Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Caroline Avery (“Avery”) filed nomination petitions to run as a Republican candidate for Representative of the Pennsylvania First Congressional District in the May 2022 primary election, and Brittany Kosin (“Kosin”) filed nomination petitions to run as a candidate in the same primary election as a Republican for the Pennsylvania General Assembly seat representing the 178th District. However, both candidates withdrew their primary election nomination petitions by way of Commonwealth Court orders. Avery and Kosin subsequently submitted nomination papers seeking to run as third-party candidates in the November 2022 general election for the same offices that they initially sought to fill as Republican candidates in the 2022 primary election. Various citizens petitioned to set aside these nomination petitions, primarily on grounds that the candidates were barred from appearing on the general election ballot by the Election Code, Subsection 976(e) of the Code, 25 P.S. § 2936(e). In response, both potential candidates argued that they were entitled to participate in the 2022 general election based upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion in Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), and in In re Cohen for Office of Philadelphia City Council-at-Large, 225 A.3d 1083 (Pa. 2020) (“Cohen”). Although neither Avery nor Kosin withdrew their primary election nomination petitions pursuant to Section 914, they argued that, in Cohen, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended Packrall to allow a candidate to run in a general election in the circumstances presented in their cases. The Commonwealth Court rejected this argument, concluding that, in Cohen, a majority of Justices held that the Supreme Court’s decision in Packrall was limited to the particular circumstances of that case and did not apply to the case on appeal here. The Supreme Court issued orders affirming the Commonwealth Court on September 22, 2022; the Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning. View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Kosin & Avery" on Justia Law

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Robert Bentley (Bentley) was a broker of certificates of deposits (CDs). He operated his business through two entities: Bentley Financial Services (BFS) and Entrust Group (Entrust). Entrust had a $2 million line of credit with Main Line Federal Savings Bank (Main Line). In 1996, Main Line terminated the line of credit after the bank discovered Bentley had forged his accountant’s signature on a document. Main Line demanded repayment of the outstanding $2 million balance. In order to pay back Main Line, Bentley sold $2 million of fake CDs. Thereafter, Bentley engaged in a Ponzi scheme in which he would sell fraudulent or fictitious CDs to new investors in order to pay off previous investors. In 1997, as he continued to defraud investors, Bentley opened deposit and wire transfer accounts with a new bank, Bryn Mawr Trust Company (BMT). Bentley became one of BMT’s largest customers. In 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission commenced an action against Bentley for his Ponzi scheme. The federal court appointed David Marion (Marion) as a receiver for BFS and Entrust. In 2004, Marion initiated this case. Marion’s complaint, amended in 2012, raised claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act (UFA), aiding and abetting fraud, and negligence. In 2014, the trial court granted summary judgment to BMT on the claim of aiding and abetting fraud. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted limited discretionary review to consider whether to recognize a cause of action for aiding and abetting fraud and, if so, to determine the scienter requirement for this tort. The Court held aiding and abetting fraud was a cognizable claim under Pennsylvania law, and the required state of mind was actual knowledge of the fraud. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "Marion v. Bryn Mawr Trust Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a superior court erred in it affirmed a Court of Common Please Criminal Division's decision overturning a Montgomery County District Attorney (DA) decision. The DA had disapproved the private criminal complaint of Luay Ajaj (Father) against Saja Ibrahim Abdulkareem Al Rabeeah (Mother) for violations of 18 Pa. C.S. § 2904(a) (interference with custody of children), and 18 Pa. C.S. § 2909(a) (concealment of whereabouts of a child). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the proper standard of review courts should apply when reviewing a disapproval decision under Rule of Criminal Procedure 506(B)(2) was: if the private complainant demonstrated that the disapproval decision amounted to bad faith, occurred due to fraud, or was unconstitutional. Applying that standard of review here, the Court concluded Father failed to demonstrate that the DA’s decision to disapprove the Complaint amounted to bad faith, occurred due to fraud, or was unconstitutional, and, consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order. View "In Re: Private Comp. Filed by L. Ajaj" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the validity of modified terms, made by agreement of the settlor and beneficiaries, for removal and/or replacement of a trustee by the beneficiaries of irrevocable inter vivos trusts. The trusts at issue were all created by Walter Garrison, “Settlor,” founder and CEO of CDI Corp., a successful computer serving company. The trusts all named Settlor’s son Mark Garrison and any children Mark would have as beneficiaries. In 2017, Settlor and Beneficiaries entered into agreements to modify the Trusts pursuant to section 7740.1(a) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trust Act (“UTA”). Settlor passed away in February 2019. Proceeding under the modified provision, Beneficiaries acted to remove the existing independent co-trustees and to appoint Dr. Mairi Leining, Christina Zavell, and Michael Zavell in their place. The existing co-trustees, when notified of Beneficiaries’ action, advised that they did not recognize the modifications to the Trusts as valid or their purported removal thereunder. Seeking to uphold the co-trustee replacements, Mark filed a declaratory judgment petition to test the validity of the 2017 modifications. The Supreme Court determined the lower courts’ extension of its holding in Trust under Agreement of Edward Winslow Taylor, 164 A.3d 1147 (Pa. 2017) to unified action of beneficiaries and settlor of a trust under section 7740.1(a) was improper. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Trust Under Deed of W. Garrison" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred when it applied the plurality’s analysis in Easton Area School District v. Miller, 232 A.3d 716 (Pa. 2020) (Easton Area II) and ordered redaction and disclosure of the school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 2016, Valerie Hawkins, on behalf of Fox 43 News (collectively, Requester), submitted a Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) request to Central Dauphin School District (the District), seeking a copy of school bus surveillance video which captured an incident between a 17-year-old member of a District high school basketball team (the student), and a parent of another player (the adult), who allegedly grabbed the student’s wrist during their interaction. The incident occurred in a parking lot outside the high school’s gymnasium, while the players and school staff were boarding the school bus following a basketball game. The adult involved received a summary citation for harassment related to the incident. Requester attached a copy of the citation notice from the magisterial district court record to the record request; the notice identified the adult and student by name as the defendant and victim, respectively. Karen McConnell, the District’s open records officer, denied the request for access to the video, explaining it was an education record containing “personally identifiable information directly related to a student or students,” which, according to the District, protected the video from release under FERPA, and consequently precluded its disclosure under the RTKL as well. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err when it applied the analysis articulated in Easton Area II and ordered the mandatory redaction and disclosure of a school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to FERPA. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order with instructions to the District to reasonably redact the students’ personally identifiable information prior to disclosure. View "Central Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. Hawkins, et al." on Justia Law

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This matter involved permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (the Department) to Gibraltar Rock, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation seeking to operate a quarry on a 241-acre property in New Hanover Township (the Township). The Environmental Hearing Board (Board) rescinded the permits finding that their issuance was inconsistent with statutory and regulatory requirements. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s decision for reasons that were never raised by the parties, including that the Board’s opinion effectuated an unconstitutional taking. Based on its review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Commonwealth Court erred in considering issues not raised by Gibraltar and then by reversing the Board’s rescission of the permits. The Court therefore vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for the Commonwealth Court to consider the issue raised in Gibraltar’s petition for review. View "Gibraltar Rock v. Dept. of Env. Protection" on Justia Law

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Appellee Linda Reibenstein undisputedly brought her claims against Appellant Patrick Conaboy, M.D., after the two-year period had run, and the death certificate undisputedly and correctly noted the medical cause of Reibenstein’s decedent’s death. The trial court ruled that the phrase “cause of death” referred specifically and only to the direct medical cause of death. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment to Dr. Conaboy under Section 513(d) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (“MCARE”). The Superior Court reversed, interpreting “cause of death” more broadly to encompass considerations associated with the manner of death (i.e., legal cause). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that MCARE’s tolling provision could not bear the breadth of that reading, and reversed. View "Reibenstein v. Barax" on Justia Law

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The issue presented was one of first impression for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a jury instruction in which the judge analogized jurors’ application of the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to jurors’ hypothetical decision-making regarding surgery involving a “precious one.” Appellant Gerald Drummond was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the shooting deaths of Timothy Clark and Damien Holloway. Holloway had an on-again, off-again relationship with Drummond’s sister, Annie. It was alleged Drummond did not approve of the relationship. Gunshot evidence suggested Clark was killed execution-style by an assailant standing behind him while Clark knelt with his hands interlocked behind his head. Holloway was shot in the cheek; he died later from brain hemorrhaging. After review of the jury instructions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the instructions were reasonably likely to cause a jury to apply a diminished standard of proof in criminal cases, thus posing significant risks to a defendant’s due process rights. Accordingly, the Court found arguable merit to Drummond’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim. However, because counsel could not be deemed ineffective for failing to anticipate a change in the law, it affirmed the Superior Court’s order affirming the denial of Drummond’s PCRA petition. View "Pennsylvania v. Drummond" on Justia Law

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In late 2012, 16-year-old Shane McGuire and a group of his friends smashed pumpkins and stacked bricks on the doorstep of a home in McGuire’s neighborhood. The teens were still on the property when the homeowner, City of Pittsburgh Police Officer Colby Neidig, arrived home with his wife and children. McGuire watched the family’s reaction to the vandalism and then banged on the front door and ran away, accidentally tripping over his own brick boobytrap in the process. Neidig saw McGuire running, and gave chase, catching McGuire, knocking him to the ground and punching McGuire in the face. Neidig was not wearing his police uniform at the time, nor did he identify himself as a police officer. Neidig called 911 and restrained McGuire until Officer David Blatt, an on-duty City of Pittsburgh police officer, arrived. Two years later, McGuire filed a federal lawsuit against Neidig, Blatt, and the City of Pittsburgh, asserting excessive use of force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 19833 and state law assault and battery claims. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in McGuire’s favor, finding that Neidig used unreasonable force against McGuire while acting under color of state law under Section 1983, and that Neidig was liable for McGuire’s assault and battery claims as well. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved whether the City of Pittsburgh had a statutory duty to indemnify one of its police officers for the judgment entered against him in a federal civil rights lawsuit. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that a federal jury’s finding that a police officer acted “under color of state law” for purposes of Section 19831 necessarily constituted a “judicial determination” that he also acted within the “scope of his office or duties” for purposes of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Thus, the judgment was affirmed. View "McGuire v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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Appellant Demetrius Coleman appealed a superior court order vacating his sentence, and remanding the case to the Allegheny County Court of Common Please for resentencing. The Superior Court concluded the sentencing court erred in failing to sentence Appellant pursuant to the mandatory sentencing enhancement set forth in Section 9715(a) of the Sentencing Code, 42 Pa. C.S. § 9715(a), requiring that any person convicted of third-degree murder “in this Commonwealth who has previously been convicted at any time of murder . . . be sentenced to life imprisonment.” The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Superior Court was correct in concluding that the mandatory sentencing enhancement applied to a defendant such as Appellant, who killed three people simultaneously and was thereafter convicted of three counts of third-degree murder. Upon careful review, the Supreme Court concluded the sentencing enhancement did apply in such a scenario. View "Pennsylvania v. Coleman" on Justia Law