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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

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Appellee was charged with a single count of possession with intent to distribute, or possession, of a “designer drug,” a substance similar to a scheduled controlled substance, not the same. The trial court here determined experts have been unable to reach an agreement on a method for analyzing and determining the similarities between the chemical structures the controlled substance and its designer analogue, leading it to conclude this disagreement rendered the Pennsylvania designer drug statute unconstitutionally vague. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the common pleas court did not account for the difference between the concepts of analogue and substantial similarity, the latter of which is more readily apprehensible to the lay citizen in the context of comparing chemical structures; nor did it recognize that, unlike the controlled-substance provision, the designer drug provision included a narrowing scienter specification. Moreover, the Court found in this case that there were “considerable similarities” as between the two molecules based on their two-dimensional diagrams. View "Pennsylvania v. Herman" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed appellant Marcel Johnson’s convictions and his sentence of death for the 2013 murder of Ebony Talley, her unborn child, and her four-year-old daughter, R.R. In this automatic direct appeal, Johnson raised nine issues for review. After thorough consideration of these issues, the Court affirmed his convictions and the imposition of the death sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Trial courts must identify the circumstances that make it reasonable to infer that the property owner had actual knowledge of the illegal use of the property or consented to the underlying criminal activity before allowing a civil in rem forfeiture of that property. The proper constitutional construct in determining whether an in rem forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment requires an initial determination regarding the relationship between the forfeited property and the underlying offense (the instrumentality prong). If this threshold prong is satisfied, the next step of the analysis is a proportionality inquiry in which the value of the property sought to be forfeited is compared to the gravity of the underlying offense to determine whether the forfeiture is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. A 71-year-old grandmother who owned the house in which she lived, and owned a 1997 Chevrolet minivan, suffered from blood clots in her lungs, was hospitalized, and released, ordered to bed rest. Her adult son and two grandchildren also lived in the house. The son sold drugs from the house and the van, without his mother’s knowledge. The Commonwealth filed a petition for forfeiture of the house and minivan, with the trial court determining there was a nexus between the seized house and violations of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (Drug Act). The trial court rejected the grandmother’s statutory innocent owner defense afforded by the Forfeiture Act because, after the police notified her of her son’s drug activities (through service of search warrants and personally informing her of the activities) she “refused to take any proactive measures or steps to demonstrate her lack of consent to this illegal activity. The Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court, concluding that the lower tribunal applied an erroneous standard for determining whether the forfeiture violated the Eighth Amendment, and that it failed to consider all relevant circumstances in rejecting the innocent owner defense. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Pennsylvania v. 1997 Chevrolet, etc." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether a home rule municipality could amend its home rule charter to eliminate mandatory subjects of bargaining as defined by the Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act ("Act 111"), the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act ("PLRA"), and applicable case law. Appellant, the Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (“FOP”) was the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the police officers of Appellee, the City of Pittsburgh (“City”), pursuant to Act 111 and the PLRA. The City was subject to the Policemen’s Civil Service Act, which requires officer applicants be residents of the city at the time of application and throughout their term of employment. The General Assembly repealed the residency mandate in 2012. The parties met to bargain the residency issue, but were unable to reach an agreement. The matter went to arbitration, and pending those proceedings, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution to place a referendum on the upcoming general election ballot asking the voters whether the City’s home rule charter should be amended to require all City employees and officials, including police and fire personnel, to maintain their domicile within the City. Voters approved the home rule charter amendment in 2013. The arbitration panel issued a Supplemental Interest Arbitration Award, which provided that the City-only residency requirement would immediately discontinue and be replaced with a different residency requirement: officers would be required to reside within a twenty-five air-mile radius from the Pittsburgh City-County Building. The City sought review with the court of common pleas, seeking to vacate the arbitration supplemental award. The Supreme Court found that to ensure that home rule municipalities would not abrogate the right of police and firefighters to collectively bargain, the General Assembly enacted Section 9 of Act 111, specifically providing that the act was applicable to every political subdivision in the Commonwealth, regardless of its adoption of a home rule charter. Because the home rule charter amendment changed or modified Act 111 by removing residency as a subject of collective bargaining, it violated Section 2962(e) of the Home Rule Charter law. Thus, based strictly on Section 2962 of the Home Rule Charter Law, the FOP was entitled to relief. The trial court affirming the supplemental interest arbitration award directing officers be required to reside within a twenty-five mile radius from the City-County Building was reinstated. View "City of Pittsburgh v. Fraternal Order of Police Ft. Pitt Ldg. 1" on Justia Law

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The underlying litigation arose out of a land-ownership dispute between Jean Louse Villani, who was a co-plaintiff with her late husband until his death, and defendants John Seibert, Jr. and his mother, Mary Seibert (“Appellants”). Appellants prevailed in both an initial quiet title action and ensuing ejectment proceedings. During the course of this dispute, the Villanis were represented by Thomas Schneider, Esquire (“Appellee”). Appellants notified Mrs. Villani and Appellee that they intended to pursue a lawsuit for wrongful use of civil proceedings based upon Mrs. Villani’s and Appellee’s invocation of the judicial process to raise purportedly groundless claims. In November 2012, Mrs. Villani countered by commencing her own action seeking a judicial declaration vindicating her position that she did nothing wrong and bore no liability to Appellants. In this interlocutory direct appeal by permission, the issue presented was whether a legislative enactment recognizing a cause of action for wrongful use of civil proceedings infringed upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s constitutionally prescribed power to regulate the practice of law, insofar as such wrongful-use actions may be advanced against attorneys. As was relevant here, Appellee contended that the statutory scheme embodying a cause of action for wrongful use of civil proceedings, the “Dragonetti Act,” was an unconstitutional incursion by the General Assembly upon the Court’s power under Article V, Section 10(c). Given this asserted defect, he claimed that attorneys should be immunized from any liability under these statutory provisions. Appellee has failed to establish that the Dragonetti Act clearly and palpably violated the Pennsylvania Constitution, or that the Supreme Court should per se immunize attorneys, as attorneys, from the application of the substantive tort principles promulgated by the political branch in the Dragonetti Act. View "Villani v. Seibert" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on whether the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (the “Board”) abused its discretion if it fails to consider whether to grant a convicted parole violator (“CPV”) credit for time spent at liberty on parole. Also for consideration was whether the Board had to provide a contemporaneous statement explaining the rationale behind its decision to grant or deny credit to a CPV. In 2010, following his guilty plea to possession with intent to deliver (“PWID”), Appellant was sentenced to two to four years of imprisonment, with a maximum sentence date of December 9, 2013. On December 12, 2011, the Board released Appellant on parole. In 2013, while still on parole, Appellant was arrested and charged with various criminal offenses. He ultimately pled guilty to PWID and was sentenced to one to three years of imprisonment. Appellant subsequently waived his right to a parole revocation hearing and admitted that he violated his parole by committing a crime. The Board accepted Appellant’s admission and recommitted him in accord with his original 2011 sentence. The Supreme Court held that the Board abuses its discretion in failing to consider whether to grant CPVs credit for time spent at liberty on parole under the plain language of Subsection 6138(a)(2.1) of the Parole Code, 61 Pa.C.S. sec. 6138(a)(2.1). Additionally, in order to effectuate the intent of the General Assembly in enacting Subsection 6138(a)(2.1), the Court held that the Board must provide a contemporaneous statement explaining its rationale for denying a CPV credit for time spent at liberty on parole. In this case, because the Board’s decision to deny Appellant such credit was based upon its erroneous belief that Appellant was automatically precluded from receiving credit under Subsection 6138(a)(2.1), the Board abused its discretion. View "Pittman v. PA Board of Prob. & Parole" on Justia Law

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Appellant Raghunandan Yandamuri, acting pro se, appealed the two death sentences he received after a jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and related offenses for the kidnapping of a ten-month-old baby and the murders of the baby and her grandmother. After reviewing the trial court record, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the sentence imposed was not the product of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, but rather was based on the evidence presented at trial. Furthermore, the Court concluded the evidence supported at least one aggravating circumstance for each of the murders committed. The judgment of sentence was therefore affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Yandamuri" on Justia Law