Article I, Section 1:
Tredyffrin Outdoor, LLC v. Zoning Hearing Board of Tredyffrin Twp., 2023 WL 3266798 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (May 5, 2023), per Ceisler, J. , the Commonwealth Court held that a zoning ordinance’s carve-out provision making preexisting advertisement signs permissible by right violated Article I, Section 1 of the state Constitution. Article I, Section 1 gives property owners the right to enjoy their property. Townships may enact zoning ordinances that are in accordance with the township’s police powers. The Court found that the preexisting sign exemption at issue did not have a substantial relationship to the township’s police power and thus the statute violated the state Constitution.
Thiam v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, 2023 WL 4715186 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (July 25, 2023), per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the Commonwealth Court held that a law that required a natural hair braider to complete 300 hours of training and an examination violated Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Article I, Section 1 guarantees one the right to pursue their chosen occupation. The Court found that requiring a person who has practiced the art of natural hair braiding for most of her life to undergo an additional 300 hours of training and pass an examination is unduly burdensome.
Article I, Section 5:
Bonner v. Chapman, 2023 WL 4188674 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (June 27, 2023), per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the Commonwealth Court held that the 3rd Circuit and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court did not invalidate any part of Act 77 of 2019 when they found in prior litigation that a timely received, otherwise valid mail-in or absentee ballot could not be rejected because the voter did not write the date on a declaration contained on the ballot’s return mailing envelope. Act 77 amended the Pennsylvania Election Code to expand mail-in voting and specifically states that a voter must fill out, date and sign the declaration on the envelope of an official election ballot. The Court held that the courts were merely engaging in their constitutional obligation to interpret a statute in the matters before them.
Article I, Section 8:
U.S. v. Eddings, 2023 WL 1775705 (W.D. Pa. 2023) (Feb. 6, 2023), per Horan, J., the court stated that it was not able to exclude evidence on the basis that it was obtained in violation of state law. The controlling precedent from the Third Circuit does not permit federal courts to exclude evidence that was obtained in compliance with federal law but not state law, so the court denied the defendant’s request to exclude evidence on these grounds.
Commonwealth v. Thompson, 2023 WL 1793568 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2023) (Feb. 7, 2023), per Bender, J., the Superior Court ruled that an inventory search of a motor vehicle constitutes an exception to warrant requirement of Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution if done for purposes of community care. When an officer inventories a motor vehicle after ordering it to be towed to clear it from obstructing traffic, no warrant is necessary to search the vehicle and seize evidence of a crime discovered during that search.
William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Educ., 2023 WL 1990723 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Feb. 7, 2023), per Jubelirer, J., the Commonwealth Court declared that the educational system of Pennsylvania deprives students of school districts in low property value areas the same opportunities and resources of students from high property value districts in violation of Article II, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania constitution. The court did not impose any penalty or propose any remedy, instead stating that it was the obligation of the legislative and executive branches to extend meaningful opportunity to all Pennsylvanian students.
Commonwealth v. Williams, 2023 WL 2151326 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2023) (Feb. 22, 2023), per Dubow, J., the Superior Court ruled that for a defendant’s conviction to be vacated by retroactive application of the Alexander decision, that defendant must have argued at trial that there were no exigent circumstances permitting a warrantless search. Challenging exigency at every stage of adjudication that occurred after Alexander was published was insufficient to warrant retroactive application and vacate the conviction.
Commonwealth v. Ani, 2023 PA Super 67 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2023) (Apr. 17, 2023) per Bender, J., the Superior Court affirmed the suppression of evidence found on a suspect’s phone pursuant to overly broad search warrants. Evidence that a suspect used the flashlight and keyboard on his phone was not sufficient to support a search warrant of the phone’s photos and messages. Such a search was too broad, in violation of Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution. However, there was sufficient evidence to support a search warrant for the phone’s locational data and flashlight use.
Commonwealth v. Kurtz, 2023 Pa. Super 72 (Apr. 28, 2023), per Colins, J., the Superior Court held that a warrant for internet searches by the defendant for a victim’s name and home address prior to the commission of a crime did not violate Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution. The court held that a suspect voluntarily relinquishes his privacy interest in an internet search by typing the query into the search engine because he has affirmatively turned over the contents of the search to a third party. Additionally, the search warrant did not violate the constitution because there was sufficient probable cause to believe that the perpetrator had searched for such information on the internet in preparation for the crime.
Article I, Section 9:
Commonwealth v. Rivera, 2023 WL 4095438 (Pa. 2023) (June 21, 2023), per Brobson, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth’s erroneous admission regarding a defendant’s post-arrest silence was not harmless and violated Article I, Section 9 of the State Constitution. Article I, Section 9 provides more protection than the Fifth Amendment because it prohibits the use of pre-arrest silence as substantive evidence of guilt. Justice Wecht wrote a Concurrence and Justice Mundy wrote a Concurrence in Part. Both Concurrences agreed with the Court’s holding that the admission of evidence violated the state Constitution.
Article I, Section 11:
Grim v. Maxatawny Twp. Bd. of Supervisors, 2023 WL 3745033 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (April 6, 2023), per Cannon, J., the Commonwealth Court held that a township’s board of supervisors’ application of the Ethics Act did not violate Article I, Section 11 of the state Constitution. The Ethics Act provides that when a governing body is unable to take any action on a matter due to members of the body abstaining from the vote, a public official may vote on a matter as long as they disclose their conflicts of interest.The court found that following the Ethics Act did not violate provisions of due process and that the board need not rule against the matter solely because its members have a conflict of interest.
Article I, Section 21:
Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League v. City of Pittsburgh, 2023 WL 2342404 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Mar. 3, 2023), per Fizzano Cannon, J., the Commonwealth Court held that a settlement agreement provision stating a municipality must “abide and adhere to Pennsylvania law” is too vague to be enforceable. The City attempted to enact its own gun control laws, potentially in violation of Article I, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which gives citizens the right to bear arms. However, a vague “obey the law” provision is not a means by which a private party can challenge the constitutionality of a law.
Article I, Section 27:
Twp. Of Marple v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Comm’n, 2023 WL 2421090 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Mar. 9, 2023), per Ceisler, J., the Commonwealth Court reversed an order by the Public Utility Commission, stating that the Commission is obligated to consider the environmental impact of planned building sites. The Commission erred by determining that it lacked the power to evaluate environmental impact when considering the reasonable necessity of a proposed public utility facility, and it was required to make that evaluation under Article I, Section 27 of the state constitution. To the extent that relevant statutes do not permit the Commission to consider environmental impact, those statutes are constitutionally invalid.
Marcellus Shale Coal. v. Dept. of Environmental Protection, 292 A.3d 921 (Pa. 2023) (Apr. 19, 2023), per Donohue, J., the Supreme Court held that the General Assembly intended for the definition of “public resources” in a statute to be flexible so as to encompass the full array of resources implicating the public interest. The term “public resources” in the statute derives from Article I, Section 27 of the state constitution. Thus, the term “public resources” should be interpreted to have the same flexibility in definition so as to accomplish the same holistic goals as Section 27.
McNew v. East Marlborough Twp., No. 29 M.D. 2022 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Apr. 26, 2023), per Covey, J., the Commonwealth Court held that a landowner need not exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a court case when challenging the constitutionality of a zoning officer’s decision under the Agriculture Communities and Rural Environmental Act (ACRE). Exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required when challenging the constitutionality or validity of a statutory scheme, so the question of whether a landowner’s proposed use of the land was preempted by Article I, Section 27 was properly brought in the Commonwealth Court.
Article II, Section 1:
Matter of Harris, 2023 WL 2643194 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (March 27, 2023), per Covey, J., the Commonwealth Court held that a trial court violated the separation of powers doctrine in the state Constitution by creating an exception to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) requirements for issuing an identification (ID) card. Article II Section 1, Article IV Section 2, and Article V Section 1 of the state Constitution establishes that the government of Pennsylvania is divided into three equal branches, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, and no branch may exercise the functions delegated to another branch. The DOT belongs to the executive branch and was legislatively granted the function of determining eligibility for an ID. Thus, the trial court, as part of the judiciary, violated the separation of powers of doctrine when it instructed the DOT to make an exception to the requirements for issuing an ID.
Article II, Section 2:
Cutler v. Chapman, 2023 WL 383014 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 2023) (Jan. 25, 2023), per Wojcik, J., the Commonwealth Court concluded that it would not issue a preliminary injunction affecting scheduling of the 2023 special elections for the state House of Representatives. Because the parties had all raised viable arguments as to who should be considered Majority Leader of the House and whether the question is justiciable, there is no clear right to relief by the courts. Additionally, delaying the elections unnecessarily would disrupt ongoing preparations and deny representation for an undue length of time, causing greater harm to the public interest than allowing a potentially improper or unconstitutionally scheduled election to proceed. The dismissal of the request for injunction in a prior order on January 13, 2023 was confirmed, though the court agreed to hear objections by intervening parties at a later date.
Article II, Section 11:
Costa v. Ward, 2023 WL 1830836 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Feb. 9, 2023), per Leavitt, J., the Commonwealth Court declined to enjoin legislative subpoenas for election records held by the Department of State. Because the Senate Committee that issued the subpoenas had made no efforts to enforce them, no controversy existed and the matter was not ripe for review. The court determined that it could not interfere with the legislature’s constitutionally provided power to issue subpoenas, but that it could be asked to interfere in enforcement proceedings that are not resolved by the political process.
Pennsylvania Senate Intergovernmental Operations Comm. v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of State, 2023 WL 1830493 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Feb. 9, 2023), per Leavitt, J., the Commonwealth Court declined to issue a writ of mandamus compelling the Secretary of State to produce records or comply with a legislative subpoena. Article II, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution grants the legislature the power to enforce its subpoenas, providing a remedy at law and precluding mandamus. The constitutional powers of subpoena granted to the legislature are not within the judiciary’s power to enforce.
Article IV, Section 4:
Synthes USA HQ, Inc., v. Commonwealth, 2023 WL 2145670 (Pa. 2023) (Feb. 22, 2023), per Donohue, J., the Supreme Court ruled that the Attorney General is not barred from advocating a legal position that is contrary to the interests of an individual executive agency. The Attorney General is the chief law officer of the entire Commonwealth and is accountable to voters, not to the governor or other executive agencies. However, when it advocates positions that further the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole but are adverse to the interests of an individual department, it is bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct to notify the department of the conflict of interest.
Article V, Section 10:
Rubin v. Paul A.R. Stewart Helm Legal Services, LLC, 2023 WL 2003961 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2023) (Feb. 15, 2023), per McCaffery, J., the Superior Court concluded that an award of punitive damages against an attorney for wrongful use of civil proceeding is not inconsistent with Article V, Section 10 of the state constitution, which gives the sole power to punish attorneys to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Because the Rules of Civil Procedure note that sanctions “provide additional relief from dilatory or frivolous proceedings,” sanctions are not meant to be the exclusive means of relief against frivolous pleadings.
Article VI, Section 6:
Krasner v. Ward, 2023 WL 164777 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Jan. 12, 2023), per Ceisler, J., a plurality of the Commonwealth Court concluded that the articles of impeachment issued against District Attorney Krasner do not comply with the requirements for impeachment proposed in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The constitutional amendment stating that “misbehavior in office” may be grounds for impeachment was passed in 1966, at which time “misbehavior in office” was a common law crime requiring the breach of a positive statutory duty or performance of a discretionary act with an improper or corrupt motive. Because the articles of impeachment pertain to discretionary decisions without allegations of impure motive, they do not create a constitutionally sound basis for impeachment or removal of the District Attorney. In a concurrence, Judge Wojcik withdrew a portion of his support for the original order. [This opinion follows a December 30, 2022 order by the Commonwealth Court declaring that the articles of impeachment are unconstitutional.]
Article VI, Section 7:
Martin v. Donegal Twp., 2023 WL 2920415 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Apr. 13, 2023) per Covey, J., the Commonwealth Court held that a local statute changing the number of members on the Board of Supervisors violated Article VI, Section 7 of the state constitution as it effectively removed two elected officials before the end of their terms. Article VI, Section 7 is the exclusive means by which an elected official may be removed from office, which entails removal by the Governor after due notice, a hearing, and approval by two-thirds of the Senate.
Article XI, Section 1:
Wolf v. General Assembly, 2023 WL 2960813 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023) (Apr. 17, 2023) per Dumas, J., the Commonwealth Court sustained the preliminary objections of the General Assembly, stating that the issue of whether Senate Bill No. 106 violated Article XI, Section 1 of the Constitution was not ripe for adjudication. A claim is not ripe for adjudication if it depends on future harms that may or may not occur. Article XI, Section 1 requires that the House and Senate enter the representatives “yea and nay” votes on proposed amendments to the constitution, such as SB 106. Although the House and Senate failed to enter representatives’ votes, the court declined to make a decision on the constitutionality of the proposed bill because it has not yet passed the Senate.
Article XIII, Section 1:
GM Berkshire Hills LLC v. Berks Cnty. Bd. of Assessment, 290 A.3d 238 (Pa. 2023), The Supreme Court was equally divided on the question of whether the use of recent sales prices for increased tax assessments violates the Uniformity Clause in Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Uniformity Clause prohibits systemic differential treatment of a subclass of property defined by factors such as neighborhood or the owner’s residency status. Justices Mundy, Wecht, and Brobson joined an Opinion in Support of Affirmance. Mundy, J. writes that the practice did not violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Instead, recent sale price was a neutral factor as it was used to focus on the non-uniform properties in the district regardless of the property’s use. Justices Donohue, Todd, and Dougherty joined in an Opinion in Support of Reversal. Donohue, J. writes that the district’s policy did violate the Uniformity Clause as it created a subclassification of property that disproportionately affected newly purchased properties. Justices Donohue and Dougherty joined in an additional Opinion in Support of Reversal. Dougherty, J. writes that the tax district’s policy creates unfairness and suggested that the legislature implement more frequent county-wide reassessments of all properties in each district so as to remedy the inequity caused by the Uniformity Clause. Because the Court was equally divided, the Commonwealth Court’s order allowing the tax assessment plan remains in place.