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Caselaw 2007

Methodological Provisions:

Pennsylvania Prison Society v. Cortes,  508 F.3d 156 (3rd Cir. 2007): the panel per Garth, J., dismisses, on standing grounds, a challenge to the 1997 amendments of Art. IV, section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which changed the composition of the Board of Pardons and added a requirement of unanimity for recommendation of pardons or commutations in cases of sentences of death or life imprisonment.

Ludwig v. Berks County, 2007 WL 2463306 (E.D.Pa. August, 28 2007): McLaughlin, J., holds, inter alia, that Court of Common Pleas is entitled to 11th amendment immunity in federal civil rights action as a division of State Government.

Society Hill Civic Association v. Pennsylvania Gaming Control Bd., 928 A.2d 175 (Pa. 2007), Per Curiam Opinion with a dissenting opinion by Justice Saylor, joined by Justice Castille; the Court held, inter alia, that individuals and groups did not have standing to appeal order of the Gaming Control Board granting slot machine licenses and therefore also lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Gaming Act’s standard of review.

Wesley v. Hollis, 2007 WL 1655483 (E.D. Pa. June 6, 2007), District Judge Pratter, in a prisoner excessive force Section 1983 claim, dismisses supplemental state constitutional damage claims against a supervisory official on grounds of sovereign immunity (42 Pa.C.S.A. section 8522) but rules that the allegations against the officer directly involved do not involve force within the scope of employment and therefore the officer is not entitled to a dismissal for sovereign immunity as a matter of law at the pleading stage.

Pennsylvania State Troopers Ass’n. v Com., Gaming Control Board, 920 A.2d 173 (Pa. 2007)–per Castille, J., application for leave to file original process under the Court’s statutory gaming jurisdiction is denied because the complaint does not contain a viable challenge to the constitutionality of the Gaming Act; case is transferred to Commonwealth Court.

Small v. City of Philadelpia, 2007 WL 674629 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 26, 2007), per Padova, J., holds that Jones v. Commonwealth, 890 A.2d 1188 (Pa.Commw.Ct. 2006), precludes monetary damage claims for violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution, in this case Art. I, sections 1 and 8.

Martinez v Marino, 2007 WL 1775419 (E.D. Pa. 6/18/2007): Judge Stengel wrote that “Federal courts have followed the Jones decision and treated it as authoritative.”

Benkoski v. Wasilewski, 2007 WL 2670265 (M.D. Pa. September 7, 2007): another federal case following Jones distinguished between claims for monetary relief under the Pennsylvania Constitution, which are held to be barred by the authority of Jones, and other claims for relief, which are not barred.

The following federal cases also discuss the availability of relief for claims under the Pennsylvania Constitution:


Christie v. Borough of Folcroft, 2005 WL 2396762 (E.D. Pa. October 27, 2005)–noting that the issue has not yet been settled, Judge McLaughlin denies a motion to dismiss claims for damages under the Pennsylvania Constitution “at this early stage without prejudice.” See also discussion at Article I, section 1. Cf. Walsh v. Irvin Stern’s Costumes, 2006 WL 166509 (E.D. Pa. January 19, 2006)–Judge Baylson declines to recognize a private right to damages against a private employer under Article I, section 28 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; Farrell v. County of Montgomery, 2006 WL 166519 (E.D. Pa. January 18, 2006)–Judge Baylson denies a private cause of action for damages under the State Constitution, noting that there has not yet been a definitive answer to that question from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court [See infra Article I, Section 28.]; Spradlin v. Borough of Danville, 2005 WL 3320788 (M.D. Pa. December 7, 2005)–Judge McClure noted that it is unclear whether money damages are available for a claim alleging violations of Article I, section 8 and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over such a claim; Laughman v. Commonwealth, 2006 WL 709222 (M.D. Pa. March 17, 2006)–Chief Judge declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state constitutional claims for damages against State, local and individual defendants on the ground that the availability of damages for such a claim is a novel issue of state law given the failure of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to address the issue; MFS, Inc. v. Township of South Annville, 2006 WL 3254535 (M.D.Pa. November 9, 2006): Chief Judge Kane accepts supplemental jurisdiction over claims for monetary damages for alleged violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution; although the availability of damages for Pennsylvania Constitutional violations has not been settled by the State courts, considerations of judicial economy foreclose dismissal of damage claims where non-damage claims are also raised by the plaintiff; cf., Dantzler v. Beard, 2006 WL 3694515 (W.D. Pa. December 13, 2006)(dismissing Pennsylvania Constitutional claims on sovereign immunity grounds, despite allegations of willful misconduct).

Article I: Declaration of Rights

Section 1–American Future Systems, Inc. v. Better Business Bureau of Eastern Pennsylvania, 923 A.2d 389 (Pa. 2007): against a background of enhanced protection for reputation under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Court holds, per Saylor, J., that limited purpose public figure must prove actual malice to recover damages in defamation action; the opinion discussed common law privileges and the method of determining limited public figure status.  Justice Baldwin filed a concurring opinion.

Commonwealth v. Charnik, III, 921 A.2d 1214 (Pa.Super. 2007): per Klein, J., court holds that the constitutional right to expungement does not apply to the record of a final Protection from Abuse order issued after allegations of abuse were proven by a fair preponderance of the evidence.

Section 8Commonwealth v. Hernandez, 935 A.2d 1275 (Pa. 2007): the Court, per Fitzgerald, J., reaffirmed a dual requirement of probable cause plus exigency beyond mere mobility to justify an automobile search under the Pennsylvania Constitution.  (The Court nevertheless admitted the evidence in question on the ground that other information supported the search affidavit in question).  Justice Castille concurred in the result on the ground that there is no established, unique automobile search approach under the Pennsylvania Constitution; Justice Castille also urged reconsideration of the Court’s approach to canine sniffs under Art. I, section 8.  Justice Saylor, joined by Justice Eakin, concurred on the ground that Pennsylvania should adopt a modified federal automobile exception.

Commonwealth v. Russo, 934 A.2d 1199 (Pa. 2007): the Court, per Castille, J., with Cappy, C.J., Baer and Baldwin, JJ., dissenting, held that the federal open fields doctrine, which generally does not recognize a legitimate expectation of privacy in privately owned property outside the curtilage of habitation under the federal fourth amendment, applies equally to searches and seizures under the Pennsylvania Constitution; the opinions discussed at some length the appropriate use and structure of state constitutional interpretation.

Section 17Commonwealth v. Estman, 915 A.2d 1191 (Pa. 2007): the Court, per Baldwin, J., held that statute allowing a defendant to be prosecuted under all available statutory criminal provisions without regard to generality or specificity of statutes was substantive, rather than procedural, and thus statute could not be applied retroactively.  Art. I, section 17’s prohibition on ex post facto laws was not reached since the Court held the statute was not to be applied to prior conduct.

Section 27Pilchesky v. Rendell, 932 A.2d 287 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007): in context of dismissing claims against Commonwealth-related parties, thus ending the court’s jurisdiction, the court holds, inter alia, per Colins J., that land dedicated to use as a public park is not a “natural resource” and therefore its transfer for development does not violate the constitutional provision.

Article II. The Legislature

Section 15Firetree, Ltd. v Fairchild, 920 A.2d 913 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007)–per Leavitt, J., for a unanimous panel, holds that statements by a State legislator in opposition to the sale of Commonwealth property constitutes “legitimate legislative activity” protected under the Speech and Debate Clause in a suit for tortious interference with contractual relations.

Article III. Legislation

Section 1Marcavage v. Rendell, 936 A.2d 188, (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007): the panel, per Colins, J., with Cohn Jubelierer and Leavitt, J.J., not participating and Leadbetter, P.J. dissenting, strikes down an amendment to the Ethnic Intimidation Statute, 18 Pa.C.S. §2710, on the ground that the Act amending the section changed its original purpose during the course of legislation, in violation of Art. III, section 1.

On July 23, 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by per curiam order affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court in Marcavage v. Rendell, 936 A.2d 188 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007) and adopted the opinion by Judge Colins in that case as the opinion of the Supreme Court.  The Commonwealth Court had held that the amendment of the ethnic intimidation statute violated the State Constitutional prohibition against changing the original purpose of a bill.

Article V. The Judiciary

    Separation of Powers:

Section 10Beyers v. Richmond, 937 A.2d 1082 (Pa. 2007): in a plurality opinion joined by Castille and Baldwin, JJ., Justice Fitzgerald holds that the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law does not apply to an attorney’s conduct in distributing settlement proceeds because to apply consumer protection statutes to attorney misconduct would “encroach upon this Court’s exclusive power to regulate the practice of law” granted by the Pennsylvania Constitution; Chief Justice Cappy, joined by Baer, J., concurred solely on statutory grounds; Justices Saylor and Eakin dissented.

Stilp v. Cappy, 931 A.2d 108 (Pa. Cmwlth. Ct. 2007): court per Kelley, S.J., dismisses challenge to judicial cost-of-living increase on the ground on the ground that the statute repealing the pay raise contained a provision for a judicial cost-of-living increase and that recent legislation also so provides; the court dismisses Chief Justice Cappy as a defendant on the ground that the powers of the State Supreme Court are collective and not lodged in the office of Chief Justice.

Section 18Pennsylvania Family Institute, Inc. v. Celluci, 521 F.Supp.2d 351 (E.D.Pa. 2007): Katz, J., construes Canon 7B(1)(c) of the Code of Judicial Conduct narrowly to avoid issues of constitutionality under the First Amendment, so as to allow Pennsylvania candidates for judicial office to answer certain campaign questionnaires without violation of the Code

Article VI. Public Officers

Section 7Burger v. School Board of the McGuffey School Dist., 923 A.2d 1155 (Pa. 2007): per Justice Castille, the Court held that Art. VI, Section 7 (providing for removal of civil officers) does not confer absolute authority of removal upon appointing bodies and, therefore, state statute governing and limiting removal of superintendents of schools is not unconstitutional.

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

Section 2Alliance Home of Carlisle, PA v Board of Assessment Appeals, 919 A.2d 206, (Pa. 2007): in a thorough opinion by Castille, J., the Court reversed the denial of tax exempt status to a parcel of land containing an independent living facility owned by a licensed continuing care retirement community; the courts below had held that the parcel must independently satisfy the constitutional and statutory standards for a purely public charity; the Court holds instead that the proper test of tax exemption for a parcel of land owned by an institution of purely public charity and closely connected to its charitable purpose, is whether the parcel is actually and regularly used for the purposes of the institution (or the statutory test that is the equivalent) and not whether the parcel would independently satisfy constitutional and statutory standards for tax exemption.

Article IX. Local Government

Section 2Nutter v. Dougherty, 938 A.2d 401 (Pa. 2007): in a thorough discussion of Pennsylvania preemption jurisprudence, the Court, per Baer, J., upheld Philadelphia campaign contribution limits for local races despite State legislation in the area.  (Cappy, C.J., joined by Fitzgerald, J., dissented).

Mitchell’s Bar & Restaurant, Inc. v. Allegheny County, 924 A.2d 730 (Pa. Cmwlth. Ct. 2007): the court, per Cohn Jubelirer, reversed the trial court and struck down Allegheny County’s indoor smoking ban on the ground that it is expressly preempted by the Commonwealth Clean Indoor Air Act.  Colins, J., concurring in the result, would have held the County ban impliedly preempted.