Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The underlying litigation arose out of a land-ownership dispute between Jean Louse Villani, who was a co-plaintiff with her late husband until his death, and defendants John Seibert, Jr. and his mother, Mary Seibert (“Appellants”). Appellants prevailed in both an initial quiet title action and ensuing ejectment proceedings. During the course of this dispute, the Villanis were represented by Thomas Schneider, Esquire (“Appellee”). Appellants notified Mrs. Villani and Appellee that they intended to pursue a lawsuit for wrongful use of civil proceedings based upon Mrs. Villani’s and Appellee’s invocation of the judicial process to raise purportedly groundless claims. In November 2012, Mrs. Villani countered by commencing her own action seeking a judicial declaration vindicating her position that she did nothing wrong and bore no liability to Appellants. In this interlocutory direct appeal by permission, the issue presented was whether a legislative enactment recognizing a cause of action for wrongful use of civil proceedings infringed upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s constitutionally prescribed power to regulate the practice of law, insofar as such wrongful-use actions may be advanced against attorneys. As was relevant here, Appellee contended that the statutory scheme embodying a cause of action for wrongful use of civil proceedings, the “Dragonetti Act,” was an unconstitutional incursion by the General Assembly upon the Court’s power under Article V, Section 10(c). Given this asserted defect, he claimed that attorneys should be immunized from any liability under these statutory provisions. Appellee has failed to establish that the Dragonetti Act clearly and palpably violated the Pennsylvania Constitution, or that the Supreme Court should per se immunize attorneys, as attorneys, from the application of the substantive tort principles promulgated by the political branch in the Dragonetti Act. View "Villani v. Seibert" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on whether the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (the “Board”) abused its discretion if it fails to consider whether to grant a convicted parole violator (“CPV”) credit for time spent at liberty on parole. Also for consideration was whether the Board had to provide a contemporaneous statement explaining the rationale behind its decision to grant or deny credit to a CPV. In 2010, following his guilty plea to possession with intent to deliver (“PWID”), Appellant was sentenced to two to four years of imprisonment, with a maximum sentence date of December 9, 2013. On December 12, 2011, the Board released Appellant on parole. In 2013, while still on parole, Appellant was arrested and charged with various criminal offenses. He ultimately pled guilty to PWID and was sentenced to one to three years of imprisonment. Appellant subsequently waived his right to a parole revocation hearing and admitted that he violated his parole by committing a crime. The Board accepted Appellant’s admission and recommitted him in accord with his original 2011 sentence. The Supreme Court held that the Board abuses its discretion in failing to consider whether to grant CPVs credit for time spent at liberty on parole under the plain language of Subsection 6138(a)(2.1) of the Parole Code, 61 Pa.C.S. sec. 6138(a)(2.1). Additionally, in order to effectuate the intent of the General Assembly in enacting Subsection 6138(a)(2.1), the Court held that the Board must provide a contemporaneous statement explaining its rationale for denying a CPV credit for time spent at liberty on parole. In this case, because the Board’s decision to deny Appellant such credit was based upon its erroneous belief that Appellant was automatically precluded from receiving credit under Subsection 6138(a)(2.1), the Board abused its discretion. View "Pittman v. PA Board of Prob. & Parole" on Justia Law

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Appellant Raghunandan Yandamuri, acting pro se, appealed the two death sentences he received after a jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and related offenses for the kidnapping of a ten-month-old baby and the murders of the baby and her grandmother. After reviewing the trial court record, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the sentence imposed was not the product of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, but rather was based on the evidence presented at trial. Furthermore, the Court concluded the evidence supported at least one aggravating circumstance for each of the murders committed. The judgment of sentence was therefore affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Yandamuri" on Justia Law

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This case comes to us for a second time to determine if the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) was exempted from the jurisdiction of the City of Philadelphia (the City) via the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (Philadelphia Commission) and the provisions of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (FPO). This case originated in seven administrative proceedings against SEPTA that individuals instituted with the Philadelphia Commission from July 2007 through April 2009, alleging violations of the FPO. At least two of the administrative complaints included claims of types of discrimination against which the FPO offers protection, but that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) did not cover. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously remanded this case to the Commonwealth Court to ascertain the legislative intent regarding this issue by employing the analysis set forth in “Dep‘t of Gen. Serv. v. Ogontz Area Neighbors Ass‘n,” (483 A.2d 448 (Pa. 1984)). On remand, the Commonwealth Court determined that, applying the Ogontz test, the language and statutory scheme of the relevant statutes revealed the legislature‘s intent to exempt SEPTA from actions brought under the FPO. The Supreme Court found the Commonwealth Court did not err in its determination that, under the first prong of the Ogontz analysis, the statutory language and legislative scheme of the enabling legislation disclosed the legislature‘s intent to exclude SEPTA from the jurisdiction of the FPO. The order of the Commonwealth Court was therefore affirmed. View "SEPTA v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The right of firefighters and police officers to collectively bargain for purposes of wages, hours, and working conditions was secured through the Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act, commonly known as Act 111. Appellant, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 302 (“IAFF”), was the exclusive bargaining representative for the firefighters of Appellee, the City of Allentown (the “City”), for purposes of collective bargaining with the City. The City and the IAFF were parties to a seven-year collective bargaining agreement which ran from January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2011. In this appeal by allowance, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was, in the context of an interest arbitration award, whether a provision requiring a certain minimum number of firefighters on duty per shift is a mandatory subject of bargaining or a non-bargainable managerial prerogative. The Court concluded that the number of required firefighters per shift was a mandatory subject of bargaining, and implicated managerial responsibilities, but did not unduly infringe upon those managerial rights, and, thus, could properly serve as a component of an interest arbitration award. The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, which held to the contrary. View "City of Allentown v. Int'l Assoc. of Firefighters" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the unemployment compensation claim filed by appellee Gary Powell. The Unemployment Compensation Service Center determined appellee was ineligible to receive benefits pursuant to Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (the UC Law) because he voluntarily quit his job with Joe Krentzman & Sons (employer), without “cause of a necessitous and compelling nature.” The Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether an attorney who has been suspended from the practice of law by the Supreme Court could represent a claimant in unemployment compensation proceedings. A divided three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court determined the claimant was entitled to his choice of representative, even if that representative was a suspended attorney, and remanded for a new hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision to remand, but reversed the Commonwealth Court’s holding that a suspended attorney may represent claimants in unemployment compensation proceedings. View "Powell v. UCBR" on Justia Law

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J.L.P. (“Mother”) and J.D.M. (“Father”) were the parents of A.D.M. (born March 2007) and L.B.M. (born May 2011). Franklin County Children and Youth Services (“CYS”) conducted a home visit with Mother. The visit was prompted by a referral alleging that Mother was on the verge of becoming homeless. Mother contacted CYS seeking to place the children due to her unstable living conditions. At the time, Father was incarcerated. That same day, the trial court ordered the children to be placed with CYS. Soon after, the children were adjudicated dependent. As required by statute, the trial court appointed a GAL for the children at the beginning of the dependency proceedings. Mother pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia and was sentenced to twelve months of probation. Following Mother’s repeated periods of incarceration, CYS filed a TPR petition. The trial court declined to terminate Mother’s parental rights, finding that Mother, while only recently released from jail, had obtained both housing and employment. However, she would be incarcerated again for probation violations. A second termination hearing was scheduled. The trial court recognized that A.D.M.’s bond with Mother was much stronger than L.B.M.’s, and that A.D.M. would be affected adversely by the termination. However, the trial court found that A.D.M. also had a strong bond with his foster parents, and that it was in A.D.M.’s best interests to sever the bond with Mother because his most important need was permanency. The trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights, finding that Mother had not remedied the conditions leading to the children’s placement. In assessing the children’s best interests, the court found that L.B.M.’s primary bond was with his foster parents. Mother appealed, alleging that the trial court erred in denying Mother’s motion for the appointment of counsel, and that the trial court abused its discretion in terminating Mother’s parental rights. This case required the Supreme Court to determine whether 23 Pa.C.S. sec. 2313(a), which mandated the appointment of counsel for children involved in contested involuntary termination of parental rights proceedings, was satisfied by the appointment of a GAL provided that the GAL is an attorney. The Supreme Court held that it was not. "Because the trial court erred in failing to appoint counsel for the children, and because that error is structural, we remand for a new TPR proceeding following the appointment of counsel. Because of the remand, we need not reach, and we express no opinion regarding, Mother’s challenge to the trial court’s finding on the merits that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated." View "In Re: Adoption of L.B.M." on Justia Law
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Appellant Charles Hicks was tried by jury and convicted of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. For these convictions, he received the death penalty. He appealed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined there was sufficient evidence to sustain appellant’s conviction for first degree murder, and his claim regarding Rule 404(b) evidence did not warrant relief. "Our careful review of the record reveals the sentence was not the product of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor. To the contrary, the sentence was based on properly admitted evidence showing appellant intentionally killed the victim by cutting her throat with a knife. We further conclude the evidence was sufficient to support the aggravating circumstance of killing by means of torture as the Commonwealth expert witnesses testified the victim was severely beaten and strangled before being decapitated while she was still alive. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of sentence." View "Pennsylvania v. Hicks" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal by the Commonwealth, the issue presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the presumption that information of public record could not be considered “unknown” for purposes of proving newly-discovered facts exception to the time requirements of the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), applied to pro se petitioners who were incarcerated. The Supreme Court held that the presumption did not apply to pro se prisoner petitioners, and so it affirmed the Superior Court’s order remanding the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Burton" on Justia Law

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Pertinent to this appeal, the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”) required insurers to offer insureds Underinsured Motorist coverage. Subsection 1731(c.1) of the MVFRL stated that any UIM coverage rejection form that does not “specifically comply” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL was void and that, if an insurer failed to produce a valid UIM coverage rejection form, then UIM coverage shall be equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability limits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to determine whether an insurer’s UIM coverage rejection form “specifically compl[ied]” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL if the insurer’s form was not a verbatim reproduction of the statutory rejection form found in Subsection 1731(c) of the MVFRL but, rather, differed from the statutory form in an inconsequential manner. The Court held that a UIM coverage rejection form specifically complies with Section 1731 of the MVFRL even if the form contains de minimis deviations from the statutory form. Because the Superior Court reached the proper result in this case, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Ford v. American States Ins." on Justia Law