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Appellant Rodger Lindsay, a debtor who, in response to a mortgage foreclosure complaint filed by Appellee Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC (“Bayview”), asserted as an affirmative defense in new matter Bayview’s failure to provide him with the required thirty days’ notice. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether, following Bayview’s discontinuance of the case, Lindsay was entitled to recover attorneys’ fees arising from the assertion of his affirmative defense. The Court concluded that to be entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees under section 503(a) of the Loan Interest and Protection Law (“Act 6”), the debtor must commence an “action” asserting a violation of section 403(a) and prevail. Because an affirmative defense was not an “action” for purposes of Act 6, under the facts and procedural history presented here, Lindsay was not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees. View "Bayview Loan v. Lindsay" on Justia Law

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On December 9, 2012, appellant/cross-appellee Darnell Brown attended a party after hiding a revolver in the wheel well of a nearby parked automobile. At the party, Brown began arguing with Cory Morton (the victim). Marcus Stokes (co-defendant) retrieved the revolver and handed it to Brown, who fired four shots into the victim, killing him. Dr. Marlon Osbourne of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy of the victim and prepared a report of his findings. The report concluded the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death was homicide. At the time of trial, Dr. Osbourne was no longer employed by the Medical Examiner’s Office and he was not called as a witness, but his report of the victim’s autopsy was admitted into evidence. The Commonwealth called Dr. Albert Chu of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office, who had not been present at the autopsy, to provide expert testimony based on portions of the autopsy report as well as autopsy photographs. The issue on appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on the autopsy report, specifically, whether an autopsy report was testimonial in nature, such that the report’s author must appear as a witness subject to cross-examination at a criminal trial for murder when the report is introduced as evidence substantiating the cause of the victim’s death. The Supreme Court held admission of the autopsy report without testimony from its author was error in this case, but the error was harmless, and therefore affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Commonwealth’s petition for review in this matter to address whether the deadly-weapon-used sentencing enhancement applied to a defendant who was convicted of aggravated assault based on a motor vehicle accident, where the defendant acted recklessly but did not specifically intend to injure the victim. On the evening in question, Appellee drove to several bars and consumed alcohol. Appellee and three others got into Appellee’s car, with Appellee driving. While en route to purchase drugs, Appellee approached an area where pedestrians were intermittently crossing the street in a lighted crosswalk equipped with flashing warning lights. Appellee did not slow down as his vehicle approached, striking a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Appellee fled the scene without getting out of his car to check on the victim. At the time of the incident, Appellee was intoxicated and distracted by his passengers. There was no suggestion Appellee meant to strike the victim or even that he saw him until immediately before the collision. Thus, it was undisputed that his conduct in injuring the victim was criminally reckless but not knowing or intentional. The Commonwealth argued that the DWUE enhancement, by its plain text, applied whenever the use of a vehicle causes serious injury or death regardless of the driver’s specific intent. In reading the DWUE as it applied to a motor vehicle, the Supreme Court ultimately concluded that criminally reckless use of a vehicle for its ordinary purpose of transportation does not trigger an enhanced sentence notwithstanding that such recklessness results in serious bodily injury. The Court reached this conclusion based on the operative language of the DWUE when read in its immediate context. View "Pennsylvania v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Appellee, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (“MSC”), filed in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction a petition for review in the nature of a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief (the “Petition”), on behalf of itself and its members. MSC challenged the validity of several regulations relating to unconventional gas well operations as governed by Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act of 2012 (known as Act 13). MSC alleged that certain provisions were void and unenforceable for multiple reasons, including that they were vague, lacked statutory authorization, and conflicted with other regulations and statutes applicable to the industry. Furthermore, MSC averred that the rulemaking process did not comply with the Regulatory Review Act, and that the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (the “EQB”) failed to develop criteria for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to use in conditioning a drilling permit on relevant factors. The Commonwealth Court issued a single-judge, unpublished opinion and order, granting in part and denying in part preliminary injunctive relief. The Commonwealth Court also issued an order granting in part and denying in part MSC's Application for Expedited Special Relief. The order preliminarily enjoined DEP from implementing and enforcing certain sections of the Act. After its review of the parties' arguments on appeal of the Commonwealth Court order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court affirmed the grant of preliminary injunctive relief as to Counts I and II. As for Count IV, the Court affirmed the grant of relief as to Section 78a.59c, but reversed the grant of relief as to Section 78a.59b(b). Finally, the Court reversed the grant of preliminary injunctive relief as to Count V. View "Marcellus Shale Coalition v. Dept. Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether appellant, Swatara Township Board of Commissioners, was required to seek and obtain judicial approval before changing from an at-large to a by-ward system of governance. The Board claimed it was “not entirely elected at large,” and consequently, it possessed the authority to “reapportion” Swatara Township without judicial approval. The Supreme Court found the Board’s argument failed; judicial approval was required pursuant to Section 401 of the First Class Township Code, 53 P.S. section 55401. The Court thus affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Varner v. Swatara Township" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Commonwealth filed a single notice of appeal from an order that disposed of four motions to suppress evidence filed by four criminal defendants (Appellees) at four different docket numbers. The Superior Court quashed the appeal, ruling that the Commonwealth was required to file four separate notices of appeal from the suppression order in connection with each of the Appellees’ docketed criminal cases. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found, as did the the Superior Court, the suppression order at issue here could affect one or more of the Appellees differently from the rest, including, for example, the remaining evidence (if any) against each Appellee that may be used at trial (which, in turn, may implicate whether all or some of the Appellees should be tried in a single joint trial). "The legal issues relating to suppression, e.g., the standing of each defendant to challenge the search and seizure, may also differ from one Appellee to the next. Given the clarification provided by the amendment to the Official Note, the proper practice under Rule 341(a) is to file separate appeals from an order that resolves issues arising on more than one docket. The failure to do so requires the appellate court to quash the appeal." Thus, the Court vacated the Superior Court’s order. The Court also held, however, that prospectively, where a single order resolves issues arising on more than one docket, separate notices of appeal must be filed for each case. View "Pennsylvania v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to resolve a dispute over an affidavit of probable cause used in support of a search warrant application. Specifically, the issue reduced to whether a statement contained in one paragraph, which when read in the context of the whole affidavit appeared to be an inadvertent error, rendered the affiant’s information stale, and therefore lacking in probable cause. After review of the affidavit at issue here, the Supreme Court concluded it did not; the search warrant was not based on stale information and was supported by probable cause. Therefore, the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated, and the superior court’s order was affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Leed" on Justia Law

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This discretionary appeal addressed the role of a court following a school district’s decision to conduct a private sale of an unused or unnecessary school building pursuant to section 7-707(3) of the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949. Ridgefield Elementary School (“Ridgefield”) sat on 7.9 acres of land (the “Property”), which contained the school, a playground, a parking lot and open greenspace. Ridgefield was located in Millcreek Township (the “Township”) and was in an R-1 single- family residential zoning district. In 2013, the Millcreek Township School District (the “School District”) closed Ridgefield, partitioned the Property into three lots, and tried to sell the Property through a sealed bid process, but it received no bids. In July 2014, the School District listed the Property for sale. Two offers were made on the property; in 2015, the School District petitioned the trial court for approval of the private sale of Lot 1 of the Property. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a trial court’s involvement in such cases is limited to either approving or disapproving the sale. The statute required a determination of whether the petition for private sale contains the requisite information and was adequately supported by the opinions of two disinterested individuals who are familiar with the real estate in the geographic area, have viewed the property for sale, and concluded that the proposed sale price “is a fair and reasonable one and in their opinion a better price than could be obtained at public sale.” The statute does not require, and thus courts may not consider, whether the sale serves the public interest. Here, the Commonwealth Court based its decision on an erroneous interpretation of section 7-707(3) and the prior decisions of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In Re: Private Sale of Prop. by Millcreek Twp. SD" on Justia Law