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In this discretionary appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on the permissible scope of a warrantless search of a cell phone by police and the confines of the harmless error doctrine. Specifically, the issue was whether powering on a cell phone to gather evidence, without a warrant, violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court held that accessing any information from a cell phone without a warrant contravened the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014). Furthermore, the Court held that the error of admitting the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search of the cell phone in this case was not harmless. The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Superior Court and remanded the matter to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Fulton" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Appellant Jobe Danganan’s contracted with Appellee Guardian Protection Services (“Guardian”), a Pennsylvania-headquartered business, for home security equipment and services at his then-home in Washington, D.C. The contract signed by Appellant, a standardized form agreement employed by Guardian, contained, inter alia, a choice-of-law provision, stating that the “Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Pennsylvania.” Another clause required that any suit or legal proceeding pertaining to the Agreement be brought in the other party’s district or county of residence and mandated that the parties consent to jurisdiction in such venue. Prior to the expiration of the Agreement’s purported three-year initial term, Appellant moved to California and sold his Washington, D.C. house, notifying Guardian of his intent to cancel the contract and related home protection services. However, Guardian continued to bill Appellant, citing provisions of the Agreement that it claimed authorized ongoing charges through the contract’s term, regardless of cancellation attempts. Appellant filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on behalf of himself and a putative class of nationwide plaintiffs who were subject to the same form contract. His claims for relief were predicated exclusively on Pennsylvania statutory grounds, namely, the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") and Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act. The matter was removed to federal district court, and Guardian moved to dismiss, arguing that Appellant had not, pursuant to the UTPCPL, demonstrated a "sufficient nexus" between the Commonwealth and the improper conduct alleged in the complaint. In response to the first certified question, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a non- Pennsylvania resident may bring suit under the UTPCPL against a Commonwealth-headquartered business based on transactions that occurred out-of-state. Furthermore, the Court concluded that its answer to the first issue eliminated the predicate to the second question certified for review. The matter was thus returned to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. View "Danganan v. Guardian Protection Svc." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine whether the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) was liable for injuries caused by negligently and dangerously designed guardrails erected on Commonwealth real estate. Specifically, the Court found the issue reduced to whether the Commonwealth owed a duty of care when PennDOT installed a guardrail alleged to be dangerous. Pursuant to the plain language of the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa.C.S. sections 8521-8528, the Court found the Pennsylvania General Assembly waived PennDOT’s immunity as a bar to damages caused by dangerous guardrails affixed to Commonwealth real estate. Dean v. Dep’t of Transp., 751 A.2d 1130 (Pa. 2000) did not control under the facts presented here. The Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cagey v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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At a jury trial, Appellee Angel Resto was convicted of, among other offenses, rape of a child. The issue his appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether a mandatory minimum sentencing provision that did not require proof of any aggravating fact violated the Sixth Amendment per Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013). At sentencing, the common pleas court implemented the mandatory minimum sentence for that offense. On appeal, Appellee challenged the constitutional validity of his sentence under Alleyne, which disapproved judicial fact-finding related to “facts that increase mandatory minimum sentences.” The Superior Court affirmed by way of a memorandum decision, finding that the intermediate court had “systematically been declaring unconstitutional Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes that permit a trial court, rather than a jury, to make the critical factual findings for sentencing.” Assuming there were facts to be found under 18 Pa.C.S. 9718(a)(3), the panel explained that Section 9718(c), which directed sentencing judges to assess aggravating facts delineated in Section 9718(a), had been found to be unconstitutional and non-severable. The Commonwealth maintains its central position that there are no aggravating facts to be found under Section 9718(a)(3), and therefore, Alleyne is inapposite. The Supreme Court found that contrary to Appellee’s position, a conviction returned by a jury to which a mandatory minimum sentence directly attaches was not the same as an aggravating fact that increased a mandatory minimum sentence. The Court held Section 9718(a)(3) did not implicate Alleyne; and that 9718(a)(3), together with subsections (a)(1), (a)(2), (b), (c), (d) and (e) reflected a discrete series of crimes implicating mandatory minimum sentences coupled with the entire implementing scheme designed by the Pennsylvania Legislature. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court and remanded for reinstatement of Appellee's judgment of sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Resto" on Justia Law

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In a January 22, 2018 order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011, 25 P.S. sec. 3596.101 et seq. (the “2011 Plan”), “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. This adjudication was based on the uncontradicted evidentiary record developed at the Commonwealth Court level, wherein Petitioners established that the 2011 Plan was a partisan gerrymander, “designed to dilute the votes of those who in prior elections voted for the party not in power in order to give the party in power a lasting electoral advantage.” As a result, the Supreme Court fashioned an appropriate remedial districting plan, based on the record developed with the Commonwealth Court, drawing heavily upon the submissions provided by the parties, intervenors and amici. The Remedial Plan will be implemented in preparation for the May 15, 2018 primary election. View "League of Women Voters of PA et al v Cmwlth et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioners alleged the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 20112 (the “2011 Plan”) infringed "upon that most central of democratic rights – the right to vote." Specifically, they contended the 2011 Plan was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. After review of this matter, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that 2011 Plan violated Article I, Section 5 – the Free and Equal Elections Clause – of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "League of Women Voters of PA v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Appellant James VanDivner appealed the Court of Common Pleas’ denial of his petition for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed this case following two remands to the PCRA court for supplemental opinions. In response to the PCRA court’s second supplemental opinion, Appellant requested, and was granted, permission to file a supplemental brief. Although also permitted to do so, the Commonwealth did not file a brief in response. Appellant was convicted in the death of his fiancée, Michelle Cable. Prior to trial, Appellant filed a motion to preclude the Commonwealth from seeking the death penalty, contending he was intellectually disabled and, thus, imposition of the death penalty would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The trial court conducted a four-day hearing, after which it determined that Appellant failed to establish that he was intellectually disabled. The Supreme Court concluded Appellant was intellectually disabled, and, thus, ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). Accordingly, appellant’s death sentence was vacated and judgment of sentence was modified to reflect the imposition of a life sentence on his first-degree murder conviction, subject to appellate review of his remaining guilt phase and sentencing claims. Moreover, as this matter was now a noncapital case, the Supreme Court transferred this appeal to the Superior Court for disposition of these remaining claims. View "Pennsylvania v. VanDivner" on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth charged Appellee Alwasi Yong with a number of drug and firearms offenses including possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance (PWID), firearms not to be carried without a license, persons not to possess a firearm, and criminal conspiracy to commit PWID. Yong filed an omnibus pretrial motion in which he sought the suppression of physical evidence resulting from his seizure and arrest. Specifically, Yong argued his mere presence at the subject residence of the search warrant was insufficient to justify a protective pat-down frisk. Yong further argued police lacked probable cause to arrest him. The trial court held a suppression hearing at which an investigating officer testified to the three-day surveillance of the property and the execution of the search warrant. The Commonwealth did not introduce the search warrant into evidence. The specific issue presented in this case for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether an investigating officer’s knowledge of facts sufficient to create probable cause to arrest could be imputed to a second officer, who arrests the suspect, when the two officers are working as a team, but there was no evidence the investigating officer with probable cause directed the arresting officer to act. Under the version of the “collective knowledge” doctrine the Supreme Court adopted in this case, it concluded Yong’s arrest was constitutional. Thus, the Court reversed the judgment of the Superior Court. View "Pennsylvania v. Yong" on Justia Law

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The employer, Allegheny County, was ordered to pay $14,750.00 in attorney’s fees under Section 440 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act after the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (“WCAB”) determined that the County unreasonably contested its liability under the Act. Though the County sought supersedeas of that order, arguing that the finding of liability was in error, supersedeas was denied. Thus, the County complied with the order and paid the awarded fee to the employee’s counsel. Upon reaching the merits of the County’s appeal, however, the Commonwealth Court reversed, concluding that the County not only had a reasonable basis for its contest, but a prevailing one, and that the employee was no longer entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Thereafter, the County filed a separate petition before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) in which it sought reimbursement of the erroneously awarded attorney’s fees from the employee’s counsel. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether a court could order an employee’s attorney to disgorge erroneously awarded, but already paid, unreasonable contest attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 440, when the substantive basis for the award was later overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court found that the General Assembly, in enacting the Workers’ Compensation Act, did not provide any mechanism by which employers could recoup erroneously awarded counsel fees, once paid. The General Assembly contemplated that when a merits appeal is undertaken, a court may grant supersedeas of an order awarding attorney’s fees. Because such a supersedeas was requested and denied in this case, the Court held that the County may not recoup the already paid attorney’s fees from the employee’s counsel. The Court vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order and reinstated the order of the WCAB, which affirmed the denial of the County’s reimbursement petition. View "County of Allegheny v. WCAB (Parker)" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider, inter alia, the collateral order doctrine and whether a plaintiff in a civil personal injury action had the right to have counsel present and to record a neuropsychological examination of that plaintiff by a defendant’s neuropsychologist under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 4010. In 2010, Appellee Scott Hafer was operating a motor vehicle owned by his mother, Appellee Paulette Ford. Appellant Diana Shearer alleged Hafer pulled his vehicle into the path of the vehicle that she was driving, causing an accident. As result of the collision, Shearer and her husband Jeff Shearer filed a personal injury action against Hafer and Ford. Appellants’ claims included damages for cognitive harm to Mrs. Shearer caused by the accident, including a closed head injury that resulted in headaches, cognitive impairment, and memory deficits. In preparation for trial, Appellants hired a neuropsychologist to perform a cognitive evaluation. This evaluation, which employed standardized testing procedures, was conducted without Appellants’ counsel or any other third party present. The Supreme Court determined Appellants did not satisfy the second and third prongs of the “collateral order doctrine.” Thus, the trial court’s order disallowing representation during the standardized portion of the neuropsychological examination was not an appealable collateral order as of right under Rule 313 and, consequently, the Superior Court erred in considering Appellants’ appeal. As a result, the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of the underlying issues on which allocator was granted; rather, the order of the Superior Court was vacated, the present appeal was quashed as an unauthorized interlocutory appeal, and the matter was remanded to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings. View "Shearer v. Hafer" on Justia Law