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Recent Caselaw

2018 Caselaw

In re Consol. Appeals of Chester-Upland Sch. Dist., 200 A.3d 1052 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018), per Colins, J., the court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded, stating that appellants may not consider the presence of an outdoor advertising sign on a property when determining its fair market value for purposes of a real estate tax assessment.  The court instructed that, in accordance with local tax laws, the valuation of an advertising sign or its sign structure does not otherwise prohibit the valuation of land.

Commonwealth v. Robinson, 203 A.2d 326 (Pa. 2018), per Donohue, J., the Court reviewed Robinson’s petition for relief, raising a due process violation, premised upon the receipt and delivery of offensive emails by former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin and possible ex parte communication between Eakin and members of the Office of the Cumberland County District Attorney.  The Court concluded that Robinson satisfied the newly discovered fact exception to the PCRA’s one-year time requirement and that the DA was disqualified from further proceedings.

In re Jennings, 200 A.3d 653 (Pa. Ct. Jud. Disc. Dec. 19, 2018), per Barton, J., the court ordered that Robert Jennings, III, a former magisterial district judge, be removed from office for his violations of standards of conduct and Article V, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Jennings was convicted of two misdemeanors for macing state constables who served arrest warrants and civil process from his judicial office.

Dana Holding Corp. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., 195 A.3d 635 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018).
This case was stayed until the Protz v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. decision was finalized; in applying the holding of Protz, the court found that there was no violation of due course of law under the Remedies Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, in response to Employer’s claim that retroactive application violated due course of law. The court affirmed the Appeal Board’s order, which reinstated the claimant to total disability status.
Accord Commonwealth v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., No. 1395 C.D. 2017, 2018 WL 4924543 (Pa. Commw. 2018).

Turzai v. Brandt, 175 A.3d 282 (U.S. 2018).  The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review the Pennsylvania electoral map dispute.

Freilich v. Se. Pennsylvania Transportation Auth., 191 A.3d 739 (Pa. 2018); Schaller v. New Flyer of Am. Inc., 191 A.3d 1283 (Pa. 2018).  In two cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court again rejected an effort to overturn the statutory damages cap that limits recovery against stage agencies to $250,000.

Commonwealth v. Davis, 195 A.3d 557 (Pa. 2018).
The Court granted an allowance of appeal to respond to the issue of whether or not a Petitioner may be compelled to disclose orally the memorized password to a computer over his invocation of privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

King v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, State Bd. of Barber Exam’rs, 195 A.3d 315 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018).
Raising an Article I, Section I issue sua sponte the court held that revocation of a convicted sex offender’s license to practice as a barber was unconstitutional; it rested on speculative concerns and exceeded what was reasonable.

Deon v. Barasch, 341 F. Supp. 3d 438 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 19, 2018), per Rambo, J., in a civil rights action the court found that Section 1513 of the Gaming Act was an unconstitutional abrogation of the first amendment right to political association of plaintiffs and those similarly situated. The statute, amended after DePaul v. Commonwealth found it unconstitutional, bans large political contributions from casino interests. The court found that it violates the First Amendment and held that the section furthers a substantially important state interest, but was not closely drawn enough to achieve that interest.

Commonwealth v. Graham, 196 A.3d 661 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2018), per Olson, J., the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the holding of the trial court by finding that venue is proper either where an element of the offense occurred or a required result took place. The court explained that venue challenges concerning the locality of the crime stem from the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Commonwealth v. Irland, 648 Pa. 380, (Pa. 2018), per Saylor, J., the Court found there was no historical foundation establishing common law civil forfeiture and that civil forfeiture of derivative contraband requires statutory authorization. The Court explained that the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 effectively abolished common law forfeiture; thus, absent statutory authorization, the Commonwealth has no authority to seek, and the courts have no power to order, forfeiture of derivative contraband.

Pennsylvania State Sys. of Higher Educ., Lock Haven Univ. v. Ass’n of Pennsylvania State College. & Univ. Faculties, 193 A.3d 486 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018), per Colins, J., the court affirmed the award of an arbitrator in holding that Lock Haven University lacked just cause to terminate a professor in the school’s mathematics department who was convicted of sexual offenses in 1990 and served time for that offense 14 years prior to being hired by the University.  The court addressed the petitioner’s arguments in concluding that this decision did not contravene public policy or intrude on the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s inherent managerial rights.

Pennsylvania State Sys. of Higher Educ., Lock Haven Univ. v. Ass’n of Pennsylvania State Coll. & Univ. Faculties, 193 A.3d 486 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018), per Colins, J., the court affirmed the award of an arbitrator in holding that Lock Haven University lacked just cause to terminate a professor in the school’s mathematics department who was convicted of sexual offenses in 1990 and served time for that offense 14 years prior to being hired by the University.  The court addressed the petitioner’s arguments in concluding that this decision did not contravene public policy or intrude on the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s inherent managerial rights.

Marcellus Shale Coal. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 193 A.3d 447 (Pa. Commw. Ct.  2018), per Wojcik, J., the court upheld the Department of Environmental Protection’s process for considering a shale gas well’s impact on public natural resources before granting a drilling permit, adhering to the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement that the court consider the impact of wells on public natural resources.  However, the court also limited the definition of “public resource,” finding that extending the definition to include playgrounds and common areas at public schools would result in a definition that is “vague, overly broad, and unpredictable.”

Markham v. Wolf, 190 A.3d 1175 (Pa. 2018), per Todd, J., the Court held that Governor Wolf’s executive order, creating an advisory group to meet quarterly to advise the executive branch on home care policies, did not violate the doctrine of separation of powers or the Attendant Care Services Act and did not conflict with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act or the Pennsylvania Employee Relations Act. The Court noted that although executive orders are not mentioned in the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article IV, Section 2 gives the governor broad authority and held that an executive order that “is voluntary, non-exclusive, and even unenforceable – as it does not implement constitutional or statutory law – is nevertheless a permissible exercise of gubernatorial power.”

William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Educ., No. 587 M.D. 2014, 2018 WL 2090329 (Pa. Commw. Ct. May 7, 2018), per Simpson, J., the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding as a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution can move forward.  The suit alleges that the state’s school funding system violates the Pennsylvania Constitution due to the significant underfunding and gross disparities in allocations that penalize students in low-wealth districts.

Armour Pharmacy v. Bureau of Workers’ Comp. Fee Review Hearing Office, 193 A.3d 304 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018).
Per Leavitt, J. the court vacated the order of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office eliminating Employer’s liability to Pharmacy based on a compromise and release agreement and remanded the case to the Bureau for a decision on the merits. The court noted that the claimant and employer, who had entered a compromise and release agreement releasing employer from liability to pay Armour Pharmacy, can bind each other through the agreement, but cannot release themselves from liability to Pharmacy, which was not a party to the agreement and was not given notice or opportunity to be heard as to the agreement.

Sugar Grove Twp. v. Byler, No. 937 C.D. 2017, 191 A.3d 84 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 20, 2018), per McCullough, J., the court remanded the case to determine the issue of religious freedom protections under the First Amendment, Article I Section III of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Protection Act. The court stated that the trial court’s order directing remediation of violations did not sufficiently address the petitioner’s religious freedom contentions. Additionally, the court stated that the township’s privy ordinance did not apply retroactively and the trial court incorrectly imposed outstanding fines and penalties.

Scrip v. Seneca, 191 A.3d 917 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018), per Brobson, J., the court considered whether the Whistleblower Law affords a cause of action to judicial employees and the extent to which sovereign immunity shields judicial branch officers and employees from civil liability for a claim of wrongful termination of employment. The court held that the Supreme Court may, under its supervisory authority over the Judiciary and without violating the separation of powers, take remedial action when an employee rightfully reports misconduct and is subjected to retaliation. However, such authority does not extend to effectively amending a statute to create a cause of action under the Whistleblower Law or waiving sovereign immunity.

Varner v. Swatara Twp. Bd. of Commissioners, 646 Pa. 360 (Pa. 2018), per Dougherty, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the Township’s change from at-large to a by-ward system because it was done without judicial approval. The Court held that Swatara Township Board’s reliance on the Pennsylvania Constitution in their reapportionment was unjustified as the ordinance attempted to create new wards or divide old wards and hence was governed by Section 401 of the First Class Township Code.

Commonwealth v. Katona, 2018 PA Super 166 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2018), per Bowes, J., the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that the Pennsylvania Constitution imposes greater protections than the federal constitution when confronting the issue of whether a Pennsylvania citizen has a constitutionally protected interest in private conversations. The Court held that the trial court correctly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the search warrant.

Substantive Due Process

Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Sunoco Pipeline L.P., 179 A.3d 670 (Pa. Cmwlth.  2018), per Simpson, J., the court held that Sunoco Pipeline L.P. is a public utility corporation and that the General Assembly intended the Public Utility Code to occupy the field of public utility regulation, in the absence of an express grant of authority to the contrary. The court also held that conflict preemption precluded West Goshen Township’s zoning ordinance from prohibiting the pipeline and that the township’s argument that the pipelines’ placement in a residential district rendered the zoning districts irrational and unconstitutional was not a viable substantive due process claim.

Article I Section 5 – Elections

League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth, 178 A.3d 737 (Pa. 2018), per Todd, J., the Court held that claims of violation of state constitution’s free and equal elections clause, and claims of violation of federal equal protection clause, are subject to entirely separate jurisprudential considerations, and court is not required to utilize same standard to adjudicate both types of claims; abrogating Erfer v. Commonwealth, 794 A.2d 325 (Pa. 2002). The Court also held that alleged political gerrymandering provides a basis for a claim that a congressional redistricting plan violates the state constitution’s free and equal protection clause, and that the 2011 redistricting plan passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett deprived voters of their state constitutional right to free and equal elections under Article I Section 5 of the Pa. Constitution. The Court also held that when the legislature is unable or chooses not to act to remedy an unconstitutional congressional redistricting plan, it becomes the judiciary’s role to determine the appropriate redistricting plan.

Article I Section 8 – Security From Searches and Seizures

Commonwealth v. Yong, 177 A.3d 876 (Pa. 2018), per Mundy, J., the Court held that based on modified vertical application of collective knowledge doctrine, probable cause may exist for arrest with no evidence of a knowledge-holding officer giving command to an arresting officer who lacked probable cause while working as a team.

Commonwealth v. Fulton, 179 A.3d 475 (Pa. 2018), per Donohue, J., the Court held that the powering up and navigating a cellular phone in order to obtain its phone number, monitoring incoming calls, and searching text messages constituted a search, under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Article I Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court held that a warrantless search of this type violates both the 4th Amendment and Art I. Sec. 8. The Court relied on the holding of Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, 134 S.Ct 2473 (2014), which the Court summarized as “when police want to search a cell phone, ‘get a warrant.’” (quotes in original).

Article I Section 9 – Rights of the Accused in Criminal Prosecutions

Kittrell v. Pennsylvania, No. 1:15-CV-2401, 2018 WL 950207 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 20, 2018), per Jones, D.J., the court held that the oral colloquy for a pro se defendant violates the Sixth Amendment, and Article I Section 9 of the Pa. Constitution when does not include discussion of whether the defendant comprehended the nature of the charges, the statutory offenses, the range of allowable punishments, possible defenses to the charges, or any mitigating circumstances. The court held that the defective colloquy did not constitute a knowing and intelligent waiver to assistance of counsel under Article I Section 9 of the Pa. Constitution, and the holding in Commonwealth v. Houtz, 856 A.2d 119 (Pa. Super. 2004).