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James and Beryl Wicker signed a mortgage agreement for their residence in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in favor of Countrywide Bank, FSB (Countrywide) in February 2008. The mortgage agreement indicated that Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) would act as nominee for Countrywide and its successors and assigns and was designated as the mortgagee. In an assignment of mortgage recorded in November 2011, MERS, as nominee for Countrywide, assigned the mortgage to Bank of America. In May 2012, Bank of America filed a mortgage foreclosure action against the Wickers alleging that the Wickers defaulted on their mortgage as of September 1, 2010. It further averred that it had provided the Wickers with the statutorily required foreclosure notice on September 21, 2011. Bank of America then moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted in part and denied in part. In so doing, the trial court narrowed the issues for trial to determining whether Bank of America had provided proof of: (1) the required foreclosure notices; (2) the date of default; and (3) the amount of indebtedness. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to consider the application of Pennsylvania’s business records exception to the rule against hearsay, pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 803(6) and the Uniform Business Records as Evidence Act, 42 Pa.C.S. 6108. The parties agreed that then-current Pennsylvania precedent allowed a records custodian to authenticate documents even if the witness did not personally record the specific information in the documents. The parties disagreed, however, as to whether a records custodian could lay a foundation for documents incorporated into the files of the custodian’s employer when the information in the documents was recorded by a third party, a process which was allowed under the similar but not identical Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6), pursuant to the so-called adopted business records doctrine. The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court in concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the testimony of the records custodian and admitting the documents under the facts of this case. View "Bayview Loan v. Wicker" on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth Court dismissed appellant Bert Hudson's petition for review, in which he argued he was entitled to be considered for parole after having received a life sentence for second-degree murder. In 1978, Appellant burglarized a home and shot two individuals with a handgun, killing one of them. The court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment on the murder conviction, and a separate, consecutive sentence of fifteen-to-thirty years on the other convictions, to be served first. Appellant completed this latter sentence in 2009, and was serving his life sentence for second-degree murder. In 2017, Appellant applied for parole. The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (the “Board”) denied his application on the basis that his life sentence had no minimum date. After exhausting administrative remedies, Appellant filed a petition for review in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction, contending that because the common pleas court had failed to specify a minimum sentence, he should be deemed to have an implied minimum of one day of confinement. Appellant thus asked the court to direct the Board to review him for parole. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Board lacked the power to release on parole an inmate servicing a mandatory life sentence for second-degree murder. That being the case, the Commonwealth Court correctly sustained the Board’s demurrer and dismissed the petition for review. View "Hudson v. Pa. Bd. of Probation & Parole" on Justia Law

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This appeal addressed the meaning and effect of section 5513 of Pennsylvania’s Probate Estates and Fiduciaries Code, which related to the appointment of emergency guardians. The Superior Court held that an emergency order for a guardianship of an estate automatically expired after thirty days. The parties did not challenge the vitality of the emergency guardianship in the trial court. Nor did either party raise any claim before the Superior Court regarding the termination of the guardianship order or the appropriate interpretation of the Termination Provisions. In addressing an issue actually raised on appeal, the Superior Court further held that an individual subject to emergency guardianship is not incapacitated and is not precluded from making decisions about his property even when his guardian has been ordered by the court to do so on his behalf. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined it was error for the Superior Court to consider and opine on the validity of the order at issue in the underlying case on the basis of the Termination Provisions. Moreover, the Court held that an individual under the protection of an emergency guardianship order has been determined to lack sufficient capacity to make certain decisions and that the extent of his decision-making capacity depends on the specific “powers, duties and liabilities” afforded to the guardian by court order. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the Superior Court’s decision and remanded the matter to that court for further proceedings. View "Gavin v. Loeffelbein" on Justia Law

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On May 16, 2017, by write-in vote, Christine Rossi won the Republican nomination for Tax Collector of Nether Providence Township (“the Township”). On June 2, 2017, the Delaware County Bureau of Elections (“the Bureau”) notified Rossi that she was certified as the Republican nominee. The Bureau instructed Rossi to submit a Statement of Financial Interests ("SOFI") to the Bureau and to the Township by June 30, 2017, in order to have her name appear on the November 2017 general election ballot. On June 30, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Bureau, but failed to file it with the Township. On September 6, 2017, based upon a Right-to-Know Law request submitted to the Township, Christine Reuther and Ani Marie Diakatos (collectively, “Objectors”) discovered that Rossi had not filed her SOFI with the Township. On September 13, 2017, Objectors filed an emergency petition for relief to the Court of Common Pleas, stressing that Subsection 15.3(e) of the State Ethics Commission’s regulations required write-in candidates to file their SOFIs with the appropriate authorities within thirty days of the certification of the election results. Because Rossi failed to file her SOFI with the Township within that period of time, Objectors asserted that, pursuant to Subsection 1104(b)(3) of the Ethics Act, her failure constituted a fatal defect to her candidacy, and her name was required to be stricken from the general election ballot. On September 14, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Township. Because the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act (“Ethics Act”) imposed this consequence only upon candidates who petition to appear on the ballot, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it is inapplicable to write-in candidates. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Reuther v. Delaware County Bureau of Elections" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police filed a criminal complaint against appellant Robert Gill, Jr., charging him with, inter alia, burglary, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and criminal trespass. The issue his appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Superior Court properly applied the “abuse of discretion” standard of review when, in a published opinion, it reversed a trial court order that granted Gill's motion in limine to admit evidence of a subsequent similar crime committed by another individual. The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court misapplied this standard of review. Consequently, it reversed in part and vacated in part the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded to the Superior Court with instructions. View "Pennsylvania v. Gill" on Justia Law

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During a routine patrol, Officer James Falconio of the Pleasant Hills Police Department observed a white Dodge Dart enter a parking lot that served two closed businesses – a hobby store and a pizza shop – and drive behind the buildings. Believing that the vehicle may have made a wrong turn, Officer Falconio waited and watched for the vehicle to exit the parking lot. When it did not, the officer drove into the parking lot and behind the buildings to “simply check[] to see why a car drove behind two dark, closed businesses at [three] o’clock in the morning,” as he recognized the potential for “drug activity or an attempted burglary.” When he arrived behind the buildings, Officer Falconio observed a white Dodge Dart parked behind the pizza shop. Officer Falconio found the driver inside, appellant Edward Adams, observing the driver had glassy eyes and slurred speech. The officer requested that Adams perform several field sobriety tests, and although “argumentative,” Adams complied and failed the tests. Officer Falconio then placed Adams under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. He transported Adams to Jefferson Regional Hospital, where Adams consented to a blood draw. Adams declined to provide the name of a person who could pick him up, and so he remained in jail until police believed he was sober enough to leave on his own, which occurred several hours later. This discretionary appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review the the question of when an interaction between an ordinary citizen and a law enforcement official ripens from a mere encounter, requiring no level of suspicion, to an investigative detention, which must be supported by reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The Court concluded, based on longstanding precedent, that the line is crossed when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, and that a detention effectuated by police in the interest of officer safety is impermissible in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The Court concluded Officer Falconio subjected Adams to an investigative detention unsupported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The trial court erred by denying Adams’ suppression motion on that basis and the Superior Court erred in its affirmance of that decision. View "Pennsylvania v. Adams" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Appellant Milton Montalvo, along with his brother, conspired to kill Appellant's wife Miriam Ascensio. At the time, the couple had recently separated. One neighbor observed broken glass on Ascensio’s porch, knocked on the door, and received no response. After looking into the window and observing a male lying on the floor, the neighbor instructed his wife to call the police. Upon their arrival, the police discovered the bodies of Ascensio and Lugo inside the residence: Ascensio’s neck was slashed several times, her skull fractured by a blunt object, and her eye punctured; Lugo’s body had a fatal stab wound to the chest, and a tube of lipstick was protruding from his teeth. Crime scene investigators collected a blood sample on a window blind hanging inside the broken pane of glass in Ascensio’s porch door and another blood sample on a cloth bag found on a sofa bed. Both samples were later determined to be Appellant’s blood. A witness who knew the brothers gave a tape-recorded statement to police, relaying what she heard at a grocery store. She further indicated that Appellant and his brother appeared at her home the morning after the murders and that Appellant stated, “We killed my wife.” Soto also told police that the men explained that Appellant killed Lugo and his brother killed Ascensio, and that they intended to flee to Florida or the Dominican Republic. More than eight months later, in January of 1999, police apprehended Appellant in Florida. In a recorded statement to police, Appellant denied any involvement in the murders. Pennsylvania charged Appellant with two counts of murder. He was convicted by jury; at issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was Appellant's appeal of post-conviction relief on grounds he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase of his trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed denial of relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Montalvo" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Appellant Russell Cox was convicted of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy, rape, and possessing an instrument of crime, in connection with his participation, along with co-defendant Percy Lee, in the February 27, 1986 brutal slayings of Evelyn Brown and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Tina. Petitioner was 18 years old at the time of the crimes and Lee was 17 years old. In the subsequent penalty phase, the jury found: (1) the killings were committed during the perpetration of a felony; (2) the killings were committed by means of torture; and (3) Appellant was convicted of another offense for which a life sentence could be imposed. The jury also found: (1) Appellant’s lack of a criminal record; (2) Appellant’s young age; and (3) other mitigation concerning Appellant’s character and the circumstances of the offense. Determining the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances, the jury sentenced Appellant to death on each murder count. Appellant appealed dismissal of his second petition for post-conviction relief. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the PCRA court’s evaluation of the evidence in this case erroneously incorporated invalid and irrelevant considerations, tainting its conclusion. Because conflicts remained in the testimony, the Court remanded to the PCRA court to reconsider the existing record in this case in accordance with its opinion. The Court affirmed the PCRA court in all other respects. View "Pennsylvania v. Cox" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (“DCED”) designated the City of Pittsburgh as a financially distressed municipality under the Municipal Financial Recovery Act (“Act 47”). The City’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Appellant Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (the “Union”) expired on December 31, 2014. As the parties were unable to reach consensus on a new CBA, they entered into interest arbitration governed by the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”). After an evidentiary hearing encompassing ten days of testimony before an Act 111 arbitration panel, the panel issued a final award covering years 2015-2018. The Award contained numbered factual findings one of which included a list of itemized findings relating to the City’s population, income, housing vacancy rate, and, most relevantly, the City’s police officer compensation as measured against other economically and demographically comparable subdivisions. The Union’s financial expert had testified in a prior matter in 2014 that the City’s police pay was above the median of a comparison group; the City’s police officers paid substantially lower contributions toward health insurance than other City employees for the same coverage level; and the Union’s own financial expert believed City police officers were paid competitively. The Union filed an appeal in the Commonwealth Court, contending that the Award deviated from the Plan by failing to ensure competitive compensation for police officers as required by the Plan. The Union argued that the court had jurisdiction to rule on its appeal per Section 252(e) of Act 47. Te Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court properly held that the Union’s challenge to the Award fell outside the scope of Section 252(e). Accordingly, that court’s order quashing the parties’ appeals was affirmed. View "FOP Fort Pitt v. City of Pgh" on Justia Law

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Appellees Steven and Mary Szabo, owned real property where they operate a hair salon and skin care business. The property abutted Route 19 and Old Washington Road, was improved with a parking lot and commercial structure. Appellant, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT or Department) developed a road expansion plan to connect Route 19 with Old Washington Road by means of an exit ramp that would run across a section of the Szabos land, identified in the declaration of taking as Parcel 5. The Department attempted to purchase the property from the Szabos; however, the parties could not come to an agreement. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether a failure to file preliminary objections to a declaration of taking resulted in waiver under Section 306 of the Eminent Domain Code, 26 Pa.C.S. sections 101-1106 (Code). After careful review, the Court held that the declaration did not establish the extent or effect of the taking. Accordingly, the failure to file preliminary objections within thirty days of service did not result in waiver of the right to assert ownership and seek just compensation, and therefore the Court affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court to remand the matter for an evidentiary hearing. View "Szabo v. PennDOT" on Justia Law