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2020

Article I, Section 1:

Commonwealth v. Muhammad, 241 A.3d 1149 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020) (Oct. 23, 2020), per Stabile, J., the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, under a de novo standard of review, held that SORNA registration requirements, premised upon the idea that sexual offenders pose a high risk of recidivating, is an irrebuttable presumption that clearly, palpably, and plainly violates an offender’s fundamental right to reputation as protected under the Pennsylvania Constitution.  

Haveman v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 238 A.3d 567 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Aug. 25, 2020), per Covey, J., the Commonwealth Court held that Section 5(a) of 63 P.S. § 511(a) (commonly referred to as the Beauty Culture Law) requiring esthetician applicants to exhibit good moral character violated Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Similarly situated licensed professionals in close contact with salon patrons were not so restricted. The court granted the plaintiffs’ application for summary relief.

Commonwealth v. McIntyre, 232 A.3d 609 (Pa. 2020) (June 16, 2020), per Todd, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a defendant’s PCRA claim (stating that case law subsequent to his conviction applied retroactively) implicated the legality of his sentence, was reviewable on an appeal from the denial of the PCRA petition, and was not subject to the waiver rule. Further, the Court held that the defendant’s conviction and sentence under the statute in effect at the time, Section 4915 of Megan’s Law III, violated Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Section 4915 was deemed unconstitutional subsequent to defendant’s conviction, and that case law applied retroactively to the defendant’s conviction. The Court reversed.

Ladd v. Real Estate Comm’n, 230 A.3d 1096 (Pa. 2020) (May 19, 2020), per Dougherty, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held, in a matter of first impression, that broker licensing requirements under the Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act violated Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Appellant argued that the requirements imposed unlawful burdens on her right to manage rental properties on websites like Airbnb. Though RELRA was intended to protect the public from fraudulent practices, it imposes unlawful requirements such as a brick and mortar office. The Court held that the RELRA requirements were unconstitutional when applied to Appellant because the Commonwealth’s police power was exercised in a manner that was “unreasonable, unduly oppressive and patently beyond the necessities of the case.”

Commonwealth v. Zeno, 232 A.3d 869 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020) (May 7, 2020), per McLaughlin, J., the Pennsylvania Superior Court, applying Commonwealth v. Haines, 222 A.3d 756, 759 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2019), held that a person convicted in a criminal court while a juvenile is not required to register under SORNA. To do so would constitute cruel and unusual punishment and would violate the Due Process clause. The court reversed for violation of Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In re H.R., 227 A.3d 316 (Pa. 2020) (Apr. 1, 2020), per Dougherty, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the appellant’s ex post facto challenges to certain Act 21 (otherwise known as the Court-Ordered Involuntary Treatment of Certain Sexually Violent Persons statute) provisions failed because the provisions do not constitute criminal punishment. The Court utilized the factors set forth in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144 (1963) to determine whether the challenged provisions of Act 21 constituted criminal punishment sufficient to survive an ex post facto challenge under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Article I, Section 5:

Metcalfe v. Wolf, 2020 WL 7241120 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Dec. 9, 2020), per Leavitt, P.J., the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that Republican lawmakers’ claims of election irregularities and potential fraud regarding President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential win were untimely. The lawsuit sought a writ of mandamus requiring Governor Wolf to decertify the results of the election because the lawmakers were unable to demonstrate a clear right of relief or likelihood of prevailing on the merits.

Kelly v. Commonwealth, 240 A.3d 1255 (Pa. 2020) (Nov. 28, 2020), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, per curium, dismissed the petition for review with prejudice based upon Petitioners’ failure to file their facial constitutional challenge within a timely manner. The Court explained that Petitioner’s challenge violated the doctrine of laches, an equitable doctrine that bars relief when a complaining party is guilty of want of due diligence in failing to promptly institute an action to the prejudice of another. Petitioners sought to invalidate the ballots of millions of Pennsylvania voters who utilized the mail-in voting procedures established by Act 77 of 2019. Petitioners suggested that only those ballots that Petitioners deemed “legal votes” should be counted, or alternatively, all 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the General Election should be disqualified and the General Assembly should choose Pennsylvania’s electors. Justice Wecht, concurring in the judgment, wrote that because Petitioners waived their opportunity to challenge Act 77’s new, no-excuse mail-in voting system because they delayed the lawsuit until two elections were conducted under the Act. Chief Justice Saylor, concurring in part, wrote that injunctive relief restraining the certification of the votes of Pennsylvanians cast in the 2020 general election should not be granted.

In re Canvassing Observation, 241 A.3d 339 (Pa. 2020) (Nov. 17, 2020), per Todd, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the Trump Campaign’s request to give its representatives greater access to Philadelphia election canvassing activities. The Court held that the Election Code left matters of representative proximity parameters to the county boards of elections, who are empowered to make such regulations. The Campaign’s own witnesses concurred that the Philadelphia Board of Elections’ rules still allowed representatives to actually observe the process in a meaningful way. The Court reinstated the trial court’s order.

In Re: November 3, 2020 General Election, 240 A.3d 591 (Pa. 2020) (Oct. 23, 2020), per Todd J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that county boards of elections are prohibited from rejecting absentee or mail-in ballots based on signature comparisons conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third-party challenges based on signature analysis and comparison. There is only one exception to this holding, which requires that an absentee or mail-in ballot be set aside and declared void if the secrecy envelope within the sealed ballot envelope contains any information regarding the identity of the elector or their candidate preference.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party v. Boockvar, 238 A.3d 345 (Pa. 2020) (Sept. 17, 2020), per Baer, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the Election Code permits county boards of election to collect mail-in ballots at drop-boxes and that a three-day extension will be granted for ballots postmarked by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day (November 3, 2020). If the ballots lack a postmark or other proof of mailing, they will be presumed to have been sent by Election Day unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates otherwise. Finally, the Court held that poll-watcher residency as set forth in Section 2687(b) of the election code, is considered constitutional. The Section states that each watcher must be a qualified registered elector of the county in which they were appointed.

Trump for President, Inc. v. Boockvar, 481 F.Supp.3d 476 (W.D. Pa. 2020) (Aug. 23, 2020), per Ranjan, J., the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania abstained under R.R. Comm’n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941) and stayed this case regarding the allegations by the Trump campaign against mail-in ballots in numerous Pennsylvania counties. The state courts should have an opportunity to provide clarity on unsettled state law issues that underly the Trump campaign’s claims. However, if there is a prolonged delay in adjudication, the court may lift the stay and proceed on claims not subject to Pullman.

Article I, Section 7:

S.B. v. S.S., 243 A.3d 90 (Pa. 2020) (Dec. 22, 2020), In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, per Baer J., held that a gag order, issued in a child custody proceeding, restricted only the manner of speech and not the content. The Court further explained that, because the speech restrictions are justified by the important governmental interest of protecting the psychological and emotional well-being of the child and their privacy, and are narrowly tailored to serve the articulated governmental interest, they do not violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Finally, the Court held that the gag order does not violate Article 1, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which provides additional protections than its federal counterpart as it “guarantees not only freedom of speech and the press, but specifically affirms the ‘invaluable right’ to the ‘free communication of thoughts and opinions,’ and the right of ‘every citizen’ to ‘speak freely’ on ‘any subject’ so long as that liberty is not abused.”

Article I, Section 8:

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Keith Alexander, 243 A.3d 177 (Pa. 2020) (Dec. 22, 2020), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, per Donohue J., held that Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution affords greater protection to citizens than the Fourth Amendment; therefore, warrantless vehicle searches require both probable cause and exigent circumstances under the state constitution. This decision overruled Commonwealth v. Gary, which had held that, without limitation, the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution applies in Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth v. Barr, 2020 WL 5742680 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020) (Sept. 25, 2020), per Bender, P.J.E., the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that, although the smell of marijuana may contribute to a finding of probable cause, the odor by itself does not imply individualized suspicion of criminal activity because marijuana is now sometimes legally possessed. The Superior Court further explained that the odor of marijuana, along with the totality of the circumstances, may contribute to a finding of probable cause that the marijuana detected was illegally possessed.

Article I, Section 9:

Commonwealth v. McClelland, 233 A.3d 717 (Pa. 2020) (July 21, 2020), per Dougherty, J., the Court overturned Commonwealth v. Ricker, 120 A.3d 349 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015) and held that hearsay evidence alone is insufficient to establish a prima facie case at a preliminary hearing. In so holding, the Court relied upon its decision in Commonwealth ex rel. Buchanan v. Verbonitz, 581 A.2d 172 (Pa. 1990), which was binding precedent even though it was nominally a plurality decision, and reversed the lower court’s ruling.

Article I, Section 10:

Commonwealth v. Johnson, 231 A.3d 807 (Pa. 2020) (May 19, 2020), per Saylor, C.J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court questioned whether the double jeopardy clause barred a retrial when the Commonwealth obtained a conviction based on its misconduct and false evidence stemming from prosecutorial errors that rose substantially above ordinary negligence. The Court stated that under Article 1, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, prosecutorial overreaching sufficient to invoke double jeopardy protections included misconduct that deprived a defendant of his right to a fair trial. The Court reversed and remanded for entry of an order granting the appellant’s motion to preclude trial.

Article I, Section 27:

Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Tom Wolf, in his official capacity as Governor of Pennsylvania, 241 A.3d 119 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Oct. 22, 2020), per Wojcik, J., the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that the Commonwealth is required to maintain accurate records as to the appropriation and use of money in the Oil and Gas Lease Fund (Lease Fund) and track trust principal as part of its trustee duties under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court granted the Commonwealth’s declaratory request that the Lease Fund money, including trust principal, may be expended on environmental conservation initiatives beyond the Marcellus Shale region.

City of Lancaster, Borough of Carlisle, & Borough of Columbia, Petitioners v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Comm’n, Respondent, 2020 WL 864986 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Feb. 21, 2020), per McCullough, J., the court held that the Municipalities, which argued that 52 Pa. Code 59.18 violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution, failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The Municipalities wrongly asked the court to “engage in imaginative speculation” as to whether the Code provision violated the historic and aesthetic value provisions protected under the Environmental Rights Amendment.

Article III, Section 9:

Wolf v. Scarnati, 233 A.3d 679 (Pa. 2020) (July 1, 2020), per Wecht, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found an implied presentment requirement in the statute governing the authority of Governor Wolf. Thus, Senate Republican leaders’ resolution ordering Governor Wolf to terminate his COVID-19 disaster emergency required presentment to the governor for approval or veto to avoid violating Article III, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court additionally held that Article I, Section 12 does not grant the General Assembly power to unilaterally suspend laws. All suspensions of law must adhere to the requirements of presentment, an essential component of the checks and balances system of the Constitution.

Article IV, Section 2:

Friends of DeVito v. Wolf, 227 A.3d 872 (Pa. 2020) (Apr. 13, 2020), per Donohue, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania utilized its King’s Bench authority to hold that Governor Wolf had statutory authority under the police power to issue an Order requiring all non-life-sustaining businesses to close.

Article V, Section 1:

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sammy Hill, 239 A.3d 175 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020) (Sept. 9, 2020), per Stevens, P.J.E., the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the trial court violated the separation powers doctrine found within the Constitution of the Commonwealth by exceeding the scope of its own authority. Superior Court held that the trial court ignored the well-settled principle that the Commonwealth retains discretion regarding the prosecution of criminal matters, thereby abusing its discretion in dismissing possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges from Appellee Sammy Hill while in prison for First Degree Murder.

Article V, Section 2:

Civil Rights Def. Firm, P.C. v. Wolf, 226 A.3d 569 (Pa. 2020) (Mar. 22, 2020), per curiam, the Court held that Governor Wolf’s Order providing that legal services must cease operations due to COVID-19, except as required to allow attorneys to participate in essential court functions, presents no controversy. In a Concurring and Dissenting Statement, Justice Wecht argued that Governor Wolf’s Order should also make similar exceptions for firearms dealers, so as not to violate the Federal or Pennsylvania Constitutions. In response, and as described by Kate Riga, Are Gun Shops Essential? PA Gov Reverses Amid Nationwide Push for Weapons Access, Talking Points Memo (Mar. 25, 2020), Governor Wolf quietly amended his Order to exempt firearms dealers from the blanket COVID-19 closures.

Article V, Section 10:

Renner v. Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh Co., et al, 234 A.3d 411 (Pa. 2020) (July 21, 2020), per Todd, J., the Court held, in a matter of first impression, that application of the PHRA to judiciary personnel violates the separation of powers doctrine under Article V, Section 10(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Appellant, an Officer of Adult Probation, brought an unlawful discrimination and retaliation action against the Appellees for termination of his employment. However, the state constitution grants the judiciary exclusive power over the courts, and to apply the PHRA to the judiciary interferes with that exclusive and independent right to administer the courts and promulgate rules and policies regarding judicial employees.

Raynor v. D’Annunzio, 243 A.3d 41 (Pa. 2020) (Dec. 22, 2020), per Dougherty, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that posttrial motions for contempt sanctions based on a violation of a motion in limine were not “civil proceedings” actionable under the Dragonetti Act. The request for contempt sanctions in this medical malpractice case were brought against opposing counsel for violating a motion in limine barring evidence of a patient’s history of smoking.

Article VII, Section 4:

In re Canvass of Absentee & Mail-in Ballots of Nov. 3, 2020 Gen. Election, 241 A.3d 1058, (Pa. 2020) (Nov. 23, 2020), per Donohue, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that absentee or mail-in voters’ failure to handwrite their name or address on the back of their ballot envelopes was not a material violation of the Election Code. Legislative directories should be followed, but failure to provide such information did not result in invalidation of the ballot because it was a “minor irregularity.” The Court stated that ballots should be stricken only for compelling reasons. Per the concurring opinion of Wecht, J., the voter’s failure to comply with statutory requirements should not be considered a “minor irregularity” because the requirements are unambiguously mandatory terms within the statute; similar ballots won’t be counted in the future.

Article VIII, Section 2:

Indiana University of Pennsylvania v. Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals, 243 A.3d 745 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2020) (Dec. 3, 2020), per Leavitt J., held that because the Indiana University of Pennsylvania owned real estate under the control of the Commonwealth, it is presumptively immune from local taxation. The holding relied on Article VIII, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which authorizes the General Assembly to exempt certain classes of property from taxation, including property “which is actually and regularly used for public purposes.” Further, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has explained that when an institution’s real property is so thoroughly under the control of the Commonwealth that it effectively functions as Commonwealth property, it is immune from taxation.

Equal Protection:

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Boockvar, 492 F.Supp.3d 331 (W.D. Pa. 2020) (Oct. 10, 2020), per Ranjan, J., the United States District Court held that the use of unmanned drop boxes for mail-in ballots by some counties, but not others, did not violate the Equal Protection Clause or substantive due process principles of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court further held that Pennsylvania state law does not impose signature comparison requirements for mail-in and absentee ballots or ballot applications; the Equal Protection Clause was not violated due to the fact that some county boards of elections intended to verify signatures on mail-in absentee ballots and applications while others did not; the Equal Protection Clause was not violated because in-person signature comparison was required; and the county residency requirement on being a poll watcher did not violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and free speech.

Lohr v. Saratoga Partners, L.P., 238 A.3d 1198 (Pa. 2020) (Oct. 1, 2020), per Baer, J., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, under a rational basis review, held that omitting the right of post-sale redemption from the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (“RETSL”) is constitutional because it is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.  The RETSL governs upset tax sales in second class A through eight class counties and explicitly excludes post-sale redemption. The Court emphasized that the dichotomy between landholders subject to the RETSL, and not the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act (“MCTLA”), does not violate equal protection under either the federal or state constitution because the choice is “rationally related to the legislative determination of which system will maximize the collection of delinquent taxes for different types of counties.” The Court upheld the denial of the delinquent taxpayers’ petition to redeem a tax sale governed by the RETSL.

Allegheny Reprod. Health Ctr. v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Human Servs., 225 A.3d 902 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Jan. 28, 2020), per Leavitt, J., various Western Pennsylvanian health centers sought injunctive relief against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to enjoin the enforcement of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act. The petitioners claimed the Act, which limited the expenditure of state and federal funds for abortion-related services, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by denying coverage of medical care that could only be used by women. Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate members filed Motions to Intervene, and the court held they had established grounds for intervention under Rule No. 2327(4) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

Methodological Provisions:

Commonwealth v. Koehler, 229 A.3d 915 (Pa. 2020) (Apr. 24, 2020), per Wecht, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a PCRA court possessed the necessary authority to reinstate the defendant’s appeal rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution if he made a showing of a constitutional violation. The defendant argued that Justice Eakin’s involvement in an email scandal raised issues of actual bias, the appearance of bias, or the unconstitutional risk of bias, but the PCRA court dismissed, saying it was without the requisite authority to grant relief. The Court reversed and remanded.

Apartment Ass’n of Metro. Pittsburgh, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 228 A.3d 960 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Mar. 12, 2020), per Ceisler, J., the court analyzed an Apartment Association’s claims for equitable relief and a declaratory judgment under the City’s Home Rule Charter. The court held that the City’s ordinance violated the Home Rule Charter because the City did not have the statutory authority to enact the ordinance according to the Pennsylvania Restaurant (Pa. 2019) case.

Himchak v. PA, 2020 WL 1151456 (M.D. Pa. 2020) (Mar. 10, 2020), per Mehalchick, J., the court held the Appellant waived his constitutional claim because the Appellant had only briefly mentioned the Pennsylvania Constitution and failed to develop it into “any meaningful fashion capable of review.”

Commonwealth v. Tighe, 224 A.3d 1268 (Pa. 2020) (Feb. 19, 2020), per Dougherty, J., the Court held that the defendant forfeited his right to personally cross-examine witnesses during his trial because he violated his bail conditions prohibiting contact with those witnesses. The Court also held that the defendant failed to explain why the Pennsylvania Constitution provided greater protection than the federal Constitution, and so the Court analyzed the defendant’s claims under the federal Constitution only.

Ceramic Art & Culture Inst. v. Berks Cty. Bd. of Assessment Appeals, 227 A.3d 46 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020) (Feb. 18, 2020), per Leavitt, J., the court held that the Ceramic Art & Culture Institute was an institution of purely public charity. In so holding, the court utilized the multi-factored HUP test.

Commonwealth v. Lucky, 229 A.3d 657 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020) (Feb. 13, 2020), per Strassburger, J., the court vacated and remanded Appellant’s sentence because of the lower court’s partiality and bias. However, the court cited to no specific provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution, stating only that this abuse of discretion was “violative of Appellant’s due process rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”