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Caselaw 2014

Article I. Declaration of Rights

Section 1: Inherent Rights of Mankind

In re D.S., 102 A.3d 486 (Pa. Super. 2014): per Shogan, J., held that a father’s right to privacy under Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution did not allow a court to order him to undergo a psychiatric examination. The court found that the trial court’s ruling that ordered the father to undergo the evaluation was not the “least invasive means of achieving its well-intentioned goal” and stated that it would have been permissible for the trial court to “recommend” the father seek treatment, not order.

Section 5: Elections

Applewhite v. Commonwealth, 2014 WL 184988 (Pa. Cmwlth. January 17, 2014): per McGinley, J., the court held that the Voter ID law, Act 18, unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote afforded by Article 1, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, but does not violate the equal protection provided Sections 1 and 26 of the state constitution.

Section 6: Trial by Jury

Bensinger v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 2014 PA Super 174 (Pa. Super. Aug. 19, 2014): per Olson, J., held in part that “there is no state constitutional right to jury trial on a whistleblower claim.” After denying the appellant’s statutory claims for a jury trial, the court determined that appellant had not met the “two requirements [that] must be satisfied for a jury trial to be guaranteed by our Constitution,” which includes “show[ing] that a right to a jury trial ‘would have been required in 1790, when the Pennsylvania Constitution was adopted,’ and that “the action must have a common law basis, not a statutory basis.”

Section 8: Security from Searches and Seizures

Commonwealth v. Bowmaster, 2014 PA Super 199 (Pa. Super. Sept. 17, 2014): per Strassburger, J., vacated a defendant’s sentence because the court found the side yard next to the defendant’s trailer was curtilage and that police “officers lacked exigent circumstances necessary for warrantless nighttime search of defendant’s curtilage” under Article I, § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court found the side yard to be curtilage because it was fenced, gated, and “contained numerous signs which indicated that the area was off-limits to the general public.” The major factor the court considered as it looked for exigent circumstances was the time of the search. Here, the search was at night and the officers could not articulate a reason that the search could not have waited until the morning.

Commonwealth v. Wright, 2014 PA Super 189 (Pa. Super. Aug. 29, 2014): per Stabile, J., held that the “plain view doctrine did not operate to justify warrantless seizure of defendant’s [cell phone].” Under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, “plain view doctrine permits a warrantless seizure if . . .1) [the] police did not violate the Fourth Amendment during the course of their arrival at the location where they viewed the item in question; 2) the item was not obscured and could be seen plainly from that location; 3) the incriminating nature of the item was readily apparent; and 4) police had the lawful right to access the item.” Here, the court held that the police did not have any evidence that the cell phone in question had any relation to the crime they were investigating and thus failed the third factor the plain view test.

Commonwealth v. Gary, 91 A.3d 102 (Pa. 2014): per McCaffery, J., the court held that the federal automobile exception will apply to warrantless searches of motor vehicles under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Therefore, police need only probable cause when conducting such a search.

Commonwealth v. Lyles, 2014 WL 3579690 (Pa. July 21, 2014): per Eakin, J., held that suppression of drug evidence found on a Defendant should not be suppressed under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The drugs were discovered when a police officer removed the Defendant’s hand from his pants pocket while the officer was inspecting the Defendant’s ID. The court held that the Defendant could not reasonably believe that he was not free to leave under the circumstances and had therefore not been detained by the officer and that their interaction could only be seen as a mere encounter. In dissent, Justice Saylor stated that “the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that no seizure occurs where an officer stops a citizen, takes possession of an identification card, and later explains that the citizen was not free to leave in the circumstances.” In dissent, Justice Saylor wrote that the defendant could not have reasonably believed he was free to leave.

Section 9: Rights of the Accused in Criminal Prosecutions

Flora v. Luzerne Cnty. of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 103 A.3d 125 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014), re-argument denied (Dec. 2, 2014): per Leavitt, J., held, in part under Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, that criminal defendants do not have the right to have counsel at their preliminary arraignment. The court clarified that the right to counsel attaches at the preliminary arraignment, but having counsel is not required for the arraignment, stating “only thereafter [the preliminary arraignment] that the indigent criminal defendant has a right to counsel.”

Commonwealth v. Martin, 101 A.3d 706 (Pa. 2014): per McCaffery, J., held that Appellant’s confession was voluntary and not unconstitutional under Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Court examined the voluntariness of the statements under the Pennsylvania totality of the circumstances test and appellant’s alleged invocation of his rights under the U.S. Constitution with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Commonwealth v. Nase, 2014 PA Super 194 (Pa. Super. Sept. 9, 2014): per Bowes, J., held that the petitioner did not have to register as a sex offender for 25 years as required by SORNA, but only register for 10 years, as was agreed upon in the petitioner’s plea agreement. In holding, the court observed that the ten year registration requirement was explicitly part of the petitioner’s plea agreement and that requiring him to register for an additional 15 years was not envisioned by his plea agreement. (Art. I, section 9)

Commonwealth v. Dozier, 2014 PA Super 177 (Pa. Super. Aug. 20, 2014): per Wecht, J., the court held that a defendant’s right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment and Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution was not violated by a delay in his sentencing. The court held that the prisoner had failed to show how a 30 day delay in his sentencing prejudiced him in light of the circumstances of the delay or that he even protested once about the delay.

Section 10: Initiation of Criminal Proceedings; Twice in Jeopardy; Eminent Domain

Reading Area Water Auth. v. Schuylkill River Greenway Ass’n, 100 A.3d 572 (Pa. 2014): per Saylor, J., held that a drainage easement was for private enterprise, thus making the water authority’s use of eminent domain invalid. While the holding was based on state Property Rights Protection Act, the Court discussed how this statute was passed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut in order to enact more restrictions on the use of eminent domain.

Commonwealth v. Ball, 2014 WL 3670023 (Pa. Super. July 24, 2014): per Musmanno, J., the court held that a retrial on a charge that was dropped against the defendant by a Magisterial District Court judge after hearing evidence at a hearing and dismissing the charges was barred by the prohibition against Double Jeopardy under Art. I, §10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In making the ruling, the court observed that under Pennsylvania Double Jeopardy “jeopardy attaches when a defendant stands before a tribunal where guilt or innocence will be determined” and thus, provides more protection than the Federal Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment.

Commonwealth v. Perez, 97 A.3d 747 (Pa. Super. July 9, 2014): per Mundy, J., held that new registration requirements under Pennsylvania’s SORNA statute are constitutional under Pennsylvania’s and federal government’s ex post facto clauses. When analyzing Pennsylvania’s ex post facto clause under Article I, §10 of the State Constitution, the court found that the appellants did “not include the required Edmunds analysis to consider whether . . . the Pennsylvania Constitution would provide higher ex post facto protections.”

Section 11: Courts to be Open; Suits Against the Commonwealth

Telwell, Inc. v. Pub. Sch. Employees’ Ret. Sys., 88 A.3d 1079 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Jubelirer, J., the court held that “the clear and unambiguous language of” 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 102(f.1) gave the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) “sovereign immunity pursuant” to Article 1, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 1702(b) for suits involving loans made by the agency.

Section 13: Bail; Fines and Punishments 

Commonwealth v. Eisenberg, 2014 WL 4079968 (Pa. Aug. 19, 2014): per Castille, C.J., held that the minimum mandatory fines under the Gaming Act was a violation of Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Specifically, the Court held that a mandatory minimum fine of $75,000 for a first offense “misdemeanor theft of $200 under [the] Gaming Act…violated Pennsylvania Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines.” Chief Justice Castille wrote that when analyzing Article I, Section 13, the “Court has looked to the gross disproportionality standard from [U.S. v. Bajakajian], which includes a threshold comparison between the amount of the fine and the gravity of the offense triggering the fine.”

Section 17: Ex Post Facto Laws; Impairment of Contracts

Coppolino v. Noonan, 102 A.3d 1254, 1285 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Jubelirer, J., held that the “bulk of Megan’s Law IV does not constitute an ex post facto law and is not overbroad with regard to the requirement that registrants disclose their Internet identifiers to the PSP.” The court stated that the ex post facto clauses in Article I, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution are analyzed under the same analytical framework, meaning that Pennsylvania “courts apply a two-prong analysis articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Smith v. Doe.” 538 U.S. 84 (2003).

Section 27: Natural Resources and the Public Estate

Robinson Twp. v. Commonwealth, 2014 WL 3511722 (Pa. Cmwlth. July 17, 2014): per Pellegrini, J., on remand from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, held that various sections of Act 13 did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution as special laws or under the single subject rule, but also held that these sections were not severable from the parts of the act that the State Supreme Court held unconstitutional and thus enjoined their application and enforcement. Those sections included one that required notice to public, but not private water systems in the event of a spill and another that concerned the obligations of the energy companies to disclose contents of their chemicals to physicians when treating people as a result of exposure of those chemicals. The one section that was held to be severable was one which set limitations on local oil and gas ordinances.

Section 28: Prohibition Against Denial or Abridgment of Equality of Rights because of Sex

Beattie v. Line Mountain School Dist., 992 F. Supp. 2d 384 (M.D. Pa. 2014): per Brann, Matthew W., District Judge, the court held that the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Equal Protection clause requires a showing that gender classifications “must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capabilities, or preferences of Males and Females.” For that reason, the school board must show genuine justification explaining why prohibiting a girl from competing on boy’s wrestling team is not based purely on gender classifications and substantially  related to an important government interest. The court finds that the proposed government interests fail to meet this standard and grants an injunction prohibiting the school board from interfering with the child’s joining of the wrestling team.

Article V. The Judiciary

In re Bruno, 101 A.3d 635 (Pa. 2014): per Castille, C.J., held that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has supervisory power to order interim suspension without pay of sitting jurists and exclusive jurisdiction at King’s Bench to resolve the instant dispute, which implicated supervisory actions of the court relating to personnel of the Unified Judicial System. The Court also held that both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Court of Judicial Discipline had authority to issue orders of interim suspension and to impose sanctions upon jurists and
to the extent that orders of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Court of Judicial Discipline ultimately or necessarily conflicted, the Supreme Court’s orders were supreme and controlling.

Section 1: Unified Judicial System 

Carlson v. Ciavarelli, 2014 WL 4627756 (Pa. Cmwlth. Sept. 17, 2014): per Covey, J., held in part that a township’s zoning hearing board is not a “specified component of the unified judicial system” under Article V, § 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and thus, attorney’s fees could not be recovered. The fees had been sought because of the improper conduct of the other party during the hearing before the board pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 2503(9).

Section 10: Judicial Administration

Lenau v. Co-eXprise, Inc., 102 A.3d 423 (Pa. Super. 2014): per Wecht, J., held that the “mere fact that a company utilizes documents prepared by lawyers, and relies upon the opinions of lawyers in conducting its business, does not. . . indicate that a company is practicing law” in violation of Article V, Section 10(c) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court stated that the practice of law [is determined] on a case-by-case basis” with “consideration of the public interest” being “paramount to the inquiry.”

Commonwealth v. Melvin, 2014 PA Super 181 (Pa. Super. Aug. 21, 2014): per Donohue, J., upheld the convictions and most of the penalties against former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Among many the many issues involved in this opinion of two appeals be the former Justice, the court held that criminal charges against Orie Melvin were not an unconstitutional infringe upon the Judiciary’s exclusive power to supervise the courts under Article V, § 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because her conduct was not “that is already the subject of regulation by the Supreme Court.” In addition, the court held that even though the warrant authorizing seizure of defendant’s personal e-mails was overbroad under Article I, , it nonetheless was harmless error because “the emails were not prejudicial to Orie Melvin or the prejudice was de minimis, or because they were cumulative of other properly admitted evidence.” Also, the court held that Article I, § 9 was not violated by requiring Orie Melvin to write apology letters once “her direct appeal has been decided.”

Section 18: Suspension, Removal, Discipline, and Other Sanctions

In re Ciavarella, No. 7 JD 11, 2014 WL 5032715 (Pa. Ct. Jud. Disc. Oct. 7, 2014): per Panella J., held that one of the judges convicted of multiple felonies for his role in the “kids-for-cash” scheme was subject to discipline under Article V, § 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court entered a penalty of removal from judicial office and made the judge “ineligible to hold judicial office in the future.”

Article VI. Public Officers

Section 7: Removal of Civil Officers

In re Humane Society of Harrisburg Area, Inc., 92 A.3d 1264 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Leadbetter, J., held that a DUI offence by Humane Society police officer committed five years before he was appointed was not an “infamous crime” under Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Judge Leadbetter held that the DUI conviction was not “a felony, a crimen falsi offense, or a like offense involving the charge or falsehood that affects the public administration of justice.”

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

Section 1: Uniformity of Taxation

In re Springfield Sch. Dist., 101 A.3d 835 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014), re-argument denied (Nov. 7, 2014): per Leadbetter, J., held in part that the school district’s methodology for selecting plaintiff’s property for property tax assessment appeals did not violate the Uniformity Clause, Article VIII, Section I, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The School District’s method involved “selecting for appeals properties whose sale prices exceed implied market values by $500,000 or more.”

Friends of Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School v. Chester Cnty. Bd. of Assessment Appeals, 101 A.3d 66 (Pa. 2014): per Baer, J., held that retroactive real estate tax exemption for nonprofit entities associated with charter schools violated the separation of powers doctrine. Justice Saylor concurred in the judgment, but wrote that he would hold the tax exemption unconstitutional based on the Uniformity Clause under Article VIII, Section I. Justice Eakin also wrote a concurring opinion in which he stated his approval of the separation of powers analysis as well as the Uniformity Analysis.

Section 2: Exemptions and Special Provisions

Reading Hous. Auth. v. Bd. of Assessment Appeals of Berks Cnty., 103 A.3d 869 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Leadbetter, J., held that a “municipally-owned mixed-use housing project” was immune from real estate taxes because it was a “public property used for [a] public purpose.” The court noted that the origin of this tax exemption was located in Article 8, Section 2(a)(iii) of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states that the “General Assembly may by law exempt from taxation … [t]hat portion of public property which is actually and regularly used for public purposes[.]”

Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary of Earth Religion v. Bedford Cnty. Bd. of Assessment & Revision of Taxes, 99 A.3d 603 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Leavitt, J., held in part that areas of unwalkable land and campsites and dormitories on the religious organization’s property were entitled to tax exempt status under Article VIII, Section 2(a)(i) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court found that 45 acres of unwalkable land and the living quarters gave the religion’s members privacy and was necessary for the occupancy and enjoyment of their religious practices. This holding reversed the trial court which held that these areas were not tax exempt.