Opinion Summaries for the

Below are summaries of the precedential appellate decisions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Third Circuit for the week of May 9. Click on a case name to read the court’s entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Lehman

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for first-degree murder. The defendant made three claims of error. First, he claimed that the trial court erred by denying his motion in limine seeking to present evidence of the victim’s rap music videos to the jury. The Superior Court ruled that the defendant did not proffer any evidence that he knew about the four rap videos before he killed the victim. Accordingly, the videos were not admissible to show the reasonableness of the defendant’s fear of the victim at the time of the killing. The Court noted that “the admission of rap lyrics as evidence of a propensity for violence by the performing artist must be viewed with suspicion because such evidence is likely to be of limited probative value. For the same reasons, the admission of rap lyrics risks confusing or misleading the jury under Pa.R.E. 403.” Next, the defendant asserted that the trial court erred when it admitted text messages he sent to an attorney, arguing that the messages were inadmissible because they were communications subject to attorney-client privilege. The Court held that the defendant failed to satisfy the first and third elements of the Attorney-Client Privilege Test and, thus, the text messages were not privileged communications. Finally, the Court ruled that the defendant waived his claim that the trial court erred by permitting the Commonwealth to question him using his previous testimony at a status conference hearing.

#CriminalLaw, #MotionInLimine, #Privilege, #404(b), #Waiver

Commonwealth v. Hobel

After a jury convicted the defendant of three gunpoint robberies and a subsequent high-speed chase, he appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and claimed that his motion to suppress was erroneously denied, that his matters were improperly joined, as well as weight and sufficiency issues. The latter claims were not meritorious. The suppression motion asserted that the extraterritorial actions of the police violated the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (MPJA). The Court offered a detailed analysis of the MPJA and two officers’ actions outside their home jurisdictions before affirming the lower court’s order.

#CriminalLaw, #Suppression, #HotPursuit

Commonwealth v. Miller

After the Miller and Montgomery decisions, the trial court resentenced the defendant, a juvenile lifer, to imprisonment of 55 years to life. The defendant appealed, challenging the legality of the sentence as a de facto life sentence without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) and the discretionary aspects of his sentence. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed, holding that the sentence was not manifestly unreasonable because the trial court considered the PSI and the other evidence.

#CriminalLaw, #Sentencing, #JuvenileLifer

Jordan v. Pa. State Univ.

A former PSU football player sued the school and its medical center following surgery to repair an injury suffered during a practice for a bowl game. The trial court sustained the defendants’ preliminary objections and dismissed the action, denied his request for recusal, and held him in contempt. The former athlete fared no better before the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Court affirmed. As one would expect in a case where the appellant filed a 68-page pro se brief that the Court described as “somewhat befuddling and convoluted,” the opinion touches on the myriad ways the appellant failed to correctly preserve and present his claims of error. Had this student-athlete attended the prestigious University of Wisconsin-Madison, he would be in a better position to handle this legal matter.*
*This summary does not reflect the opinions of all S | S members.

#CivilLaw, #Waiver, #CivPro, #PersonalInjury

Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Davis

The Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated the trial court’s award in Hartford’s favor. The case stemmed from a motor vehicle accident in which Appellant was injured while operating a vehicle owned by Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc. during the course and scope of his employment. The trial court entered an order that granted Hartford’s motion for summary judgment; denied Davis’s counter-motion for summary judgment; and vacated the arbitration award. The court entered judgment in favor of Hartford that same day. Davis appealed, and the Superior Court vacated the award. The Court ruled that the trial court failed to give full effect to the policy’s terms, namely, the UIM Coverage Endorsement appended to it.

#CivilLaw, #PersonalInjury, #InsuranceDispute, #SummaryJudgment

Walthour v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Rev.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court vacated the order that dismissed Claimant’s appeal of the denial of her request to backdate her application for benefits as untimely under Section 501(e) of the Unemployment Compensation Law. The Commonwealth Court ruled that “the evidence of record conclusively established that Claimant contacted the Referee’s office in real-time, was apparently never informed that there was an issue with her phone, and was improperly charged with being responsible for her own technology and in charge of her phone and any incoming calls.” Thus, the Court remanded the case.

#AdministrativeLaw, #Unemployment

In re Garcia

This case involved the appeal of a decision to grant a variance. The dispute concerned a project to develop a property, which had been abandoned for decades, in a manner that would include a multi-family residential use. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The Court held that the Zoning Board did not err in its determinations with regard to Applicant’s demonstration of unnecessary hardship and that Applicant requested the minimum necessary variance to afford it relief. However, the Court vacated “the trial court’s order to the extent that Applicant failed to establish that it was entitled to a variance absent payment of the taxes due on the subject property.”

#AdministrativeLaw, #Zoning


State v. Lavrick

The New Jersey Appellate Division began its opinion by succinctly stating the issue: “In this case of first impression, we consider whether a victim in a criminal matter has standing to appeal from a trial court order granting defendant’s motion for a civil reservation, where the victim neither moved to intervene before the trial court nor this court, and the parties to the underlying action have not appealed.” The Court ruled that the victim had standing to appeal, but prospectively the Court noted several caveats to its ruling. The case’s high-profile nature might be a basis for the decision. On the merits, the Court found the trial court’s analysis flawed and, thus, remanded.

#CriminalLaw, #CivilLaw, #CivilReservation, #Standing

Acoli v. NJ State Parole Bd.

The New Jersey Supreme Court paroled a cop-killer sentenced to life plus twenty-four years. In 1974, a jury found Acoli guilty of the murder of a state trooper and the shooting of another. The Court held that under the (now-repealed) law at the time of Acoli’s parole hearing, he was presumptively entitled to release. To overcome that presumption, the Parole Board had the burden of demonstrating that there was a substantial likelihood that, if released, Acoli would commit another crime. The Parole Board did not meet that burden because the record did not contain substantial credible evidence to support the decision to deny parole.

#CriminalLaw, #Parole

Metro Marketing, LLC v. Nationwide Vehicle Assurance, Inc.

This litigation pitted rival telemarketing firms against one another. The plaintiffs are affiliated companies that sell extended service contracts to motor vehicle owners over the telephone. They claimed that the defendants hired away key managers and more than forty sales force members, siphoned customers, and misappropriated alleged trade secrets. Relying upon several legal theories, the plaintiffs sued to recover damages and obtain injunctive relief. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that the “sham affidavit” doctrine that the New Jersey Supreme Supreme Court adopted in Shelcusky v. Garjulio, 172 N.J. 185, 199-202 (2002), can extend to a “side-switching” situation. In particular, the doctrine can apply where, as here: (1) a codefendant is deposed, (2) that deponent thereafter obtains a job with the plaintiff, (3) the deponent then aids his new employer by signing certifications recanting his deposition testimony, and (4) the plaintiff offers those certifications in opposing summary judgment motions by the other defendants. The Court remanded because the trial court erred in rejecting as evidence a recorded telephone conversation of a different codefendant who was also rehired by one of the plaintiffs’ companies after his deposition.

#CivilLaw, #SummaryJudgment, #RICO


Gaines v Superintendent Benner Twp. SCI

The Third Circuit vacated an order granting the defendant’s petition for habeas corpus. The defendant was convicted in Pennsylvania state court of first-degree murder. After pursuing direct and collateral proceedings in Pennsylvania, the defendant petitioned for habeas relief. The District Court granted the petition. The Third Circuit reversed and concluded that the District Court erred, ruling that trial counsel made a reasonable tactical choice when he did not object to the trial court’s failure to give the requested no adverse inference instruction as part of its charge to the jury.

#CriminalLaw, #Habeas

In re Szczyporski

This appeal involved the interaction of two federal laws: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Bankruptcy Code. The Third Circuit held that the ACA’s shared responsibility payment is a tax “on or measured by income.” Thus, the Court joined those courts that hold the shared responsibility payment is entitled to priority in bankruptcy under Section 507(a)(8)(A).

#CivilLaw, #TaxLaw, #Bankruptcy

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