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In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court examined the contours of the 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution in light of a declaratory judgment action brought by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“Foundation”) challenging, inter alia, the constitutionality of statutory enactments relating to funds generated from the leasing of state forest and park lands for oil and gas exploration and extraction. Because state parks and forests, including the oil and gas minerals therein, were part of the corpus of Pennsylvania’s environmental public trust, the Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth, as trustee, had to manage them according to the plain language of Section 27, which imposed fiduciary duties consistent with Pennsylvania trust law. The Court further found that the constitutional language controlled how the Commonwealth may dispose of any proceeds generated from the sale of its public natural resources. View "PA Env. Defense Fdn. v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the language of the utility service facilities exception ("Utility Exception") to governmental immunity contained in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act ("Tort Claims Act"). The Commonwealth Court concluded that where a dangerous condition of the facilities of a utility system is created by the negligent action or inaction of a local agency or its employees, the Utility Exception did not apply. Because the Commonwealth Court misconstrued both the Utility Exception and the gravamen of the lawsuit in question, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Metropolitan Edison v. City of Reading" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether video components of motor vehicle recordings (MVRs) created by appellant Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) were exempt from disclosure to the public as criminal investigative records under the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) or the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA). The Court also considered whether these recordings implicated provisions of the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act (Wiretap Act). The Commonwealth Court held MVRs generally are public records subject to disclosure, and affirmed in part the decision of the Office of Open Records (OOR) directing PSP to provide MVRs to appellee Michelle Grove. The Commonwealth Court also reversed in part, remanding the matter to the OOR with instructions for redaction of the audio portions of the MVRs before disclosure. The Supreme Court concluded that disclosure of the MVRs pursuant to the RTKL did not violate the Wiretap Act, and reversed that portion of the Commonwealth Court’s order that suggested additional findings with respect to notice were warranted on remand. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order in all other respects. View "PA State Police v. Grove" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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In a medical malpractice action premised upon lack of informed consent, the issue presented was whether the trial court erred in refusing to strike prospective jurors for cause based upon their relationships to the case through their employer or their immediate family member's employer. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in this regard. However, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it instructed the jury to consider information provided by the defendant surgeon's qualified staff in deciding the merits of the informed consent claim. Because a physician's duty to provide information to a patient sufficient to obtain her informed consent is non delegable, the Court reversed the Superior Court's order affirming the judgment entered in favor of the defendant, and remanded for a new trial. View "Shinal v. Toms M.D." on Justia Law

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In a capital post-conviction appeal, Appellant Michael Pruitt raised six challenges, several of which fell within the category of the claims deemed to have been abandoned by the PCRA court. In 2003, Appellant forcibly entered the home of Greta Gougler, where he robbed, raped, and murdered her. Appellant was arrested, tried, and convicted for first -degree murder, rape, robbery, and other offenses, and a jury returned a death verdict in a capital sentencing proceeding. On direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. In 2009, Appellant brought these proceedings under the Post Conviction Relief Act (the "PCRA"). The post -conviction court conducted a series of evidentiary hearings, throughout which Appellant was represented by the members of the Federal Community Defender Office. Later, per Appellant's request, those attorneys were removed from the representation and new counsel was appointed in their place. In 2015, Appellant submitted a request to proceed pro se. The PCRA court scheduled a proceeding, at which Appellant agreed to continue to be represented by counsel but was deemed by the court to have "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily abandon[ed] any issues raised by prior PCRA counsel and/or [current counsel] that are not contained in [a] memorandum in support of the PCRA relief petition filed this date[.]" The PCRA court subsequently denied relief on the remaining claims for relief. This appeal followed. The Supreme Court concluded the record supported the PCRA court's determination that Appellant abandoned the six claims at issue here, and affirmed the court's subsequent order. View "Pennsylvania v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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Appellant Leon Mills challenged a superior court decision to overturn a county court’s finding of a violation of Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 that he receive a prompt trial. The Rule requires that trial commence within 365 days from the date the criminal complaint is filed. Delays at any stage of the proceedings caused by the Commonwealth when it fails to exercise due diligence count in the 365-day tally. On June 6, 2011, the Commonwealth filed a complaint against Appellant charging him with a series of crimes arising out of a drive -by shooting, including attempted murder and aggravated assault. At a status meeting on March 20, 2012, however, per the Commonwealth's request, trial was continued. Trial was rescheduled to September 10, 2012. The outcome of the dismissal motion turned on whether or not 174 days was to be included or excluded in the 365 -day calculation. The common pleas court enforced the rule's main directive, and dismissed. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with Appellant that time attributable to the normal progression of a case simply was not "delay" for purposes of Rule 600, and reinstated the dismissal order. View "Pennsylvania v. Mills" on Justia Law

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SugarHouse HSP Gaming ("SugarHouse"), the holder of a Category 2 slot machine license for a casino it operated in Philadelphia, and Market East Associates, L.P. ("Market East"), an unsuccessful applicant for the Category 2 license awarded to Stadium Casino, LLC (“Stadium”), both filed petitions for review ofa Supplemental Adjudication issued by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, in which the Board awarded the last remaining Category 2 license. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court dismissed SugarHouse's petition for review, finding it was not entitled to intervene in the proceedings on remand. In Market East's petition for review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board's determination that Watche Manoukian, an individual who is an affiliate of Stadium, was not eligible to apply for a Category 1 slot machine license at the time of Stadium's application for its Category 2 license, and, thus, that Section 1304(a)(1) of the Gaming Act would not be violated by the issuance of a Category 2 license to Stadium. However, the Court reversed the Board's determination of what constitutes a "financial interest" as that term was used in Section 1330, and defined that term in this opinion. Because the Board admitted that it did not determine the nature of the specific "equity infusion" Manoukian would supply post-licensure to the trust which has an ownership interest in Stadium, the Court could not affirm the Board's conclusion that Manoukian would not be in violation of Section 1330's 33.3% limit on the possession of a financial interest in a Category 2 slot machine licensee by another slot machine licensee. Thus, the Court again remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Market East Assoc. v. PA Gaming Control Bd." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter was whether a recently terminated employee was an "employee" and, thus, entitled to inspect her personnel file, according to the Inspection of Employment Records Law ("the Personnel Files Act" or "the Act"). Reading the Personnel Files Act according to its plain terms, the Court concluded that former employees, who were not laid off with re-employment rights and who are not on a leave of absence, have no right to access their personnel files pursuant to the Act, regardless of how quickly following termination they request to do so. The Court reversed the contrary holding of the Commonwealth Court. View "Thomas Jefferson Univ Hosp v. Dept of Lab. & Ind." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the ownership and use of certain undesignated property and the road that ran the length of a peninsula jutting into Lake Meade, the man-made lake at the heart of a planned community. Property owners complained about loitering and trespassing, and accused their governing homeowners association (HOA) of not enforcing community rules to encourage the bad behavior. The property owners took the HOA to court in a quiet title action to settle ownership over the undesignated property, specifically that they owned the property at issue, that the HOA asserted wrongful possession over the property at issue, and that the HOA intentionally and unreasonably allowed trespass and loitering. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, finding that the property owners have an easement across the property at issue, like the other owners in the community. “Although the Superior Court seemed skeptical about the complained-of uses of the disputed property, it evidently recognized that it would be premature to venture a legal opinion on that subject.” The Supreme Court reversed the superior court under directing the entry of judgment in the Starlings’ favor on their claim for injunctive relief regarding the use of disputed property, as well as its reversal of the trial court’s determination that the HOA did not own the property in fee simple subject to Subdivision owners’ access easements and any other established rights-of-way. View "Starling v. Lake Meade Prop." on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged as unconstitutional certain restrictions imposed upon attorneys who were employed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (Board), and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The Board filed preliminary objections, asserting petitioner lacked standing to pursue her claim, her claim was not yet ripe, and in any event, her claim failed on the merits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled the Board’s preliminary objections as to standing and ripeness, but nevertheless concluded petitioner was not entitled to relief on the merits as the restrictions included in the Gaming Act were constitutionally sound. View "Yocum v. PA Gaming Control Board" on Justia Law