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A former West Point cadet could not qualify for veterans’ preference on applications for Commonwealth civil service jobs. Appellee Scott Blake attended West Point for three years, but did not graduate, was not obliged to perform any military service, and was honorably discharged prior to his third year. The Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission informed Blake he did not qualify for the preference because his time at West Point was not “creditable as ‘time in service.’” Blake maintains the CSC had made an erroneous determination and cited two federal statutory provisions as evidence that cadet time is considered both “active duty,” and “active service.” After reviewing the relevant statutory language, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the General Assembly did not intend to bestow a veterans’ preference to someone who was a cadet at a military academy, but never obligated himself to perform, or otherwise undertook, any subsequent military service. View "Blake v. Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Pennsylvania General Assembly codified the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive Act (the “RRRI Act” or the “Act”), intended to encourage eligible offenders to complete Department of Corrections programs that are designed to reduce recidivism. Eligibility was conditioned, in relevant part, upon the absence of a “history of present or past violent behavior.” The Commonwealth filed a number of informations against Appellant Sean Cullen-Doyle, each charging him with burglary, conspiracy, and theft-related offenses. Appellant pled guilty to several counts of criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree felony burglary and one count of first-degree felony burglary. The court found Appellant ineligible for the RRRI program and sentenced him to three-to-six years’ imprisonment on the burglary conviction, followed by an aggregate fifteen-year term of probation on the conspiracy counts. In a post-sentence motion, Appellant asked the court to reconsider his eligibility for the program. The court denied the motion for reconsideration, referencing Appellant’s “prior first degree burglary conviction,” although it was unclear whether the court was referring to the present offense or another, earlier offense. On appeal, Appellant maintained he was never convicted of burglary on a prior occasion, and the Commonwealth admitted it could not find any indication of such a prior conviction. Therefore, the parties filed a joint motion to remand the matter to the common pleas court to determine whether that court’s ruling was based on inaccurate information concerning Appellant’s criminal record. The Superior Court acknowledged the confusion on this point but found the uncertainty immaterial and denied the motion, concluding that Appellant was ineligible for the RRRI program based solely on his present conviction for a crime of violence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the RRRI Act was a statute subject to the rule of lenity, thus any ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the word “history” (as was deemed an issue here) should have been resolved in favor of those seeking admission into the program. The Court reversed the Superior Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Cullen-Doyle" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider the lawfulness of a warrantless blood draw conducted upon a motorist who, having been arrested for DUI, had then been rendered unconscious by medical personnel before a police officer provided “O’Connell” warnings and before the officer requested the motorist’s submission to a chemical test. The Philadelphia Municipal Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Superior Court all held that a blood draw conducted under these circumstances was impermissible, and that the results of the derivative blood test are accordingly inadmissible at trial. Because the seizure of appellee Darrell Myers’ blood violated Pennsylvania’s implied consent statute, 75 Pa.C.S. 1547, and because no other circumstances justified the failure to obtain a search warrant, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Myers" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Saleem Shabezz was a passenger in a vehicle that was seized unconstitutionally by police officers. Following the stop, the officers searched the vehicle, finding drugs and weapons in various locations and compartments, as well as on Shabezz’ person. The question this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether an illegal seizure entitled a passenger to suppression only if he could establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the areas of the car where the evidence was found, or whether that evidence instead is barred outright as fruit of the poisonous tree. The Court held the contested evidence, tainted by the initial illegality, had to be suppressed, even absent a demonstrable expectation of privacy in the locations where the evidence was found. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s order, and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Shabezz" on Justia Law

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The Superior Court held Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) registration provisions were not punishment, and therefore retroactive application to appellant Jose Muniz, who was convicted of sex offenses prior to SORNA’s effective date but sentenced afterwards. The court held that sentencing did not violate either the federal or state ex post facto clauses. Appellant argued that applying SORNA retroactively to him was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, holding: (1) SORNA’s registration provisions constituted punishment notwithstanding the General Assembly’s identification of the provisions as nonpunitive; (2) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions violated the federal ex post facto clause; and (3) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions also violated the ex post facto clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "Pennsylvania v. Muniz" on Justia Law

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This appeal raised a question of whether the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution permitted a taxing authority to selectively appeal only the assessments of commercial properties, such as apartment complexes, while choosing not to appeal the assessments of other types of property – most notably, single-family residential homes – many of which were under-assessed by a greater percentage. The common pleas court sustained the preliminary objections and dismissed the complaint, finding Appellants’ claims failed as a matter of law because the School District (the taxing authority) was not the entity that set assessments, and the applicable statute gave it a clear statutory right to appeal tax assessments set by the County. In rejecting Appellants’ argument relating to discriminatory treatment, the Court indicated that “[t]he filing of selective appeals does not result in a uniformity violation, and it is not deliberate discrimination.” In this regard, the court ultimately concluded “the Uniformity Clause does not require equalization across all subclassifications of real property.” The Commonwealth Court affirmed in a published decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts, finding Appellants’ complaint set forth a valid claim that the School District’s appeal policy violated the Uniformity Clause. View "Valley Forge Towers v. Upper Merion SD" on Justia Law

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Appellant Qu’eed Batts was convicted of a first-degree murder that he committed when he was fourteen years old. The issue for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether the sentencing court imposed an illegal sentence when it resentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. After careful review, the Court concluded, based on the findings made by the sentencing court and the evidence upon which it relied, that the sentence was illegal in light of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). Pursuant to its grant of allowance of appeal, the Court further concluded that to effectuate the mandate of Miller and Montgomery, procedural safeguards were required to ensure that life-without-parole sentences were meted out only to “the rarest of juvenile offenders” whose crimes reflected “permanent incorrigibility,” “irreparable corruption” and “irretrievable depravity,” as required by Miller and Montgomery. The Pennsylvania Court recognized a presumption against the imposition of a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. To rebut the presumption, the Commonwealth bears the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of rehabilitation. View "Pennsylvania v. Batts" on Justia Law

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No fiduciary duty arises in a consumer transaction for the purchase of a whole life insurance policy based upon the advice of a financial advisor where the consumer purchasing the policy does not cede decision -making control over the purchase to the financial advisor. In 1995, Bryan Holland, a financial advisor for IDS Life Insurance Corporation, made an unsolicited telephone contact, a "cold call," to Eugene and Ruth Yenchi. At a subsequent meeting and for a fee of $350, Holland presented the Yenchis with a financial management proposal containing a notice that it had been prepared by "your American Express financial advisor" (Holland) and that "[alt your request, your American Express financial advisor can recommend products distributed by American Express Financial Advisors and its affiliates as investment alternatives for existing securities." The Proposal offered the Yenchis a number of general recommendations, including that they monitor monthly expenses, consolidate their debt, consider various savings plans, consolidate current life insurance policies into one policy, review long-term care coverage, keep accurate records for tax purposes (medical expenses and charitable contributions), transfer 401(k) funds into mutual funds, and continue estate planning with an attorney and their financial advisor. The Yenchis implemented some of these recommendations. In 2000, the Yenchis had their portfolio independently reviewed. Through this process, they were advised that Holland’s recommendations would be financially devastating to the Yenchis. In April 2001, the Yenchis sued Holland and his company, American Express Financial Services Corporation, American Express Financial Advisors Corporation, and IDS Life Insurance Company. The Yenchis' asserted claims of negligence/willful disregard, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), bad faith, negligent supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Of relevance here, with respect to the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the trial court held that no fiduciary relationship was established between the Yenchis and Holland because the Yenchis continued to make their own investment decisions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, consistent with its jurisprudence, no fiduciary duty arose in such a situation. Consequently, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision to the contrary. View "Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial" on Justia Law

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Section 306(a.2) of the Workers' Compensation Act allowed employers to demand that a claimant undergo an impairment -rating evaluation (IRE), during which a physician must determine the "degree of impairment" that is due to the claimant's compensable injury. In order to make this assessment, the Act required physicians to apply the methodology set forth in "the most recent edition" of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. In consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether this mandate violated the constitutional requirement that all legislative power "be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." In 2007, Mary Ann Protz sustained a work -related knee injury. Her employer, Derry Area School District (Derry), voluntarily began paying temporary total disability benefits. An IRE physician evaluated Protz and assigned to her a 10% impairment rating based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (the Guides). Because Protz's impairment rating was less than 50%, Derry filed a modification petition seeking to convert Protz's disability status from total to partial -the effect of which would be to limit the duration that Protz could receive workers' compensation benefits. A Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the petition. Protz appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, arguing that the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated to the AMA the authority to establish criteria for evaluating permanent impairment. The Board rejected Protz's constitutional argument and affirmed the WCJ's decision. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board, finding that the Act lacked "adequate standards to guide and restrain the AMA's exercise" of its delegated power to create a methodology for grading impairment. Derry and Protz appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the Pennsylvania Constitution prevented the General Assembly from passing off to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's holding that Section 306(a.2) violated the non-delegation doctrine, however, found that Section 306(a.2) was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cross-appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review to consider whether three statutory provisions, the “Donated or Dedicated Property Act” (“DDPA”), the “Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act” (“Project 70 Act”), and the Eminent Domain Code, allow Appellant Downingtown Borough (“Borough”) to sell four parcels of land to private housing developers , Appellants Progressive Housing Ventures, LLC and J. Loew and Associates, Inc. (“Developers”). The four parcels comprised a public community park owned and maintained by the Borough, and were held by the Borough as trustee. After review, the Court vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court with respect to the Borough’s proposed sale to Developers of two southern parcels, reversed the order regarding the proposed sale by the Borough to Developers of two northern parcels, and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court involving the Borough’s grant of easements to Developers over all parcels. The Borough was required to obtain court approval before selling the parcels, and easements over the land would have subordinated public rights to the parcels to private rights. View "Downingtown Borough (Friends of Kardon Park, Aplts)" on Justia Law