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Caselaw 2017

Methodological Provisions

Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 161 A.3d 877 (Pa. 2017), per Dougherty, J., the Court held that motor vehicle recordings created by state trooper vehicles when lights or sirens are activated do not generally constitute, per se, “criminal investigative records” and, as such, are not protected from public disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law. The court also held that motor vehicle recordings are not protected “investigated information” protected from public disclosure under the Criminal History Record Information Act.

Valley Forge Towers Apartments N, LP v. Upper Merion Area Sch. Dist., 163 A.3d 962 (Pa. 2017), per Saylor, C.J., the Court held that taxpayers could invoke the equity jurisdiction of Court of Common Pleas to seek declaratory and injunctive relief based on the theory that school district violated the Uniformity Clause when it reassess only commercial properties. The Court also held that the Uniformity Clause did not permit school districts to selectively appeal only assessments of commercial properties, while choosing not to appeal assessments of other types of property.

Germantown Cab Co. v. Philadelphia Parking Auth., 171 A.3d 315 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017), per Brobson, J., the court held that section 5707(c), an act that regulates the taxing of taxi cabs in first class cities, is facially unconstitutional because the assessment scheme lacks any real and substantial relation to the goal of regulating taxicab service, violating partial rights taxicabs (limousine services). This violates the substantive due process rights of limousine services.

Shoul v. Commonwealth, Dep’t of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 173 A.3d 669 (Pa. 2017), per Todd., J., the Court held that § 1611(e) of the Motor Vehicle Code, a section that imposes a lifetime disqualification from holding a Commercial Driver’s License based on a conviction for drug trafficking offenses does not violate the right to substantive due process under the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court held that the provision serves the legitimate governmental purpose of deterring drug activity. The court also held that the provision does not violate federal and state prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.

Doe v. Franklin County, 644 Pa. 1 (Pa. 2017), per Dougherty, J., the Court held that the General Assembly did not abrogate high public official immunity when enacting § 6111(i) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, a section which provided for damages against breaches of confidentiality by any “State or local governmental agency or department.” The Court held that a county sheriff held high public official immunity when sued for breach of confidential information under the UFA.

Article I. Declaration of Rights

Section 1: Inherent Rights of Mankind

Dep’t of Human Servs. v. Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, Inc., 154 A.3d 431 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017): per Brobson, J., the court held that the home addresses of DHS direct-care workers are not exempt from disclosure pursuant to an exemption for records relating to agency decisions concerning benefits, including the identify of a caregiver or others who provide services to the applicant.

Reese v. Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, 173 A.3d 1143, per Donohue, J., the Court held that regulation originally promulgated by the Governor’s Office of Administration (GOA), which provided that a list of executive branch employees was to be made accessible to Commonwealth citizens at the State Library without a written request, lacked any continuing statutory authority. The Court also held that the State Treasurer must first, before releasing any executive branch employee’s personal information, conduct an Article I Section 1 balancing test to determine whether the right of informational privacy outweighs the public’s interest in dissemination.

Section 5: Elections

Working Families Party v. Commonwealth, 169 A.3d 1247 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017), per Leavitt, P.J., the court upheld anti-fusion provisions, which forbid minor party candidates from nominating major party candidates do not create a classification that is subject to strict scrutiny challenge in an equal protection challenge. The court also held that the state’s interests justified the burden imposed by anti-fusion provisions, and therefore do not violate the rights of freedom of expression or association. The court also held that anti-fusion provisions do not violate Article I Sec. 5 of the Pa. Constitution.

Section 8: Security from Searches and Seizures

 Boseman v. Commonwealth, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 157 A.3d 10 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017): per Simpson, J., the court held that the rule of Birchfield v. North Dakota (U.S. 2016), that an individual may not be criminally prosecuted for refusing a request for a warrantless blood test following a DUI arrest, does not apply to a civil license suspension.

Commonwealth v. Santiago, 160 A.3d 814 (Pa. Super. 2017), per Bender, P.J.E., the court held that under Article 1 § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, it is unconstitutional for police to conduct a warrantless search of a suspect’s cell phone in order to ascertain the identity of the suspect.

Commonwealth v. Shabezz, 166 A.3d 278 (Pa. 2017), per Wecht, J., the Court held that defendants have standing to challenge illegal searches of a vehicle in which they are a driver or passenger where no reasonable expectation of privacy exists. The Court upheld the “automatic standing doctrine” (See Commonwealth v. Enimpah, 106 A.3d 695, at 698-99 (Pa. 2014)) to allow Shabezz to challenge his seizure by police. The Court also held that the illegal seizure itself renders all evidence obtained from an illegal automobile search fruit of the poisonous tree unless the taint is removed, and no further demonstration of a privacy interest in the area from which the evidence is seized is required by Article I Section 8, noting that the Pa. Constitution affords greater protection than the Fourth Amendment.

Commonwealth v. Myers, 164 A.3d. 1162 (Pa. July 2017), per Wecht, J., the Court held that implied consent statutes do not authorize warrantless blood tests of unconscious defendants, abrogating Commonwealth v. Eisenhart, 611 A.2d 681 (Pa. 1992). The Court held that the language of the Commonwealth’s DUI statute, See 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(a), that a DUI suspect “shall be deemed to have given consent” to a chemical test does not constitute an independent exception to the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Like any other search premised upon the subject’s consent, a chemical test conducted under the implied consent statute is exempt from the warrant requirement only if consent is given voluntarily under the totality of the circumstances.

Commonwealth v. Karash, 2017 WL 3587046 (Pa. Super. August 21, 2017), per Strassburger, J., the court held the stop of a boat without reasonable suspicion or probable cause on a Pennsylvania waterway violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Commonwealth v. Loughanne, 173 A.3d 733 (Pa. 2017), per Donohue, J., the Court held that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement does not apply to a vehicle which is parked on a private residential driveway.

Commonwealth v. Mathis, 173 A.3d 699 (Pa. 2017), per Saylor C.J., the Court held that parole agents have the authority to conduct Terry frisks of non-parolees within the course of executing their statutorily imposed duties, so long as reasonable suspicion supports the agents’ conduct.

Section 9: Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions

Commonwealth v. McClelland, 165 A.3d 19 (Pa. Super. 2017), per Bowes, J., the court held that under Pa.R.Crim.P 542, the Commonwealth may establish a prima facie case at a preliminary hearing using solely hearsay evidence provided by a Pennsylvania State Trooper. The court held that because preliminary hearings are purely statutory, and because the right to a full preliminary hearing is created by statute, it would follow that that right may be subsequently limited. The court also held that because the officer can be cross examined by the defendant, hearsay does not violate Art I. § 9 of the Pa. Constitution, or the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In Interest of N.C., 171 A.3d 275 (Pa. Super. 2017), per Strassburger, J., the court held that under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, in addition to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a juvenile engaged in a delinquent act, the Commonwealth must additionally prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation in order to involuntarily commit a juvenile offender to a residential treatment facility or youth detention center.

Commonwealth v. Chmiel, 173 A.3d 617, per Wecht, J., the Court held that an inmate’s PCRA petition came within the exception to post-conviction limitations bar for newly discovered facts. The Court also held that an issue not previously litigated was not precluded from review based on the newly available information.

Commonwealth v. Hart, 174 A.3d 660 (Pa. Super. 2017), per Stabile, J., the court held that a defendant’s plea of nolo contendre one count of invasion of privacy was invalid and illegal because he did not tender it knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. The court held that when the assistant district attorney did not inform the defendant that he would be required to register as a sex offender under SORNA (registration is considered punitive under Commonwealth v. Muniz, 164 A.3d 1189 (Pa. 2017)), it made his plea invalid.

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

Commonwealth v. Farrow, 168 A.3d 207 (Pa. Super. 2017), per Olson, J., the court held a conviction of three separate DUI offenses that were based on a single instance of driving where two of the offenses were not separate crimes, but were only sentencing factors was unconstitutional under the double jeopardy provision of the Pa. Constitution.

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

City of Warren v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Thomas Haines), 156 A.3d 371 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017): per Leavitt, P.J., the court held that the expiration of Claimant’s right to pursue compensation under the statute of repose in one of the statute sections gave the employer an “accrued defense” that cannot be taken away. The court stated that to do so would violate the employer’s constitutional right to due course of law and thus, the statute did not have a retroactive effect. (Art. 1, Sec. 11).

Section 13: Bail, Fines, or Punishments

Commonwealth v. 1997 Chevrolet & Contents Seized from Young, 160 A.3d 153 (Pa. 2017), per Todd, J., the Court held that some civil in rem forfeitures may violate the Excessive Fines clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions (Art. I Sec. 13). Courts must assess whether the property sought to be forfeited is an instrumentality of the underlying offense. If the property is not found to be an instrumentality of the criminal conduct, the inquiry ends and the forfeiture is unconstitutional. If the property is an instrumentality, the inquiry continues to the proportionality prong and an assessment of whether the value of the property sought to be forfeited is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the underlying offense. If it is grossly disproportional, the forfeiture is unconstitutional.

Commonwealth v. Qu’eed Batts, 163 A.3d. 410 (Pa. 2017), per Donohue, J., the Court held that the standard of review is de novo for determining whether a juvenile was eligible to receive a sentence of life without parole. The Court would also exercise authority to adopt a presumption against sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole and that the state bore the burden of rebutting presumption by proving that a juvenile is incapable of rehabilitation beyond a reasonable doubt.

Commonwealth v. Robinson, 166 A.3d. 1272 (Pa. Super. 2017), per Dubow, J., the court held that consecutive sentences for separate outbursts charged as separate counts of contempt of court at a single hearing do not violate the double jeopardy provisions of the Pa. or U.S. Constitutions. The court held that this resolution is “necessary to vindicate the authority of trial courts to maintain order in the courtrooms of this Commonwealth and to punish offenders who obstruct the administration of justice through their misdeeds in the court’s presence.”

Section 17: Ex Post Facto Laws

Commonwealth v. Muniz, 164 A.3d 1189 (Pa. 2017), per Dougherty, J., The Court held that retroactive application of the Pennsylvania Sex Offender and Notification Act violates the ex post facto clauses of both the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions. The Court also held that SORNA’s registration provisions constitute punishment not withstanding the legislature’s identification of the provisions as non-punitive.

Section 18: Attainder

Commonwealth v. Irland, 153 A.3d 469 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017): per McCullough, J., the court held that there is no such thing as common law forfeiture in Pennsylvania and that an individual’s property can be forfeited only when the General Assembly enacts legislation that explicitly provides for forfeiture as a penalty.

Section 26: No Discrimination by Commonwealth and Its Political Subdivisions

Blake v. State Civil Serv. Comm’n, 166 A.3d 292 (Pa. 2017), per Donohue, J., the Court held that the legislature did not intend to bestow a veterans’ preference to someone who spent time as a cadet at a military academy, but never fulfilled any obligation of service nor subsequently enlisted. The Court held that because the Appellant did not qualify as a veteran under Pa. statutes, his equal protection rights under Art. I. §§ 1 and 26 of the Pa. Constitution were not violated.

Section 27: Natural Resources and the Public Estate

Baker v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 2017 WL 817123 (Pa. Commw. Ct. March 2, 2017): per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the court upheld an order of the Environmental Hearing Board (“EHB”) that dismissed the Appellant’s appeal of a Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) approval of a Stage 1 bond release related to surface mining on the Appellant’s process. The court held that any claim that the DEP is not in compliance with the state’s responsibilities under the Environmental Rights Amendment must be raised when appealing a DEP order to the EHB, otherwise the issue is considered waived on appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 243 F. Supp. 3d 141 (D. D.C. March 22, 2017): per Chutkan, J., the district court held that Art. 1 Sec. 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution which grants the people a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, history, and esthetic values of the environment, did not create a federally protected property interest for purposes of due process. As a result, the plaintiff failed to state a claim that FERC’s funding structure deprived them of due process.

Pennsylvania Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017), per Donohue, J., the Court held that laws that unreasonably impair the right to clean air, pure water, and environmental preservation are unconstitutional under Art. I Sec. 27 of the PA constitution, rejecting the test from Payne v. Kassab, 312 A.2d. 86 (Pa. Commw. 1973). The Court also held that under Art. I Sec. 27, the plain language of the section imposes on the Commonwealth with fiduciary duties over natural resources on public lands, and must manage them as a trustee. Additionally, proceeds from the sale of oil and gas from the public trust remain in the corpus of the trust and assets of the natural resources trust are to be used only for conservation and maintenance purposes.

Article II. The Legislature

Section 1: Legislative Power

Protz v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., 161 A.3d 827 (Pa. 2017), per Wecht, J., the Court held that a provision of Workers’ Compensation Act requiring physicians to determine a claimant’s degree of impairment by applying methodology set forth in most recent version of the guide issued by American Medical Association was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority under Art. II Sec. 1 of the Pa. Constitution. The Court stated that the Pa. Constitution prevents the General Assembly from delegating to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy.

Article III. Legislation

Section 14. Public School System

William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Educ., 170 A.3d 414 (Pa. 2017), per Wecht, J., the Court held that claims the Commonwealth’s system of funding public education violate Article III Sec. 14 and Article III Sec. 32 are judiciable. Citing recent decisions in Kuren v. Luzerne Cty., 146 A.3d 715 (Pa. 2016) and Pennsylvania Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017), the Court remanded the case to Commonwealth for further action with only a broadly-stated mandate to serve as guidance. The Court also held that it has a responsibility to monitor the legislature’s efforts in service of its mandate and to measure those effects against the constitutional imperative, ensuring that non-constitutional considerations never prevail over that mandate.

Article IV. The Executive

Section 5: Approval of Bills; Vetoes

Scarnati v. Wolf, 173 A.3d 1110 (Pa. 2017), per Wecht. J., the Court held that former Governor Corbett’s attempted partial vetoes of proposed legislation, the General Appropriations Act of 2014 and the 2014 Fiscal Code Amendments, did not adhere to Article IV Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court held that a public press release did not suffice as a veto proclamation, as it lacked any hallmarks of formality that would render it a constitutionally significant pronouncement.

Article V. The Judiciary

Section 9: Right of Appeal

Pittman v. Pennsylvania Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 159 A.3d. 466 (Pa. 2017), per Baer, J., the Court held that a convicted parolee violator is entitled to an appeal of a ruling of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole under Article V, Section 9 of the Pa. Constitution. The board must also articulate the basis for its decision to grant or deny credit for time served at liberty on parole.

Section 10: Judicial Administration

Thomas v. Grimm, 155 A.3d 128 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017): per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the court held that despite the Supreme Court’s reference to the Whistleblower Law does not bring the judicial branch under the purview of the Whistleblower Law itself. The court held that the legislature did not intend to apply the Whistleblower Law to employment decisions made by the judicial branch because doing so would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Bauer v. Pennsylvania State Board of Auctioneer Examiners, 154 A.3d 899 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017): per Colins, S.J., the court held that the attorney’s conduct of auctioning toy trains for a client did not constitute the rendering of professional legal services and that this activity would not be reasonably understood by the client to constitute legal services.

Villani v. Seibert, 159 A.3d 478 (Pa. 2017), per Saylor, C.J., the Court has interpreted the Dragonetti Act as being constitutional. The Court held that the Act, which states that attorneys may be liable for damages if they take part in the “procurement, initiation, or continuation of civil proceedings against another, if the plaintiff acted in a grossly negligent manner or without probable cause, does not violate Article V, Section 10(c) of the Pa. Constitution which states that the conduct of attorneys is exclusively regulated by the Pa. Supreme Court. The Court has interpreted that the statute “manifests a legislative purpose to compensate victims of frivolous and abusive litigation, and…has a substantive remedial thrust,” and that the court acknowledges other legislative intrusions into its powers under Art. V Section 10(c) such as the rules of evidence, and the PCRA.

Yocum v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d. 228 (Pa. 2017), per Dougherty, J., the Court held that restrictions placed on attorneys by the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act that prevents prevents attorneys who previously worked for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board from working for gaming companies for two years was not in conflict with the Supreme Court’s role as the regulator of the legal profession in the Commonwealth.

Powell v. Unemployment Compensation Board, 157 A.3d 884 (Pa. 2017): per Dougherty, J., the Court held that a suspended attorney may not act as a non-lawyer representative under Section 214 which allows non-lawyers to represent clients in a hearing or a proceeding in front of the board. The Court rejected Appellee’s claim that he had a constitutional right to be represented by a suspended attorney at his prerogative.  The Court stated that it considers suspended attorneys to be different from non-lawyer representatives who are authorized to participate in unemployment compensation matters.

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

In re Angeles Roca First Judicial Dist. Philadelphia Cty., 173 A.3d 1176 (Pa. 2017), per Saylor, C.J., the Court held that the Court of Judicial Discipline’s sanction of removal from office of Judge Angeles Roca from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was not unwarranted by the record, and thus was lawful. The Court also held that because the sanction was lawful, it lacked authority to overturn the sanction. The Court additionally held that the Court of Judicial Discipline was not required to impose sanctions proportional to punishment handed out in earlier cases that involved similar conduct.

Article VI. Public Officers

Section 7: Removal of Officers

Purcell v. Reading Sch. Dist., 167 A.3d. 216 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017), per McCullough, J., the court held a school superintendent’s firing was a violation of “administrative due process” when members of the school board investigated alleged illegal acts by the superintendent, called on their own members to testify during the hearing, and then had those that testified and heard testimony vote to terminate.

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

Section 1: Uniformity of Taxation

RB Alden Corp. v. Commonwealth, 169 A.3d. 727 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017), per McCullough J., the court held that the net loss carryover deduction limitation creates separate classes of taxpayers and corporations with unequal tax burdens, based solely on income, in violation of the Tax Uniformity Clause.

Section 15: Project “70”

In re Borough of Downingtown, 161 A.3d 844 (Pa. 2017), per Todd, J., the Court held that that the Donated or Dedicated Property Act covers property that is purchased with funds supplied by Act 70 [text of Act 70 set forth in Art. 8, Sec. 15 of the Pa. Constitution]. The court also held that the borough of Downingtown, which acquired several parcels of land under this Act, was required to obtain court approval before selling these parcels and required to obtain court approval before granting easements to developers over the property.

Article IX. Local Government

Section 8: Consolidation, Merger, or Boundary Change

Adams Township v. Richland Township, 154 A.3d 250 (Pa. 2017): per Wecht, J., the Court held that a reviewing court may not disturb a determination by a board of commissioners as to the location of a municipal boundary unless the board committed an error of law or its conclusion was not supported by competent evidence. The Court also held that the doctrine of acquiescence may be applied to resolve a municipal boundary dispute when the location of the municipal boundary is uncertain and that this doctrine also allowed the board to adopt tax assessment lines as boundaries between two townships after the board determined that it was unable to ascertain the original location of the boundary.

Article X. Private Corporations

Section 4: Compensation for Property Taken by Corporations Under Right of Eminent Domain

In re Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc., 855 F.3d 519, 521 (3d Cir. 2017), per Hardiman, J., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania law that prohibits insurance companies from paying fire insurance proceeds to a named insured unless the local municipality certifies that no delinquent taxes are owed on the property where the insured structure was located. The appellants argued that this law violated the Takings Clause of both the U.S. and Pa. constitutions, however the court held that when the appellant insured the property lost in the fire, they did so subject to the claim of taxing authorities.

In re Condemnation by Sunoco Pipeline L.P., 165 A.3d 1044, (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017), per Pellegrini, S.J., the court affirmed a common pleas court order that overruled preliminary objections to the declaration by Sunoco Pipeline, L.P. Sunoco sought to condemn easements on condemnees property in order to build the Mariner East 2 Pipeline. The court relied on its prior holding in In re Sunoco Pipeline, L.P., 143 A.3d 1000 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016), which held that Sunoco is a public utility corporation empowered to exercise eminent domain and the pipeline constitutes an intrastate service, and the pipeline public service.