Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Vanderhoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co.
This case involved an uninsured motorist benefits claim filed in connection with injuries allegedly sustained by the appellant in a 2001 motor vehicle accident. Appellant was driving a truck insured by Harleysville Insurance Company when he rear-ended another vehicle. The police report contained no mention of a phantom vehicle being involved in the accident. Appellant later reported the accident to his employer, explaining he momentarily took his eyes off the road, and when he looked again, a vehicle was stopped in front of him; he was unable to stop and rear-ended the vehicle. Twenty days later, appellant completed a written Workers’ Compensation Employee’s Statement in which he reported the accident occurred due to the other vehicle stopping suddenly in front of him. But again, no phantom vehicle was reported. Over eight months later, appellant filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits, alleging the accident was caused by a phantom vehicle pulling out in front of the other vehicle, causing appellant to stop suddenly. Harleysville denied appellant’s claim and sought a declaratory judgment that he was not entitled to uninsured motorist benefits. The Superior Court reversed the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, which held appellee Harleysville Insurance Company did not suffer prejudice as a result of appellant’s failure to report the phantom vehicle within a 30-day time requirement established by the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court decision. View "Vanderhoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co." on Justia Law
City of Philadelphia v. Cumberland Cty Brd Assess Appeals
The issue before the Supreme Court in this appeal was whether certain property in Cumberland County, which was owned by the City of Philadelphia as trustee of the Stephen Girard Trust and leased by the Board of Directors of City Trusts to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, was subject to local real estate taxation in Cumberland County. The trial court held that the property was both immune and exempt from local real estate taxation. The Commonwealth Court reversed. After its review, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and reinstated the trial court’s order on grounds of tax immunity. View "City of Philadelphia v. Cumberland Cty Brd Assess Appeals" on Justia Law
Pennsylvania v. Hann (Weachter-Bail Bondsman)
The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether the Superior Court erred in reversing a trial court’s bail forfeiture order. In 2010, police arrested Ricky Hann for assaulting his then-girlfriend. Following an initial bail hearing, he was released on his own recognizance. The girlfriend obtained a protection-from-abuse order contemporaneous with Hann’s release. A month later, police arrested Hann for violating the PA order. He was found guilty, but remained free. A few months later, the girlfriend reported to police that she had been kidnapped and kept against her will for about 24 hours before she could escape. Based on this statement, police arrested Hann. Hann was arraigned, and bail set. Hann executed a surety agreement with a bail bondsman whereby he acknowledged his heirs or assigns could be responsible for forfeiting the bail should Hann fail to appear for court proceedings. Hann was again released on bail. Police were dispatched to the girlfriend’s residence; upon arrival, officers found the dead bodies of Hann and the girlfriend, both shot in a homicide/suicide. The Commonwealth filed a petition for bail forfeiture, contending that by murdering his girlfriend and killing himself, Hann violated the terms of his bail bond, and that the bail bondsman was subject to forfeiture of the bail. The bail bondsman opposed the petition, arguing that “justice did not require the full enforcement” of the order. The Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s order: “[w]e do not portend to render bail bondsmen, or any surety for that matter, the guarantors of a defendant’s conduct while the defendant is released on bail. However, the express language of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure concerning bail, bail bonds, and forfeiture . . . permit forfeiture for any breach of a bail condition. Were we to accept the Superior Court’s holding, however, that ‘justice only require[d]’ forfeiture in circumstances where the Commonwealth has expended money in recapturing or retrying the defendant, the rule-based requirements of non-absconding related conditions and the potential for forfeiture for breaching those conditions would become nullities. To the extent the Superior Court so held, we respectfully find that it erred.” View "Pennsylvania v. Hann (Weachter-Bail Bondsman)" on Justia Law
Pennsylvania v. Cunningham
In 1999, Appellant, his codefendant, and two accomplices robbed the occupants of a vehicle at gunpoint. In the course of the robbery, Appellant shot and killed the victim. At the time, Appellant was seventeen years of age. In 2002, Appellant was convicted of second-degree murder and related offenses. He received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, plus a term of imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Superior Court affirmed; the Supreme Court denied Appellant’s petition for allowance of appeal; and Appellant did not seek discretionary review in the United States Supreme Court. Appellant then timely filed a post-conviction petition claiming, inter alia, that the life-without-parole sentence violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as extended to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case was whether “Miller v. Alabama,” (132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)) applied retroactively to Appellant’s 2002 judgment of sentence, which became final in 2005. The United States Supreme Court issued the Miller decision in June 2012, rendering Pennsylvania’s mandatory scheme of life imprisonment for first- and second-degree murder unconstitutional, as applied to offenders under the age of eighteen at the time of their crimes. Significantly, as pertaining to this case, the Miller majority did not specifically address the question of whether its holding applied to judgments of sentence for prisoners, such as Appellant, which already were final as of the time of the decision. The Pennsylvania Court applied settled principles of appellate review, and found nothing in Appellant’s arguments persuaded it that Miller’s proscription of the imposition of mandatory life-without-parole sentences upon offenders under the age of eighteen at the time their crimes were committed must be extended to those whose judgments of sentence were final as of the time of Miller’s announcement. View "Pennsylvania v. Cunningham" on Justia Law
Pennsylvania v. A.R.
Appellant was found guilty of sexual abuse of children, invasion of privacy, and criminal use of a communications facility for videotaping his 13-year-old step-daughter undressing in the bathroom. Although appellant admitted to the videotaping, he contended his motivation was to embarrass her and correct her behavior for having twice entered his bedroom while he was naked. The trial court did not credit appellant’s testimony concerning his motivation and found him guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to a probationary term of three and one-half years and ordered to undergo a sex offender evaluation and follow all treatment recommendations as a specific condition of his probation. One such recommendation was a sex offender treatment program. Appellant would later be discharged from the program. Concluding appellant’s discharge from the program was a violation of his probation conditions, appellant’s probation officer filed a petition with the trial court; the trial court found appellant violated his probation requirements, and it revoked his probation. Appellant was sentenced to another probationary term of three years and ordered to complete the sex offender program, including polygraph examinations administered to monitor his compliance. Appellant appealed to the Superior Court, claiming there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion he violated his probation, and that the trial court erred in admitting the results of his therapeutic polygraph examination into evidence at his VOP hearing. The Supreme Court found no error in the trial or Superior Courts’ decisions, and affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. A.R. " on Justia Law
Pennsylvania v. Yohe, II
Appellant George Yohe, II, appealed a Superior Court order that reversed the trial court’s order awarding a new trial on the ground that his constitutional right of confrontation was violated. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that appellant’s constitutional right of confrontation was not violated at trial because the testifying witness was not a “surrogate witness,” as Appellant argued. Rather, the witness was the author of the testimonial statement offered into evidence and, therefore, was an appropriate witness under the Confrontation Clause. Accordingly, Appellant’s confrontation rights were protected by this testimony. View "Pennsylvania v. Yohe, II" on Justia Law
In Re: Carney, Magisterial District Judge
The Judicial Conduct Board filed a complaint against Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) Thomas Carney, alleging that appellee Carney violated Article V, section 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Rules 2A and 11 of the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges. Following the Court of Judicial Discipline’s dismissal of the Board’s complaint, the Board appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the CJD erred in concluding that appellee did not violate any of the enumerated provisions. Two separate incidents gave rise to charges against appellee. One involved his work on an anti-graffiti task force and the solicitation of donations for the group’s work. The other involved a traffic incident in which appellee displayed his middle finger to the occupants of another car he tried to pass along the interstate; the drivers exchanged obscenities, and the incident ended with appellee rolling down his window, driving alongside the other vehicle, and displaying a silver handgun for the other car to see. Police were called, and charges were filed: making terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct and recklessly endangering another person. Following a trial, the CJD concluded appellee did not violate Rule 11 with regard to the solicitation of donations for the task force. Further, the CJD concluded the Board failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that appellee’s conduct was so extreme as to bring his office into disrepute. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and part. The Court affirmed the CJD in its conclusion with regard to the task-force solicitations. But the Court disagreed that the Board did not establish appellee’s conduct was “so extreme as to brought the judicial office itself into disrepute.” That portion of the CJD’s order was reversed and the case remanded for the imposition of a sanction consistent with the misconduct. View "In Re: Carney, Magisterial District Judge" on Justia Law
Stuckley v. ZHB of Newtown Twp.
The Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether: (1) the repeal of an ordinance mooted any challenges to that ordinance; (2) whether the Commonwealth Court may issue an opinion on the merits of certain issues where it subsequently remands the case for a determination of mootness on another issue; and (3) whether parties to a hearing can continue a challenge to a zoning ordinance once the original challenger has withdrawn. Because “parties to a hearing” are distinct from “party appellants,” unless the former have taken steps to become party appellants, the Supreme Court found they cannot continue the challenge. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court’s decision permitting parties to the hearing to continue the challenge brought by the original party appellant was reversed, and the attempted challenge was dismissed. View "Stuckley v. ZHB of Newtown Twp." on Justia Law
Norfolk Southern Railway v. PUC
The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the limits of the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) authority to allocate costs associated with a rail-highway crossing project. The Commonwealth Court held that the Commission could not allocate costs to a transportation utility that regularly uses a railroad-crossing site and does not own real estate or properties there. The Commission and Intervenors argued that the PUC has broad discretion not only to determine the allocation of costs to "concerned parties," but also to determine which parties are "concerned" in the first instance. Counterbalancing the Commission's and Intervenors' remarks about equities, Norfolk Southern Railway questioned why it should contribute to the remediation of deteriorating infrastructure over which it had no control. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that a transportation utility need not own facilities at a rail-highway crossing to be a concerned party for purposes of the PUC's cost-allocation jurisdiction and authority, at least where the utility conducts regular operations at the crossing and may enforce an easement-based right of way. View "Norfolk Southern Railway v. PUC" on Justia Law
Pennsylvania v. Reid
The Superior Court reversed a Court of Common Pleas order, which granted appellant's motion to dismiss. In 2006, police conducted a controlled cocaine buy from appellant using a confidential informant. Appellant and the informant met at a convenience store then drove to a bar parking lot. The informant then dropped appellant off at a nearby plaza and later gave police the cocaine he purchased. Appellant was not then arrested. In 2007, appellant was kidnapped and robbed. At the interview about the incident, Detective Charles Shoemaker (one of the officers who assisted in the 2006 controlled buy), informed appellant he was under investigation in connection with the 2006 incident. Appellant confessed he was in the business of selling cocaine. Appellant was arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver (PWID) in connection with the 2006 sale; he later pled guilty to that charge. In a separate investigation, a state grand jury began investigating drug distribution activities in the area of the 2006 incident, targeting certain individuals, including appellant. In its 2009 presentment, the grand jury implicated appellant as one of the organization's distributors. Specifically, the grand jury found that between 2006 and 2007, appellant sold cocaine at his home and various bars. The presentment did not mention the 2007 case, or any controlled buys involving appellant. Appellant filed an omnibus pre-trial motion to dismiss the 2010 case pursuant to the compulsory joinder rule, claiming the 2010 case arose from the same criminal episode as the 2007 case. The trial court granted the motion, and the Commonwealth appealed. A panel of the Superior Court reversed and remanded, instructing the trial court to reinstate the 2010 charges. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded there was no substantial duplication of issues of fact or law; thus, the two prosecutions did not arise from the same criminal episode. View "Pennsylvania v. Reid" on Justia Law