Home » 2019



In re Fortieth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, 220 A.3d 558 (Pa. Nov. 20, 2019), per Todd, J., the Court held that Section 7111 of the Mental Health Procedures Act was violated by the disclosure and potential public display of privileged communications between a petitioner, charged with sexual assault, and his therapists. Though the Petitioner had authorized release of his information in relation to a psychological evaluation, he had never authorized release to the public. The Court ordered the redaction of the sensitive material from the report before it is placed on public display.

In re 2014 Allegheny Cty. Investigating Grand Jury, 223 A.3d 214 (Pa. Oct. 31, 2019), per Dougherty, J., a television news station owner filed a Motion to Intervene in grand jury proceedings to obtain search warrants and a sealing order over sexual misconduct at a high school. In a matter of first impression, the Court held that there was no common law nor constitutional right of access to search warrants and related materials issued in connection with a grand jury investigation as long as the investigation is ongoing.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO v. Commonwealth, 219 A.3d 306(Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 11, 2019), per Jubelirer, J., the court held that Section 306(a.3) of the Workers’ Compensation Act was not an unconstitutional delegation of the General Assembly’s legislative authority. The court distinguished Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board,which stated that Section 306(a.3)’s predecessor had been unconstitutional because the General Assembly had not adopted any standards to restrain the scope of the AMA guidelines. However, since the General Assembly had since adopted such standards in the instant case, Section 306(a.3) was not unconstitutional.

Pomicter v. Luzerne Cty. Convention Ctr. Auth., 939 F.3d 534 (3d Cir. Sept. 23, 2019), per Scirica, J., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Circus’ policy restricting where protestors could demonstrate and hand out flyers did not violate their free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the Circus’ ban on the use of profane language and voice amplification was unreasonable and violated the First Amendment. The federal court then remanded the issue to the District Court to consider whether sequestering protestors in a certain area violated Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Germantown Cab Co. v. Philadelphia Parking Auth., 206 A.3d 1030 (Pa. Apr. 26, 2019), per Wecht, J., the Court evaluated Act 64, which created a budget submission process that allowed the regulatory authority of Philadelphia’s taxicabs to fall under the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  The court held that as the statute required the Authority only to create a proposed budget and fee schedule, and as the General Assembly is permitted to make basic policy choices and impose a duty on others to carry out this policy, there was no unconstitutional delegation of legislative power under Article II, Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Slice of Life, LLC v. Hamilton Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 207 A.3d 886 (Pa. Apr. 26, 2019), per Donohue, J., the Court held that Airbnb rentals were not included in Hamilton Township’s zoning ordinance despite Article 1, section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which protects a citizen’s right to the private enjoyment of his or her property.  The Court overruled the lower court, as well as its decisions in Marchenkoand Shvekh, by holding that uses not expressly permitted in a zoning ordinance are excluded by implication.

M.T. by & Through Eison v. Peterman, 2019 WL 461083 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 6, 2019), per. Horan, J., the court dismissed Plaintiffs constitutional claim alleging a violation of his right to bodily integrity, which is protected under Article I, Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The court noted that federal courts have repeatedly found that Pennsylvania does not recognize a private cause of actions for damages under the Pennsylvania Constitution.  

Commonwealth v. Handley, 213 A.3d 1030 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 28, 2019), per Stabile, J., the Court applied a rational basis analysis under the Article 1, Section 1, Due Process and Equal Protections clauses to a challenge to the classification of marijuana as a schedule one drug.  The court ultimately held that the action was constitutional. 

Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Middlesex Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 2019 WL 2605850 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 26, 2019), per Wojcik, J., the court held that a new Township zoning ordinance that would provide for the use and regulation of oil and gas operations does not violate the Environmental Rights Amendment. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network claimed that the Township did not have power under Article 1, Section 1 to impose these regulations, but the court analyzed Frederick v. Allegheny Township Zoning Hearing Boardto determine that the ordinance was proper.


Commonwealth v. Le, 208 A.3d 960 (Pa. May 31, 2019), per Todd, JJ., the Appellant alleged that Pennsylvania’s death penalty statute violated his due process rights under the Fifth and Sixth amendments of the federal Constitution, and Article 1, Sections 6 and 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court held that Appellant’s sentence complies with the federal statutory mandate for imposition of a death sentence, despite Appellant’s challenge to the interpretation of current case law.


Commonwealth v. Moye, 2019 PA Super 352 (Nov. 27, 2019), per Kunselman, J., the Superior Court held that evidence in a first-degree murder case was insufficient to rebut the presumption against imposing a life sentence without parole for a juvenile defendant. The juvenile defendant had challenged a conviction of life without the possibility of parole under the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the court vacated and remanded.


Working Families Party v. Commonwealth, 209 A.3d 270 (Pa. June 5, 2019), per Mundy, J., the Court held that anti-fusion provisions, the ban on cross-nomination by political bodies, do not violate the Free and Equal Elections Clause, nor the Free Speech and Association clauses, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court also held that the action did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Pennsylvania and federal constitutions.


Commonwealth v. Batista, 219 A.3d 1199 (Sept. 27, 2019), per Kunselman, J., Appellant alleges that because marijuana is now medically available in Pennsylvania, police officers may no longer rely upon its smell as a factor for developing probable cause. The court concluded that the growth, distribution, possession, and use of marijuana without a state-issued permit remains illegal, and thus the smell of marijuana may still indicate criminal activity is afoot under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court affirmed the admission of the evidence.


Commonwealth v. Bishop, 217 A.3d 833 (Pa. Sept. 26, 2019), per Saylor, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the Appellant had waived his constitutional claim on appeal by failing to conclusively argue why Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution should afford greater protections against self-incrimination than the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the Court stated that “counsel’s approach of neither suggesting departure nor offering any reasons for departing was the antithesis of meaningful development.”


Yanakos v. UPMC, 218 A.3d 1214(Pa. Oct. 31, 2019), per Mundy, J., the Court held that the seven-year statute of repose contained in the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act was unconstitutional because it violated Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court applied intermediate scrutiny, and because the statute was not substantially related to an important government interest, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the statute was unconstitutional.


Dailey v. City of Philadelphia, 2017 WL 4856856 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 2, 2019), per Kearney, J., the Prothonotary claimed that the City of Philadelphia violated her rights under the Excessive Fines Clause of the Pennsylvania and Federal Constitutions after reducing 1.5 million in pension funds because of two violations of the retirement code. The Prothonotary claimed that the language of the retirement code was unconstitutionally vague and that the fine was excessive, but the District Court disagreed and granted summary judgment for the City. In doing so, the Court held that the federal and state Excessive Fines clauses are coextensive.

Commonwealth v. Montalvo, 205 A.3d 274 (Pa. 2019), per Baer, J., the Court held that the defendant raised a successful ineffective assistance claim because counsel failed to raise the Caldwellissue: whether a capital sentence is valid when the sentencing jury is led to believe that responsibility for determining the appropriateness of a death sentence rests not with the jury but with the appellate court which later reviews the case. The Court held this was a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Federal Constitution and Article I, Section 13.

Hiko Energy, LLC v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Comm’n, 209 A.3d 246 (Pa. June 5, 2019), per Mundy, J., the Court held that the Public Utility Commission did not violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution for its approximately $1.8 million civil penalty against HIKO. There were no constitutional issues in this case because HIKO failed to preserve its constitutional challenge.


Commonwealth v. Wood, 208 A.3d 131 (Pa. Super. 2019), per Murray, J., the court held that application of SORNA to sexual offenders for offenses committed before its effective date violates the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution and Pennsylvania Constitution.  The court also overruled Commonwealth v. Kizak.  Companion case: Commonwealth v. Lippincott, 2019 PA Super 118 (Apr. 15, 2019).


Firearm Owners Against Crime v. City of Harrisburg, 218 A.3d 497 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sept. 12, 2019), per Brobson, J., the Commonwealth Court held that the group, Firearm Owners Against Crime, had standing to challenge four City ordinances regarding the use, possession, ownership, and/or transfer of firearms in the City. The Court held that even where a taxpayer meets all of the traditional elements to gain standing, taxpayer standing is only appropriate in cases where the challenged action affects in some way the plaintiff’s status as a taxpayer. However, the Firearm Owners do not have standing to challenge the legality of the State of Emergency Ordinance because they lacked taxpayer standing to challenge an ordinance applying only in a state of emergency.


J. & S.O. v. C.H., 206 A.3d 1171 (2019), per Dubow, J., the court held that 23 Pa. C.S. § 5325(1), a statute granting automatic standing to grandparents for partial and supervised physical custody, did not violate due process rights or equal protection rights of a widowed father under the 14th Amendment and Article 1 §§ 1 and 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The statute survived strict scrutiny because it served the compelling state interest of protecting the health and emotional welfare of children by creating an opportunity for the child to have a relationship with the family of the child’s deceased parent and it was narrowly tailored to meet that interest. 


Protect PT v. Penn Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 220 A.3d 1174 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Nov. 14, 2019), per Simpson, S.J., the court upheld a township zoning ordinance because the petitioners failed to establish that the ordinance created an actual risk of harm to the environmental health of local residents. Thus, the ordinance did not violate Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Lorenzen v. W. Cornwall Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 222 A.3d 893 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 23, 2019), per Brobson, J., Appellants raised an Article I, Section 27 challenge to a construction permit granted to Sunoco Pipeline by the West Cornwall Township Zoning Hearing Board under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court held that appellants who lived within the area where debris from the pipeline could be dispensed, had standing to sue under the Environmental Rights Amendment. 

Pennsylvania Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commonwealth, 214 A.3d 748 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 29, 2019), per Wojcik, J., the Defendants did not violate the corpus of the Pennsylvania public trust regarding payments received from the sale of oil and gas leases on State Forest lands. The court held on remand from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that the challenged bonus and rental payments for oil and gas leases were not facially unconstitutional under the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. These payments were not made for the severance of natural resources. Rather, they were consideration for the exploration of oil and gas on public land. Accordingly, the Commonwealth’s application for summary relief is granted, and the Foundation’s application for summary relief is denied.


Weeks v. Dep’t of Human Servs., 222 A.3d 722 (Pa. Dec. 18, 2019), per Saylor, J., the Court held that the appellants failed to carry their burden of a claim on the merits when they requested a class certification, as well as declaratory relief, in a determination that Act 12 is unconstitutional under the legislative process provisions of Article III, Sections 1 and 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Act 12 redefined Article IV’s definition of “general assistance-related categorically needy medical assistance,” reenacted a provision that had been previously invalidated by the courts, and deleted a provision that specified a person was automatically “needy” if they received Cash Assistance benefits. Injunctive relief was denied because appellants failed to carry their burden.


In re Lackawanna Cty., 212 A.3d 1 (Pa. July 17, 2019), per Dougherty, J., the Court held a Supervising Judge of the 41stStatewide Investigating Grand Jury had inherent authority to issue search warrants under Article V, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Attorney General properly seized Appellant’s property pursuant to these search warrants.


In re Estate of Easterday, 209 A.3d 331 (Pa. June 18, 2019), per Donohue, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that under Article 5, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Court has authority to prescribe general rules governing practices and procedures regarding the Divorce Code.


Gen. Motors Corp. v. Commonwealth, 222 A.3d 454 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Nov. 21, 2019), per Wojcik, J., the Commonwealth Court held that, in light of Nextel Communications v. Commonwealth, a $2 million cap on the amount of loss a corporation could carry over from prior years as a deduction against its 2001 taxable income violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. To cure the constitutional infirmity, either the $2 million-dollar cap or the entire net loss carryover provision must be severed from the Tax Code. In holding that the corporation’s rights under the Remedies Clause were met, the court concluded that a retroactive remedy is permissible and only the $2 million cap need be severed. The court reversed and remanded for recalculation and issuance of a refund. 

Punxsutawney Area Sch. Dist. v. Broadwing Timber, LLC, 2019 WL 5561413 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 29, 2019), per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the court held that the School District’s tax assessment of Boradwing’s properties did not violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution or the recent Valley Forgedecision. There, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that to deliberately target only commercial properties without requiring a formal or written policy or criteria creates an impermissible subclass of taxpayers or properties, resulting in an unconstitutional non-uniformity of taxes. Applying Valley Forge, the court found that the School District’s reassessment did not amount to a practice creating an unconstitutional subclass, and therefore, the assessment was permissible.

E. Stroudsburg Area Sch. Dist. v. Meadow Lake Plaza, LLC, 2019 WL 5250831 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 17, 2019), per Ceisler, J., the court held that limiting reassessments of taxpayers’ properties to those generating at least $10,000 a year in real property taxes did not constitute a violation of the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court reasoned that the $10,000 threshold for reassessments was reasonable and did not offend the uniformity provision despite the fact that, in this instance, only commercial properties in the School District met the threshold.

Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia v. Bd. of Revision of Taxes, 217 A.3d 472 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Aug. 22, 2019), per Leavitt, J., the Commonwealth Court held there was an insufficient evidentiary record to establish that the Philadelphia School District violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution when it assessed only commercial properties for tax purposes. A key issue was whether the School District used a “facially-neutral monetary threshold” when performing their assessments. The trial court had held this fact was irrelevant and failed to establish the proper evidentiary record. The Commonwealth Court vacated the judgment against the School District and remanded the case for supplements to the record.

Martel v. Allegheny Cty., 216 A.3d 1165 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Aug. 14, 2019), per Fizzano Cannon, J., the trial court dismissed Property Owners’ class action complaint against the Allegheny County Board of Assessment Appeals and Review. Property Owners alleged the Board had ordered increased property assessments based on current market values, violating the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. However, since Property Owners only sought application of the Administrative Code and Board rule instead of launching a “frontal attack” against the Board rule sufficient to be deemed a substantial constitutional question, under Jordan v. Fayette County Board of Assessment Appeals, the Commonwealth Court held that equity jurisdiction is lacking.

Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Revenue, 207 A.3d 315 (Pa. Apr. 26, 2019), per Saylor, J., the court held the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act unconstitutional under the uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Act required casinos to pay a supplemental assessment fee on slot-revenue machines. 

Brouillette v. Wolf, 213 A.3d 341 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 2, 2019), per Wojcik, J., the court held that Respondents (including the Governor and the State Senate) did not violate Article 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution by establishing unbalanced budgets and authorizing loans to cover deficits extending beyond the relevant fiscal years. The court stated that the Governor was not required to exercise his veto authority on the budget under Article 4, Section 15. Further, the Petitioners did not allege that the purported budget deficiencies involved acquisition of debt in the constitutional sense with a party outside of the Commonwealth government. The preliminary objections were overruled in part and sustained in part, and the Amended Petition was dismissed.


Apartment Ass’n of Metro. Pittsburgh, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 205 A.3d 418 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Mar. 12, 2019), per Fizzano Cannon, J., the court held an ordinance violated the Home Rule Law limitation on a city’s regulating business.  The ordinance went to the heart of business management and usurped the role of management. 


Muma v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Health, Div. of Nursing Care Facilities, 223 A.3d 742 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Dec. 18, 2019), per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the court held the Department of Health’s actions inconsistent with due process under the Pennsylvania Constitution because the Department entered the petitioner onto an abuse of nurse aid registry without first holding a hearing or showing cause. The court vacated and remanded for a hearing the petitioner sought.

Spanier v. Libby, 2019 WL 1930155 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 30, 2019), per Mehalhick, J., thecourt held that the lower court had unreasonably expanded the scope of a child endangerment statute by convicting the defendant on the more expansive 2007 statutory version (adding liability for employing or supervising children) instead of the lesser 1995 version in effect at the time of his conduct.  The defendant successfully raised ex post facto and due process claims.  The court vacated Spanier’s misdemeanor conviction because it was based on a criminal statute that did not go into effect until six years after the conduct in question, and was therefore in violation of Spanier’s federal ex post facto and due process rights.

Victory v. Berks Cty., 2019 WL 1507769 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 5, 2019), per Kearney, J., the court held that an inmate’s sexual discrimination claim under Article 1, Section 28 of the Pennsylvania Constitution survived a motion to dismiss because it sought only injunctive relief.  Fouse v. Saratoga Partners, L.P., No. 128 C.D. 2018, 2019 WL 1066014 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Mar. 7, 2019), per Fizzano Cannon, J., the court held that Pennsylvania’s real estate tax sales law’s lack of post-tax sale right of redemption, which allows borrowers a certain period of time after foreclosure during which they may reclaim the property, passed rational basis review when challenged under the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution and Article III, section 20 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. 

Szabo v. Dep’t of Transportation, 202 A.3d 52 (Pa. Feb. 20, 2019), per Mundy, J., the Court held that Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s declaration of a taking to acquire property for the expansion of a state roadway did not establish the extent or effect of a taking and therefore the property owners’ failure to file preliminary objections to the declaration within 30 days of service did not result in waiver.


Collins v. City of Philadelphia, Law Dep’t, 767 Fed. Appx. 262 (3d Cir. Apr. 18, 2019), per Cowen, J., the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment because the arrestee’s complaint, alleging malicious prosecution, did not give the defendants fair notice.  The court affirmed the district court’s determination that no private cause of action exists for violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  


Bowser v. Clarion Cty., 206 A.3d 68 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2019), per McCullough, J., the court granted summary judgment in favor of Clarion County because the plaintiff, a juvenile probation officer, was found to be an employee of the court of common pleas, which is not subject to the PHRA because of separation of powers concerns. 


Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, Storms Restaurant and Catering, LLC D/B/A Storms Restaurant, Lawrenceville Brewery, Inc., D/B/A the Church Brew Works, 1215 Incorporated, D/B/A Rita’s Italian Ice, Dirt Doctors Cleaning Service LLC, and Modern Cafe Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 175 A.3d 219 (Pa. July 17, 2019), per Wecht, J., the Court held a new City of Pittsburgh ordinance dubbed the Paid Sick Days Act (PSDA) is an exception to the Business Exclusion, while a second ordinance titled the Safe and Secure Buildings Act (SSBA) was not. The Business Exclusion precludes cities from imposing the burdens on local employers unless expressly provided by statute. While the Court held that the City had authority under the Disease Prevention and Control Act to enact the PSDA, the City had no relevant statutory authority to enact the SSBA.


Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Paul Gamboa Taylor, 218 A.3d 1275 (Pa. Nov. 6, 2019), per Dougherty, J. by per curium order, the Court held, in a matter of first impression, that a lower court did not possess the authority to order a higher tribunal to rehear an appeal where a defendant alleged that a constitutional error occurred during the original appellate process. The PCRA allows a petitioner to plead an error of judicial bias, as in this case, during a trial or sentencing proceeding—but not an appellate jurist proceeding—because the appellate jurists do not have any connection with the fact-finding process.

Miles v. Zech, 788 Fed. Appx. 164 (3d Cir. Oct. 8, 2019), by per curiamorder, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that Appellant failed to state a claim for relief for damages under the Pennsylvania Constitution because Pennsylvania does not have a statutory equivalent to § 1983. Further, Pennsylvania does not recognize a private right of action for damages stemming from a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. 

Cox v. Commonwealth, 218 A.3d 384 (Pa. Sept. 26, 2019), by per curiumorder, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania declined to exercise its Kings Bench jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of the death penalty. The Court denied the Applications for Extraordinary Relief under King’s Bench Jurisdiction on this basis.  The order added: “Discrete review of properly presented claims will proceed in the individual cases, subject to the jurisdictional limits of the post-conviction courts.”

Raynor v. D’Annunzio, 205 A.3d 1252 (Mar. 8, 2019), per Elliott, P.J.E., the Court held that seeking adjudication of contempt and requesting sanctions within a post-trial motion constitutes “procurement, initiation, or continuation of proceedings” as contemplated by the Dragonetti Act. 


In re Agenda Initiative to Place on the Agenda of a Regular Meeting of Cty. Council, 206 A.3d 617 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2019), per Covey, J., the court held a county administrative provision, which placed subject matter restriction on voter referenda and agenda initiatives, was an invalid usurpation of the General Assembly’s power involving the conduct of elections.  Further, the ordinance undermined the Election Board’s responsibilities.