Commonwealth Court ruled that the petitioner engaged in willful misconduct and was terminated for cause.
The New Jersey Supreme Court continued its love affair with Miranda and Fifth Amendment matters. Here, an interrogating detective administered Miranda warnings to a suspect but “repeatedly undermined them throughout an interrogation.” For example, the detective told the suspect that his confession “would remain confidential among us” and that the warnings were “just a formality.” The Court ruled that the State did not prove the confession was voluntary. But the Court declined to adopt a bright-line rule that would require suppression any time an officer makes an improper comment during an interrogation.
#CriminalLaw, #Miranda, #5thAmendment
The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s denial of a petition for compassionate release. A.M. suffers from end-stage multiple sclerosis. After serving eight years of her forty-year sentence for murdering her husband, she petitioned for release on parole to a medical facility pursuant to the Compassionate Release Act (CRA). The lower court denied the petition. The Appellate Division reversed, ruling that the statute does not vest a court with any discretion and mandates that a court grants a petition for release on parole under the CRA if it finds there is clear and convincing evidence an inmate suffers from a qualifying permanent physical incapacity and does not pose a threat to public safety.
The New Jersey Appellate Division heard appeals from Woodbridge Township and the town’s Board of Education after their summary judgment motions were denied in an unusual personal injury case. The plaintiff was walking home from high school when the defendant struck him with her car. The plaintiff sued the driver as well as the school district and Township because N.J.S.A. 18A:39-1.5 requires schools to offer transportation services for students who “must walk to and from school along hazardous routes.” The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s order as to the Board but reversed as to the Township.
#CivilLaw, #PersonalInjury, #EducationLaw, #AdministrativeLaw
These three consolidated appeals before the New Jersey Appellate Division posed “related but distinct questions involving the application of Rule 4:19.” The appeals concerned when, if ever, a plaintiff with alleged cognitive limitations, psychological impairments, or language barriers can be accompanied by a third party to a defense medical examination (“DME”) or require that the examination be video or audio recorded to preserve objective evidence of what occurred during the examination. The Court made four rulings detailed in the summary on S | S’s website.
The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s order enforcing the parties’ palimony agreement concerning the dissolution of their relationship. The parties entered into the agreement and abided by its terms for a while. But the plaintiff never paid her share of the down payment. The defendant stopped paying his monthly share. The plaintiff filed a complaint seeking damages for the defendant’s breach of the agreement. The trial court concluded that the agreement was enforceable and not barred by the Statute of Frauds. The Appellate Division affirmed for the reasons given by the trial court and made two additional points.
#CivilLaw, #Contracts, #MotionInLimine, #StatuteOfFrauds
The Third Circuit vacated the defendant’s sentence and held that conspiracy to commit a crime of violence does not count as a “crime of violence” for purposes of § 2K2.1. The defendant pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). In anticipation of his sentencing, the United States Probation Office prepared a Presentence Report (PSR), calculating his Guidelines range by using the enhancement that applies if a defendant “committed any part of the instant offense” after a felony conviction for either a “crime of violence” or a “controlled substance offense.” U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(4). The enhancement was predicated on a purported “crime of violence”: his prior conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree aggravated assault under New Jersey law. The defendant objected, but the District Court adopted the calculations of the PSR and applied the § 2K2.1(a)(4) enhancement. The defendant appealed, and the Third Circuit reversed. The Court held that “the plain text, structure, and purpose of the Guidelines indicate that there is only one reasonable construction of “crime of violence” as used in § 2K2.1, and, just as in § 4B1.2(a), that construction excludes conspiracy offenses.”
#CriminalLaw, #Sentencing, #CrimeOfViolence