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William Rivera appealed the death sentence he received for the 1995 carjacking and murder of Tae Hung Kang. The Post-Conviction Relief court limited his appeal to one issue — whether penalty phase counsel was ineffective for failing to present mental health and life history mitigation evidence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated on numerous occasions that “no number of failed claims may collectively warrant relief i[f] they fail to do so individually.” However, the Court has also acknowledged that “‘if multiple instances of deficient performance are found, the assessment of prejudice properly may be premised upon cumulation.’” The Court found "the great majority" of appellant’s individual claims lacked merit, therefore the Court was satisfied appellant was not entitled to relief based on cumulative prejudice. Therefore, the PCR court properly dismissed appellant's petition for relief after having limited its hearing to one issue. View "Pennsylvania v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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Appellant the School District of Lower Merion challenged a Commonwealth Court decision to quash its appeal of the grant of an injunction. Appellees were residents and taxpayers of Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who filed a multi-count, putative class action complaint against Appellant which asserted grievances about “proliferate spending and tax increases.” Appellees sought money damages in excess of $55,000,000 and the appointment of a trustee to undertake the responsibilities of the school board members. The amended complaint also contained a count seeking equitable relief, primarily in the form of court-supervised modifications of the procedures employed by the District’s administrators. Appellees submitted a “Petition for Injunctive Relief” seeking “immediate relief because without this [c]ourt’s intervention, the District will raise taxes and the bills for the same will go out July 1, 2016 to some 22,000 taxpayers.” Significantly, consistent with the prayer for immediate relief, the petition reflected criteria associated with a preliminary injunction, including an assertion of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. In its written response, the District made clear -- consistent with the procedural posture of the case, the request for immediate relief, and the assertion of irreparable harm -- that it believed that Appellees were seeking a preliminary injunction, and the District proceeded to address Appellees’ petition on such terms. The dispute before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether a post-trial motion was required, or whether the appellant was entitled to proceed with an interlocutory appeal as of right under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). The Supreme Court determined the common pleas court did not dispose of all claims for relief in its “Decision/Order”; therefore, “the decision” of the case was not rendered for purposes of Rule 227.1, and no post-trial motions were implicated under that rule. Rather, the District enjoyed the right to lodge an interlocutory appeal as of right under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(a)(4). The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's judgment holding to the contrary, and remanded this case for consideration of the merits of the District's interlocutory appeal filed as of right. View "Wolk v. Lower Merion SD" on Justia Law

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In this opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a question left unanswered by its July 27, 2018 opinion. Specifically, the Court addressed what, if any, due process remedy was available to Petitioners, who were former and current priests in various Catholic Dioceses throughout Pennsylvania specifically condemned in Report 1 of the 40th Investigating Grand Jury (“Report 1”) as “predator priests,” to secure their constitutionally guaranteed right to reputation. The Court concluded that it could not employ any of the remedies offered by the parties, and, thus, the Court had to make permanent the redaction of Petitioners’ identifying information from Report 1, which was previously ordered as an interim measure, “as this is the only viable due process remedy we may now afford to Petitioners to protect their constitutional rights to reputation.” View "In Re: Fortieth Statewide Investigation Grand Jury" on Justia Law

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This appeal presented an issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurance carrier could bring a third-party action against an alleged tortfeasor on behalf of an injured employee to recoup the amount paid in workers’ compensation benefits where the employee did not independently sue the tortfeasor, did not join in the insurer’s action, and did not assign her cause of action to the insurer. In 2013, Chunli Chen was standing in the parking lot of Thrifty Rental Car when she was struck by a rental vehicle operated by Kafumba Kamara. When the accident occurred, Chen was in the course of her employment with Reliance Sourcing, Inc., which maintained workers’ compensation coverage through The Hartford Insurance Group (“Appellee” or “Insurer”). Insurer had paid $59,424.71 in medical and wage benefits to Chen pursuant to her employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy. Chen did not seek to recover damages for her injuries by filing an action against Kamara and/or Thrifty Rental Car (collectively referred to herein as “Appellants” or “Tortfeasors”) and did not assign her cause of action against Tortfeasors to Insurer. In 2015, when the two-year statute of limitations was about to expire on Chen’s cause of action, Insurer sought to effectuate its subrogation right under Section 319 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) by filing a praecipe for a writ of summons against Tortfeasors. “Reaffirming the well-settled proposition that the right of action against the tortfeasor remains in the injured employee,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that, unless the injured employee assigns her cause of action or voluntarily joins the litigation as a party plaintiff, the insurer may not enforce its statutory right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and reinstated that of the trial court, which sustained the preliminary objections filed by the tortfeasor and dismissed the insurer’s complaint with prejudice. View "Hartford Ins. Grp. v. Kamara" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Williams appealed a Court of Common Pleas order dismissing his timely first petition for post-conviction relief. In 1995, Appellant, together with four co-defendants, planned to rob Richard White, a drug dealer they believed to possess significant amounts of cash. During the commission of the robbery outside White’s home, Appellant shot White three times with a MAC 10 automatic weapon. White died from his wounds. Acting pro se, Appellant was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery, for which Appellant was sentenced to death. On appeal, Appellant again proceeded pro se with access to new standby counsel. For post-conviction relief proceedings, the court appointed counsel to represent Appellant. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded after review, Appellant did not present a meritorious issue eligible for relief under the PCRA, and affirmed dismissal of Appellant’s petition for relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Appellee Tex Ortiz was the single father of a two-and-one-half year-old daughter, J.O., with whom he resided. n Allegheny County. In December 2015, the child’s maternal grandmother secured interim primary legal and physical custody of J.O. in a judicial proceeding at which Appellee failed to appear. The grandmother and others made various attempts to implement the custody order, but initially neither Appellee nor J.O. could be located. Appellee apparently took various measures to conceal his and J.O’s whereabouts, and he was eventually located where he surrendered the child to authorities and was arrested. Appellee was charged with various offenses, and convicted of interference with custody of children (“ICC”), a third-degree felony, and kidnapping of a minor under Section 2901(a.1)(2) of the Crimes Code. Throughout the proceedings, Appellee maintained that ICC, committed by a biological parent, could not serve as a predicate felony for purposes of kidnapping of a minor under Section 2901(a.1)(2). Appellee relied substantially upon Commonwealth v. Barfield, 768 A.2d 343 (Pa. Super. 2001). The trial court rejected his argument, intermixing into its explanation a classification of kidnapping with which Appellee was not charged. On appeal, the superior court reversed, relying substantially upon the Barfield decision, recognizing that intermediate-court decisions subsequent to Barfield had determined that a parent could be validly convicted of kidnapping of a minor. According to the superior court, however, where the intention of a defendant-parent is solely to retain custody and/or, correspondingly, reflects a desire to maintain an existing bond with a child, kidnapping of a minor will not lie. Ultimately, the intermediate court determined that ICC cannot serve as a predicate offense, under Section 2901(a.1)(2), where the defendant is the biological parent of the child addressed by the relevant custody order. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the superior Court and affirmed its judgment. View "Pennsylvania v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this matter to determine whether an employer has a legal duty to use reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information that the employer stores on an internet-accessible computer system. Barbara Dittman, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated (collectively, Employees), filed the operative class action complaint in this matter against UPMC d/b/a the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport (collectively, UPMC), alleging that a data breach had occurred through which the personal and financial information, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, tax forms, and bank account information of all 62,000 UPMC employees and former employees was accessed and stolen from UPMC’s computer systems. Employees further alleged that the stolen data, which consisted of information UPMC required Employees to provide as a condition of their employment, was used to file fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the victimized Employees, resulting in actual damages. Employees asserted a negligence claim and breach of implied contract claim against UPMC. The Supreme Court held an employer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet- accessible computer system. Furthermore, the Court held that, under Pennsylvania’s economic loss doctrine, recovery for purely pecuniary damages is permissible under a negligence theory provided that the plaintiff can establish the defendant’s breach of a legal duty arising under common law that is independent of any duty assumed pursuant to contract. As the Superior Court came to the opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated its judgment. View "Dittman v. UPMC" on Justia Law

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In this premises liability case, John Stapas sued Giant Eagle and related entities (collectively Giant Eagle) for injuries he sustained at a GetGo convenience store. At the time of the incident, Stapas was 17 years old and worked full-time as a busboy and dishwasher at a restaurant, earning $8.25 per hour plus $14.00-$20.00 per shift in tips. In 2007, Stapas went to GetGo after his restaurant shift. At GetGo, he was talking to his friend, Crystal Stogden, who worked the night shift there. Minutes after Stapas arrived, a customer exiting the store held the door open for Brandon McCallister to enter. McCallister had been banned from patronizing that GetGo location. McCallister, who appeared intoxicated, started arguing with Stogden about his ban. Stapas was not initially involved in the argument. After about one minute, Stapas intervened to attempt to diffuse the argument and protect Stogden and another female employee, LaToya Stevens. Eventually, Stapas, McCallister, Stogden, and Stevens exited the store into the parking lot area. Outside the store, McCallister’s friend was waiting for him. Stapas told Stogden to get back inside the store, and Stevens remained outside. McCallister continued screaming at the employees as Stapas followed him to his vehicle, insisting that he leave. As they approached McCallister’s car, McCallister initiated a physical fight with Stapas. During the fight, McCallister pulled out a gun, which he had concealed on his person, and shot Stapas four times. Stapas missed six weeks of work while recovering from the injuries, and he continued to have daily stomach pain from the shooting. In this appeal by allowance, we consider whether Giant Eagle was required to object to the jury’s verdict awarding future lost wages to preserve its challenge to the verdict, which Giant Eagle labeled as a weight of the evidence challenge in its post-trial motion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that an objection to a jury’s verdict premised on trial errors, correctable before the jury is discharged, must be raised before the jury is discharged. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Superior Court’s order awarding Giant Eagle a new trial on damages. View "Stapas. v. Giant Eagle" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter was whether sales or use taxes must be paid in relation to two distinct items: the purchase of a closed-circuit horse-racing simulcasting system, and the payment of royalties for intellectual property used in conjunction with the operation of video poker machines. For the Taxpayer's off-track wagering locations, it used video poker machines. Taxpayer entered into a service contract with Teleview Racing Patrol, Inc., pursuant to which Teleview supplied equipment such as screens, satellite dishes, and closed-circuit television feeds. These items were used to provide live displays at each OTW facility of races occurring at Pocono Downs and other tracks across the country. Teleview provided the equipment for this system and, per the agreement, it also supplied personnel to install, maintain, and operate that equipment. In relation to the video poker games, Taxpayer purchased machines from International Gaming Technologies, PLC (“IGT”), on which it paid taxes which are not in dispute. In accordance with a separate intellectual property agreement, Taxpayer also paid IGT royalty fees for intellectual property associated with the various different “themes,” i.e., different poker games that would run on the machines. After a Pennsylvania Department of Revenue audit, Taxpayer was assessed approximately $340,000 in unpaid sales and use taxes, mostly stemming from Taxpayer’s payments to Teleview under the service contract. In challenging the assessment, Taxpayer concluded it had erroneously paid the $13,000 in taxes on its payment of royalty fees to IGT; thus, it sought a refund of those monies. After the Department denied relief, Taxpayer sought review of both matters in the Commonwealth Court, which consolidated the appeals. The court found Teleview consolidated taxable and nontaxable charges on its invoices. The panel thus concluded that Taxpayer had failed to present documentary evidence specifying which portions of the billed amounts were nontaxable, as required by departmental regulations. The Court also rejected Taxpayer's request for a refund on taxes it paid for IGT's royalty fees. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's order insofar as it upheld the Board of Finance and Revenue's determination relative to the IGT contract, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Downs Racing, LP v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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In this capital appeal, both Appellant Lavar Brown and the Commonwealth challenged the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County's order dismissing Brown’s petition for relief filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act. The the parties requested the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order that Brown’s death sentence be vacated, that his case be remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County for the limited purpose of resentencing Brown to life without parole, and that the case then be transferred to the Superior Court for merits disposition of Brown's guilt phase claims. The Supreme Court reviewed the PCRA court record and determined Brown was not entitled to relief, and the PCRA court correctly denied Brown's petition. View "Pennsylvania v. Brown" on Justia Law