Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In 2012, Appellee attended a fraternity party and consumed alcohol. Sometime thereafter, he encountered University of Pittsburgh police officers answering a call from dispatch that there was an intoxicated individual attempting to harm himself outside of one of the residence halls of the university. Officers observed though Appellee appeared to be intoxicated, he had sustained superficial cuts to his arm and wrist area, and that other officers found a small knife attached to a money clip on the ground near where Appellee was found. Appellee was transferred to a nearby psychiatric treatment facility wherein Appellee's attending psychiatrist applied to extend Appellee's stay for 20 days. Section 303 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) required the holding of a hearing on the application before a mental health review officer or a judge at the facility in which the involuntarily committed person was being housed, and also directed that counsel be appointed to represent the person at that hearing. At the 2015 expungement hearing, Appellee averred he was not advised of any hearing prior to involuntary commitment, nor was he appointed counsel. Over two years later, Appellee filed his expungement petition, broadly alleging there was no lawful basis for his commitment." The State Police argued to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the lower courts ruling on this petition lacked jurisdiction to order expungement. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed a superior court order that reversed a common pleas court's order dismissing Appellee's petition. View "In Re: J.M.Y." on Justia Law

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Appellant Scott Bishop was a parolee. During a home visit in March 2015, a parole agent performed a drug test, which indicated that methamphetamine was present in Appellant’s urine. Appellant was handcuffed and asked whether the agent would find anything in the residence that would violate parole conditions. Appellant then admitted that he had a firearm in a hallway closet. The agent proceeded to the closet, where he found a revolver, marijuana, electronic scales, and packaging materials. Appellant argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should interpret the provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution conferring upon individuals a right against self-incrimination to provide greater protection than the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Commonwealth countered that this claim was not properly preserved. In terms of efforts by criminal defendants to raise claims for departure from federal constitutional jurisprudence on independent state grounds, the the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth was correct that the precedent of the Pennsylvania Court required that some analysis explaining the grounds for departure was required. Because Appellant did not distinguish between the federal Fifth Amendment and Pennsylvania Constitution Article I, Section 9 before the suppression court, his claim favoring departure was waived. Furthermore, Appellant also waived the claim for additional protection under the state constitution in the Superior Court, since he did not develop any supportive reasoning before that court either. View "Pennsylvania v. Bishop" on Justia Law

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TSG Real Estate, LLC (“TSG”) was a real estate company that owned a commercial property in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (the “Property”). Initially, TSG hired New Hart Corporation d/b/a Hart Corporation (“Hart”) as its broker to market the Property. As TSG’s agreement with Hart was to expire, TSG began considering replacement brokers, one of which was Binswanger of Pennsylvania, Inc. (“Binswanger”). Two days before TSG informed Binswanger of its decision to hire it as its broker, TSG received a written offer from TWA Holdings, LLC (“TWA”) to purchase the Property for $3.7 million. TSG negotiated an agreement with Binswanger culminating in a September 27, 2013 “Exclusive Right To Sell Or Lease Agreement” (“Broker Agreement”) with Binswanger. The Broker Agreement permitted TSG to continue using other brokers in connection with any sale to TWA, and provided, inter alia, (1) if Binswanger sold the Property, it would be entitled to a 5% commission; (2) all commissions would be considered to be earned and payable “at the time scheduled for closing on a sale;” (3) a “carve-out period” which allowed that if another broker “completed” a sale, exchange, or transfer of the Property to TWA on or before January 5, 2014, Binswanger would earn no commission; (4) if another broker completed a sale of the Property to TWA after January 5, 2014, the other broker and Binswanger would split a 5% commission; and (5) the duration of the agreement was for one year; however, TSG had the right to terminate the agreement after 6 months with 30 days prior written notice to Binswanger. Two days prior to the expiration of the carve-out period contained in the Broker Agreement, TSG, via Hart and another broker, Gelcor Realty (“Gelcor”), entered into an Agreement of Sale with TWA, selling the Property for $3.4 million. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the entitlement to broker commissions for the sale of commercial property. Applying the plain and unambiguous language of the Broker Agreement, the Supreme Court found the sale of the Property was completed at the time of closing, i.e., on April 24, 2014. As the sale was not completed on or before January 5, 2014, but only after the carve-out period had expired, Binswanger was entitled to a commission pursuant to the Broker Agreement fee schedule. View "Binswanger of PA Inc v. TSG Real Estate LLC." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved an ejectment action commenced by the City of Philadelphia (“City”) against Francis Galdo, and a counterclaim to quiet title filed by Galdo, claiming ownership of the property at issue by adverse possession. In 1974, City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the Commissioner of Public Property to execute a Declaration of Taking of several properties, including the Parcel at issue here. On November 13, 1974, the City obtained fee simple title to the Parcel by condemnation, with the notice of condemnation stating that the Parcel had been condemned for transit purposes. In 1976, the Commonwealth filed a notice of condemnation against several of the City’s lots, indicating that the Commonwealth would permanently retain the land in the I-95 right-of-way, and that the Commonwealth would have a temporary easement on other condemned properties, including the Parcel condemned by the City, during the period that the Elevated Frankford train line was rerouted to allow for construction of I-95. Germane to this appeal, the parties agreed the City did not physically occupied the Parcel since completion of the work connected to the rerouting of the Elevated Frankford train line in the 1970s. Further, it was undisputed the City did not perform any maintenance, grass- cutting, grading, or landscaping on the Parcel. Instead, after the highway construction was completed, the City viewed the Parcel as “surplus property” that was not actively being used. At least a decade after construction of I-95 had been completed, in September 1989, Galdo purchased a two-story dwelling located directly across the street from the Parcel. At that time, the Parcel was not being maintained and was purportedly home to “prostitutes” and “derelicts”. Galdo cleared the Parcel of weeds and trash, poured a concrete slab, and parked his vehicles there. He also used the Parcel to discard debris from the remodeling of his home. By 1992, Galdo poured another concrete slab on the Parcel for storing materials and enclosed that area with a fence. In 1994, he installed on the Parcel a fire pit and a picnic table affixed to the ground. Over the years Galdo continued to make improvements to the Parcel. He never obtained any permits to make improvements to the Parcel, did not pay property taxes for the Parcel, and did not provide evidence that he insured the Parcel. Further, it is undisputed that the City never gave Galdo permission to possess the land at issue. The trial court ruled in favor of the City, holding that it was immune from suit because a claim of adverse possession could not lie against a municipality. The Commonwealth Court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for trial on the adverse possession claim, holding that the adverse possession claim could proceed against the City because the property was not devoted to a public use during the twenty-one-year prescriptive period, as required for immunity to apply. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed the City was not immune from a claim of adverse possession under the facts presented and affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "City of Phila. v. Galdo" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Appellants, Gamesa Energy USA, LLC and Gamesa Technology Corporation, Inc. (Gamesa), entered into a commercial lease agreement (the Lease) to rent 35,000 square feet of office space in Philadelphia (the Premises) from Appellees, Ten Penn Center Associates, L.P. and SAP V Ten Penn Center NF G.P. L.L.C. (collectively Ten Penn Center). In May 2011, following Gamesa’s submission of the information required under Article 20.2 of the Lease, Ten Penn Center approved a request to sublease approximately 15,000 square feet, or forty percent of the Premises, to Viridity Energy, Inc. (Viridity) through August of 2018. In April 2012, Gamesa informed Ten Penn Center it would be moving out of the Premises as part of a corporate consolidation, and would continue to pay its monthly rent and attempt to find a sub-lessee for the open space. Viridity remained in the Premises under the terms of its sublease with Gamesa. Gamesa was twice late with the rent after it moved out, but still paid amounts due. In 2012, Gamesa submitted a request to Ten Penn Center for consent to sublease 5,200 square feet of the Premises to Business Services International, LLC (BSI), a business entity comprised of two foreign corporations formed for the particular purpose of subleasing office space through Gamesa. Ten Penn Center responded on June 26th, informing Gamesa it was in default of the Lease for vacating the Premises and, as a result, Ten Penn Center had no obligation to entertain the request to sublease. Ten Penn Center proposed it would grant consent to the BSI sublease if Gamesa forfeited its remaining tenant improvement allowance. Thereafter, negotiations between the parties stalled, and the proposed sublease with BSI never materialized. In 2013, Gamesa filed a complaint against Ten Penn Center, asserting claims of breach of contract, tortious interference in business relationships, and unjust enrichment. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review of this commercial landlord and tenant dispute to determine whether the Superior Court erred in holding the tenant was limited to damages for breach of contract and could not also recover the rent it paid following the landlord’s breach, despite prevailing on its claims for both remedies at trial. After careful review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Gamesa Energy USA v. Ten Penn Center, et al" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding whether an increase to the limits of underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage for multiple vehicles that are insured under an existing policy constitutes a “purchase” for purposes of Subsection 1738(c) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Michelle Barnard purchased a personal automobile policy from Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (“Travelers”) to insure her two vehicles. As part of this policy, Barnard purchased UIM coverage in the amount of $50,000 per vehicle. Barnard waived stacking of her UIM coverage limits. Two years later, Barnard increased the UIM coverage limit on each of her vehicles to $100,000. Barnard did not execute a new stacking waiver at that time. Then several more years later, Barnard was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an underinsured motorist. When Barnard sought UIM benefits from Travelers, Travelers offered her $100,000 based upon the UIM coverage limit on one of her vehicles. Barnard filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking $200,000 in stacked UIM benefits. Travelers removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Based upon the plain language of Subsection 1738(c), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court answered the Third Circuit's question in the affirmative: therefore, an increase of UIM coverage under circumstances as was presented here triggered an insurance company’s statutory obligation to offer an insured the opportunity to waive stacking of the new, aggregate amount of UIM coverage. View "Barnard v. Travelers Home, et al" on Justia Law

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Montour Township (Township) Pennsylvania has a zoning ordinance (Ordinance) under which the Township has been divided into different districts, including agricultural districts. The Ordinance permits several “Intensive Agriculture and Agricultural Support” uses, including “hog raising,” in agricultural districts by special exception. The Nutrient Management Act (Act), required certain agricultural operations to comply with various standards regarding the management of livestock manure, among other “nutrients.” At the heart of the Act is the mandate that certain agricultural operations adopt a “nutrient management plan” or “NMP.” The Act also contained a provision outlining the manner in which the Act, as well as the regulations and guidelines promulgated pursuant to it, preempt local regulation of nutrient management. Scott Sponenberg (Applicant) owned property used as a livestock and crop farm within an agricultural district in the Township. In April 2013, Applicant filed an application for a special exception with the Montour Township Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) based on his desire to build a swine nursery barn with under building concrete manure storage (i.e., a manure storage facility) on his property. Applicant’s planned use was not subject to the various requirements established under the Act, which applied to NMP operations. The ZHB initially granted Applicant’s special exception application subject to conditions. Following two appeals filed by various objectors, including Russell Berner, Donna Berner, Kendall Dobbins, Robert Clark, and Robert Webber (Objectors), the matter returned to the ZHB by way of order from the Commonwealth Court for the ZHB to render necessary findings regarding Applicant’s compliance with the Ordinance’s special exception requirements. In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether, and if so, to what extent, the Act preempted local regulation of nutrient management by agricultural operations that were not otherwise subject to the Act’s requirements. The Court held the Act preempted local regulation of agricultural operations not subject to the Act’s requirements to the extent that the local regulation was more stringent than, inconsistent with, or in conflict with those requirements. Because the Commonwealth Court reached a contrary result, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order. View "Berner,et al v. Montour ZHB" on Justia Law

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Betty and Curtis Shiflett sued Lehigh Valley Hospital and Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc. (collectively, the “Hospital”) for negligence in connection with injuries Betty suffered while in the hospital for knee surgery. The jury returned a verdict for the Shifletts, awarding them $2,391,620 in damages. The Superior Court ruled that one of the claims upon which the Shifletts prevailed at trial was time-barred and should not have been submitted to the jury. Finding that some portion of the jury’s damage award may have been based upon the time-barred claim, the intermediate appellate court remanded the case for a new trial on damages. After its review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in this regard, as pursuant to the “general-verdict rule” adopted by Halper v. Jewish Family & Children’s Services, 963 A.2d 1282 (Pa. 2009), the Hospital waived any entitlement to a new trial on damages when it failed to request a special interrogatory on the verdict sheet that would have permitted the jury to allocate the damages awarded on each claim. View "Shiflett v. Lehigh Valley Health" on Justia Law

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Appellant Dynan Turpin was arrested and charged with, inter alia, three counts of possession of a controlled substance, and one count each of conspiracy to commit possession with the intent to deliver and receiving stolen property. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether a search warrant for an entire multi-bedroom residence shared by appellant and his roommate, Benjamin Irvin, was constitutionally permissible under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution even though the warrant was premised solely on the activity of Irvin. After review, the Supreme Court concluded police had probable cause to search the entire residence and therefore the warrant was constitutionally permissible. View "Pennsylvania v. Turpin" on Justia Law

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Christian Ford was charged with DUI and drug possession charges stemming from three separate arrests. The first, Ford was arrested for DUI and one count of driving with a suspended license. Ford subsequently failed to appear for his preliminary hearing on those charges, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Six months after Ford’s failure to appear at his preliminary hearing on the DUI charges, two police officers spotted Ford at a grocery store. After confirming that Ford had an active bench warrant, the officers approached him in the parking lot, but he fled on foot. When the officers eventually caught Ford, he continued to resist, and substantial force was required to effectuate the arrest. A search incident to arrest revealed that Ford had 159 stamp bags of heroin and a digital scale in his possession. He was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (“PWID”), possession of drug paraphernalia, and resisting arrest. Ford posted bail ten days later and again was released from custody. A few weeks after posting bail, Ford went missing. A bail bondsman returned him to prison; the bondsman noticed that Ford was carrying a stamp bag of heroin and a syringe, leading to more drug possession charges. Ford entered into a negotiated guilty plea agreement, which disposed of all three of his criminal cases. The trial court accepted Ford’s guilty plea and sentenced him accordingly. In a petition for post-conviction relief, Ford alleged he could not pay the fines associated with his plea agreement, and that his inability to pay those fines would prevent him from being paroled. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Sentencing Code mandated trial courts “shall not sentence a defendant to pay a fine unless it appears of record that the defendant is or will be able to pay” it. The question presented in Ford’s post-conviction appeal was whether the Sentencing Code’s ability-to-pay prerequisite was satisfied when a defendant agrees to pay a given fine as part of a negotiated guilty plea agreement. The Court held that it was not, and that a defendant’s mere agreement to pay a specific fine did not constitute evidence that he was or would be able to satisfy the financial obligation. Therefore, the case was remanded for the trial court to make findings on Ford’s ability to pay. The sentence was vacated in its entirety. View "Pennsylvania v. Ford" on Justia Law