Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of May 23. Click on a case name to read the court’s entire opinion..
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the order that granted the defendant’s suppression motion. The Commonwealth contended the lower court erred in categorizing the police officers’ interaction with the defendant as an improper investigative detention rather than a lawful mere encounter. Central to this appeal was the question of “whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave or not engage with a police officer when, inter alia, this was a two-phase interaction, there were multiple armed and uniformed officers present, and one officer requested the defendant’s identification while also questioning him about his parole status and whether he had anything on his person.”
#CriminalLaw, #Suppression, #MereEncounter
The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed one of the rarest orders: the grant of a new trial because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The case centered around a marriage gone wrong in which the defendant shot and killed his wife. He claimed self-defense and diminished capacity, arguing he was drunk and high at the time of the crime. Both sides presented psychological experts. After a jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder, the trial court granted a new trial based on a weight claim because the Commonwealth’s expert had given false testimony, and his opinion was rendered incompetent when he testified to facts not supported by the record. The Superior Court held that the trial court erred when it found that the defendant was unfairly surprised by the expert’s testimony.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court heard this case for the second time. In this iteration, the defendant challenged her sentence, arguing that it was illegal because the sentencing court did not determine her reentry plan eligibility as required by Subsection 9756(b)(3) of the Sentencing Code. The Superior Court agreed, ruling that sentencing courts shall state on the record at sentencing whether the defendant is eligible to participate in a reentry plan.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the defendant’s second-degree murder, conspiracy, and robbery convictions. The Court disposed of the defendant’s four claims: 1.) the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash; 2.) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict; 3.) the trial court erred in denying his post-sentence motion for judgment of acquittal because the weight of the evidence; and 4.) the trial court violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation when the court refused to modify COVID-19 procedures consistent with surrounding jurisdictions.
#CriminalLaw, #Sufficiency, #PrimaFacieCase
The Pennsylvania Superior Court swatted away the defendant’s challenges to his registration obligations under Subchapter H of SORNA. The defendant claimed that the registration requirements amounted to an illegal sentence and violated his rights to due process. He also claimed that “it was illogical and contradictory” to require him to register as a sex offender simply because he was “likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.” The Superior Court rejected each argument.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction of Medicaid Fraud—Submission of False Information. During deliberations at the defendant’s trial, the jury requested Commonwealth exhibits that collected the hours the defendant billed her employers. The Superior Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sending back those exhibits because they were not expert reports. And even if they were, expert reports are not specifically precluded from jury deliberations under Rule 646. In addition, the Court affirmed the restitution order of more than $14,000.
#CriminalLaw, #Deliberations, #Restitution
The parties asked the Pennsylvania Superior Court to balance the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine with a trustee’s duty to inform beneficiaries regarding the trust’s administration. The Court framed the issue as follows: Whether “the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege and attorney work product doctrine is contrary to the law in Pennsylvania, following our Supreme Court’s plurality decision in In re Estate of McAleer (McAleer II). The Superior Court affirmed the orphans’ court decision and concluded that “a trustee is privileged from disclosing to beneficiaries or co-trustees’ opinions obtained from, and other communications with, counsel retained for the trustees’ personal protection in the course, or in anticipation, of litigation.”
#CivilLaw, #TrustsAndEstates, #AttorneyClientPrivilege, #Discovery
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the order overruling Mt. Lebanon Operations’ preliminary objections requesting a transfer to binding arbitration of wrongful death and survival claims. The Court ruled that Mt. Lebanon failed to establish Adams had the authority to agree to the arbitration provision in the Agreement. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling the POs seeking to compel arbitration.
#CivilLaw, #PreliminaryObjections, #WrongfulDeath, #SurvivalClaim, #Arbitration
An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court split along party lines and held that ordinances enacted by the City of Pittsburgh encroached into firearm regulation and, therefore, are preempted by section 6120(a) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act. Section 6120(a) prohibits a county, municipality, and/or township from passing laws that “in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.” The city passed the ordinances knowing they would be challenged. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will likely decide this issue.
On May 1, 2020, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court granted peremptory judgment in mandamus and summary declaratory relief in Petitioners’ favor and against the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) because the PLCB failed to carry out the General Assembly’s directive to permit properly licensed companies to sell and deliver special orders directly to their customers without added handling fees. Petitioners subsequently filed an Application for Relief Seeking Damages, Costs, Interest, and Attorneys’ Fees (Damages Application) from the PLCB. The two issues before the en banc panel of the Commonwealth Court were: (1) whether the PLCB is a “person” under Section 8303 of the Judicial Code; and (2) whether Petitioners may recover mandamus damages from the PLCB. The Court granted Petitioners’ Damages Application. However, the Court permitted the PLCB to undertake discovery and/or request a hearing limited to Petitioners’ damages and interest, as well as other parties’ attorneys’ fees.
In the Pennsylvania Commonwealth’s Court’s second case of the week based on MFW Wine Co., LLC v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (MFW I), the Court reviewed the Liquor Control Board’s preliminary objections to a complaint. The complaint was filed by Log Cabin, which ordered liquor and wine through a special order process and was charged a handling fee by the Liquor Control Board. Log Cabin claimed it was not subject to the fee because the legislature abolished it. The Court overruled the preliminary objections and permitted the suit to proceed.
#AdministrativeLaw, #Damages, #PreliminaryObjections
The County of Fulton and other parties filed an Amended Petition for Review (Amended Petition) in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court against the Secretary of the Commonwealth (Secretary) to challenge her decertification of two electronic voting devices. Count III of the Amended Petition asserted that a directive, which prohibits all county boards of elections from inspecting their electronic voting devices with the assistance of a third-party consultant, violates Section 302 of the Election Code. In response to the Amended Petition, the Secretary filed a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer to Count III. The Court overruled the Secretary’s demurrer, concluding that “it cannot be said with certainty that the law will not allow the County to prevail on this claim.”
Two days after the tragedy in Uvalde, in a plurality opinion, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dismissed a petition for review that challenged Section 6120(a) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act. City governments in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh sought to enact stricter gun laws. The Court ruled that the General Assembly has the sole power to legislate in firearm regulation and preempt and/or prohibit all political subdivisions from enacting local laws that encroach into that area.” Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in particular, sought to enact stricter gun laws. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will likely decide this case.
The New Jersey appellate courts did not issue any precedential opinions last week.
The defendant was not tried for nearly two years after the Government indicted him. On appeal, the Third Circuit rejected his three claims regarding the speedy trial clock. The defendant claimed that an open-ended continuance granted by the District Court did not meet the Speedy Trial Act’s criteria for tolling under § 3161(h)(7)(A); that the motions in limine filed by the Government did not qualify for the Act’s exclusion of “delay resulting from any pretrial motion” under § 3161(h)(1)(D); and that his motion for discovery did not toll the clock under § 3161(h)(1)(D) from its filing through its official disposition.” The Third Circuit agreed with the District Court that each of those time periods was excludable.
The Third Circuit denied review of the Board of Immigration Appeals order that dismissed the petitioner’s appeal from an Immigration Judge’s determination that he is removable and ineligible for cancellation of removal. The petitioner made two unsuccessful claims: first, that his New Jersey state offense (third-degree endangering the welfare of a child) is not a “crime of child abuse” because it lacks the required particular likelihood of harm to a child; and, second, that the Board erred in sustaining pretermission of his motion for cancellation of removal because there was insufficient evidence that he committed the crime before accruing the necessary seven years of continuous residence.
The Third Circuit affirmed the order that granted summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in this religious discrimination suit. Groff informed USPS that he was unable to work on Sundays. USPS offered to find employees to swap shifts with him, but on more than twenty Sundays, no coworker would switch, and Groff did not work. Groff was disciplined and ultimately left USPS. Groff sued, alleging Title VII violations for USPS’s failure to reasonably accommodate his religion. First, the Third Circuit held that because the shift swaps USPS offered to Groff did not eliminate the conflict between his religious practice and his work obligations, USPS did not provide Groff with reasonable accommodation. However, the accommodation Groff sought (exemption from Sunday work) would cause undue hardship to USPS. Therefore, USPS did not violate Title VII by declining to grant his accommodation.
#CivilLaw, #CivilRightsAct, #SummaryJudgment
This appeal centered around Section 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Code and the Rules of Professional Conduct. The case involved the Boy Scouts, its insurer, its insurer’s reinsurer, and multiple law firms. Sidley Austin represented the insurer in its pursuit of reinsurance for a policy issued to the Boy Scouts. The firm also represented the Boy Scouts in its bankruptcy restructuring efforts. And it was in that latter case where the litigation to this appeal arose. The insurer “came to feel jilted” and objected when Sidley filed a retention request in the Boy Scout’s bankruptcy case. The Bankruptcy Court, the District Court, and the Third Circuit agreed that Sidley could represent the Boy Scouts in the bankruptcy proceedings.
#AdministrativeLaw, #Bankruptcy, #ConflictOfInterest, #RPC
The Third Circuit framed the issues in this appeal as follows: Whether “a date on the outside of a mail-in ballot, required under state law, is material to the voter’s qualifications and eligibility to vote. However, in resolving that question, we must decide whether private plaintiffs can even bring this suit to enforce the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act.” The Court held that private plaintiffs have a private right of action to enforce § 10101 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and further held that the dating provisions contained in 25 Pa.C.S. §§ 3146.6(a) and 3150.16 are immaterial to a voter’s qualifications and eligibility under the Materiality Provision. Accordingly, the Court remanded and directed the District Court to enter an order to count the undated ballots at issue.