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This appeal involved a constitutional challenge to a provision of the City of Philadelphia's Property Maintenance Code that required owners of vacant buildings that were a “blighting influence” to secure all spaces designed as windows with working glazed windows and all entryways with working doors. Appellees, owners of a vacant property that was cited for violating this ordinance challenged the provision, largely contending that it was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power. The City’s Board of License and Inspection Review (“Board”) rejected Owners’ arguments; however, the trial court agreed with Owners and deemed the ordinance unconstitutional. The Commonwealth Court affirmed, concluding that the ordinance was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power because it was concerned with the aesthetic appearance of vacant buildings, not the safety risks posed by blight. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth Court and trial court erred in this regard, and vacated their orders and remanded the matter to the trial court for consideration of Owners’ remaining issues. View "Rufo v. City of Phila." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a proceeding in which parental rights were involuntarily terminated. Throughout the termination proceedings, up to and including the hearing on the termination petition, an attorney guardian ad litem represented the best interests of the children involved. The primary issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the common pleas court erred in failing to appoint a separate attorney to represent their legal interests. The Court held a child’s statutory right to appointed counsel under Section 2313(a) of the Adoption Act was not subject to waiver. During contested termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, where there is no conflict between a child’s legal and best interests, an attorney-guardian ad litem representing the child’s best interests can also represent the child’s legal interests. As illustrated by the facts of this case, if the preferred outcome of a child is incapable of ascertainment because the child is very young and pre-verbal, there can be no conflict between the child’s legal interests and his or her best interests; as such, the mandate of Section 2313(a) of the Adoption Act that counsel be appointed “to represent the child,” 23 Pa.C.S. 2313(a), is satisfied where the court has appointed an attorney-guardian ad litem who represents the child’s best interests during such proceedings. View "In Re: T.S., E.S., minors, Apl. of: T.H.-H. -" on Justia Law

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In April 2012, Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Kosko initiated a routine traffic stop of a vehicle driven by Appellant Jamal Knox. Appellant’s co-defendant, Rashee Beasley, was in the front passenger seat. While Officer Kosko was questioning Appellant, the latter sped away, ultimately crashing his vehicle. He and Beasley fled on foot, but were quickly apprehended and placed under arrest. The police found fifteen stamp bags containing heroin and a large sum of cash on Appellant’s person, as well as a loaded, stolen firearm on the driver’s-side floor of the vehicle. At the scene of the arrest, Appellant gave the police a false name. When Detective Daniel Zeltner, who was familiar with both Appellant and Beasley, arrived, he informed the officers of Appellant’s real name. Appellant and Beasley were charged with a number of offenses. While the charges were pending, Appellant and Beasley wrote and recorded a rap song entitled, “F--k the Police,” which was put on video with still photos of Appellant and Beasley displayed in a montage. In the photos, the two are looking into the camera and motioning as if firing weapons. The video was uploaded to YouTube by a third party, and the YouTube link was placed on a publicly-viewable Facebook page entitled “Beaz Mooga,” which the trial evidence strongly suggested belonged to Beasley. The song’s lyrics express hatred toward the Pittsburgh police. As well, they contain descriptions of killing police informants and police officers. In this latter regard, the lyrics referred to Officer Kosko and Detective Zeltner by name. In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the First Amendment to the United States Constitution permitted the imposition of criminal liability based on the publication of the music video containing threatening lyrics directed to named law enforcement officers. "Pennsylvania’s legislative body has made such a policy judgment by enacting statutes which prohibit the making of terroristic threats and the intimidation of witnesses, and for the reasons given Appellant cannot prevail on his claim that his convictions under those provisions offend the First Amendment." View "Pennsylvania v. Knox" on Justia Law

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In November 2014, officers from the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (Bureau) conducted an investigation regarding underage persons present inside appellee Jet-Set Restaurant, LLC (Jet-Set), a licensed establishment located in Reading, Berks County. Bureau officers identified four underage females inside Jet- Set. The officers observed three of the four females enter Jet-Set after providing a doorman with identification that showed they were underage. Bureau officers also observed one of the females purchase a bottle of beer inside Jet-Set and another one of the females consume two bottles of beer purchased by another customer. Bureau officers subsequently learned one of the females had been inside Jet-Set before. The Bureau cited Jet-Set for: (1) permitting minors to frequent the premises in violation of Section 4-493(14) of the Liquor Code (frequenting count); and (2) furnishing alcohol to underage minors in violation of Section 4-493(1) of the Liquor Code, 47 P.S. 4-493(1) (furnishing count). The Bureau appealed the dismissal of the frequenting count, but both the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Berks County Court of Common Pleas affirmed the dismissal on the basis that “frequent” means “to visit often or to resort to habitually or to recur again and again, or more than one or two visits” and the Bureau had not established a violation based on the isolated occurrence observed by Bureau officers in November 2014. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the definition of “frequent” set forth in Appeal of Speranza, 206 A.2d 292 (Pa. 1965) continued to apply to Section 4-493(14) of the Liquor Code, 47 P.S. 4-493(14), in light of subsequent amendments to the statute. The Court concluded Speranza still controlled and, accordingly, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Pa. St. Police v. Jet-Set Restaurant, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding that the involuntary movement of a vehicle did not constitute operation of a motor vehicle for purposes of the vehicle liability exception to governmental immunity under 42 Pa.C.S. 8542(b)(1). Appellant Victoria Balentine was the widow of Edwin Omar Medina-Flores, a contractor for Metra Industries (Metra), which was hired by the Chester Water Authority (CWA) to rehabilitate a section of its water distribution system. Medina-Flores was inside a four-foot by four-foot ditch located on the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb on the southbound side of the road, when Charles Mathues, an inspector for CWA, approached the worksite in a southerly direction and parked his CWA vehicle, with the engine running, 10 to 15 feet from the ditch. Mathues activated the four-way flashers and the amber strobe light on the roof of the vehicle, which he then exited. He walked to the front of the vehicle where he laid some blueprints on the hood. Approximately five minutes later, a vehicle owned by Michael Roland and driven by Wyatt Roland struck the rear of the CWA vehicle, causing it to move forward. Mathues was rolled up onto the hood and thrown into the roadway. The right front bumper of the CWA vehicle then struck Medina-Flores as he stood in the ditch. The undercarriage dragged him out of the ditch, pinning Medina-Flores under the vehicle when it came to a stop. Medina-Flores died as a result of the injuries he sustained. Mathues was also injured in the accident. The Supreme Court determined movement of a vehicle, whether voluntary or involuntary, was not required by the statutory language of the vehicle liability exception, and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court, thereby allowing this matter to proceed in the trial court. View "Balentine v. Chester Water Auth, et al" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the "breadth of gubernatorial power" concerning home health care services, and whether Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf's executive order (2015-05) was an impermissible exercise of his authority. The Order focused on the in-home personal (non-medical) services provided by direct care workers (“DCW”) to elderly and disabled residents who receive benefits in the form of DCW services in their home rather than institutional settings (“participants”), pursuant to the Attendant Care Services Act (“Act 150”). After careful consideration of the Order, the Supreme Court concluded Governor Wolf did not exceed his constitutional powers. Thus, the Court vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order, and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Markham, et al v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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In a negligence case, Helen Jones sought recovery for injuries sustained when a vehicle driven by Ron Ott rear-ended Jones’ car while Ott was working for Eastern Elevator Service and Sales Company. Prior to trial, Jones filed proposed points for charge with the prothonotary. Of particular relevance here, Jones filed three proposed instructions related to negligence per se. After trial had commenced, but before the case went to the jury, the trial court held a charge conference. Ultimately, the trial court’s charge to the jury did not include an instruction concerning negligence per se. Notably, after charging the jurors, the trial court asked counsel whether there was anything with respect to the charge that either party wanted to put on the record. Jones’ lawyer responded: “I have no issues with the charge, Your Honor.” The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ott. Jones filed a post-trial motion contending that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury as to negligence per se. Ott responded that Jones had waived her jury-charge challenge by failing to lodge a timely objection at trial. Jones replied that she had preserved her claim by docketing written proposed points for charge and raising the issue in a post-trial motion. The trial court denied Jones’ motion, and Jones appealed to the Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case in order to clarify the methods by which one may preserve a challenge to a trial court’s jury instructions in accordance with Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1. Because Jones failed to lodge a contemporaneous objection to the trial court’s instructions at trial or to interpose any objection when invited by the trial court to do so, her challenge was deemed waived. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court. View "Jones v Ott" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, Javonn Clancy challenged the dismissal of the petition he filed under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). In that petition, Clancy alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to purportedly inflammatory statements made by the prosecutor during closing arguments. Specifically, the prosecutor characterized Clancy as a “dangerous man” and a “cold blooded killer.” After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that within the context of this case, the prosecutor’s statements constituted permissible "oratorical flair." Accordingly, the Court concluded Clancy’s claim of ineffectiveness of counsel lacked arguable merit. View "Pennsylvania v. Clancy" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a challenge to the practice of requiring private attorneys who may be privy to confidential information related to a grand jury investigation to commit to maintaining the secrecy of all information they may acquire regarding the grand jury. The 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury was convened in 2016. Under the authority of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, subpoenas requiring the production of documents were recently issued to the Dioceses of Harrisburg and Greensburg (“Appellants” or the “Dioceses”). Their counsel requested a copy of the notice of submission that the Office of the Attorney General (the “OAG”) had provided to the supervising judge. The supervising judge replied that he would furnish a copy of this notice to counsel, but that counsel first would be required to sign and submit appearance form, which included an oath or affirmation to keep all that transpired in the Grand Jury room secret (under threat of penalty of contempt). Counsel declined to accept these terms, however, and Appellants lodged a joint motion to strike the non-disclosure provision from the entry-of-appearance form. They argued that the requirement of secrecy was not authorized by the Investigating Grand Jury Act, both as to the obligation being imposed upon counsel and, alternatively, in terms of the breadth of that duty. The Dioceses’ lead contention was that the secrecy requirement of 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4549(b) did not apply to private attorneys, positing that, “[b]y its terms,” Section 4549(b) applies only to persons who are “sworn to secrecy” -- i.e., those who are required in practice to sign an oath of secrecy -- such as “Commonwealth attorneys, grand jurors, stenographers, typists, and operators of recording equipment.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded an attorney would will be privy to matters occurring before an investigating grand jury shall be sworn to secrecy per the requirements of the Investigating Grand Jury Act, either via an appropriately tailored entry-of-appearance form or otherwise. The obligation of confidentially generally extends to all matters occurring before the grand jury, which includes, but is not limited to, what transpires in a grand jury room. A lawyer otherwise subject to secrecy, however, may disclose a client’s own testimony to the extent that the client would otherwise be free to do so under applicable law. Such disclosure is also subject to the client’s express, knowing, voluntary, and informed consent; the Rules of Professional Conduct; and specific curtailment by a supervising judge in discrete matters following a hearing based on cause shown. View "In Re: 40th Statewide IGJ" on Justia Law

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Police stopped appellee Alexis Popielarcheck after observing her weaving onto and over road markers. A blood draw confirmed that she had in her system a combination of alprazolam, marijuana, cocaine, benzoylecognine, and hydrocodone. Popielarcheck plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of DUI, 75 Pa.C.S. 3802(d)(1)(i) (marijuana) and (d)(2) (various). The sentencing court modified her bail to require that she attend and complete recommended treatment at Greenbriar Treatment Center. Popielarcheck began treatment on June 23, 2015 and completed it on July 14, 2015. On September 1, 2015, the court conducted a sentencing hearing. Her discharge summary from Greenbriar, which was admitted into evidence without objection, reflected that her prognosis at the time of discharge was “poor” and that her success would depend upon her following through with aftercare recommendations. Popielarcheck, who had one prior DUI conviction in 2007, testified to relapsing “many times over.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider the interplay between two alternative sentencing schemes for persons convicted of a second offense for driving under the influence or alcohol or a controlled substance (“DUI”). In particular, the Court agreed to decide whether, when sentencing a repeat offender in need of further treatment to county intermediate punishment (“CIP”) under section 9763 of the Sentencing Code, 42 Pa.C.S. 9763, the sentencing court must impose the statutory maximum sentence under section 3804(d) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. 3804(d). The Court concluded the Sentencing Code and the Vehicle Code establish independent alternative sentencing schemes, the sentencing court in this case was not required to impose the statutory maximum sentence when ordering Popielarcheck to serve a CIP sentence. Accordingly, the order of the Superior Court was affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Popielarcheck" on Justia Law