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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether appellant, Swatara Township Board of Commissioners, was required to seek and obtain judicial approval before changing from an at-large to a by-ward system of governance. The Board claimed it was “not entirely elected at large,” and consequently, it possessed the authority to “reapportion” Swatara Township without judicial approval. The Supreme Court found the Board’s argument failed; judicial approval was required pursuant to Section 401 of the First Class Township Code, 53 P.S. section 55401. The Court thus affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Varner v. Swatara Township" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Commonwealth filed a single notice of appeal from an order that disposed of four motions to suppress evidence filed by four criminal defendants (Appellees) at four different docket numbers. The Superior Court quashed the appeal, ruling that the Commonwealth was required to file four separate notices of appeal from the suppression order in connection with each of the Appellees’ docketed criminal cases. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found, as did the the Superior Court, the suppression order at issue here could affect one or more of the Appellees differently from the rest, including, for example, the remaining evidence (if any) against each Appellee that may be used at trial (which, in turn, may implicate whether all or some of the Appellees should be tried in a single joint trial). "The legal issues relating to suppression, e.g., the standing of each defendant to challenge the search and seizure, may also differ from one Appellee to the next. Given the clarification provided by the amendment to the Official Note, the proper practice under Rule 341(a) is to file separate appeals from an order that resolves issues arising on more than one docket. The failure to do so requires the appellate court to quash the appeal." Thus, the Court vacated the Superior Court’s order. The Court also held, however, that prospectively, where a single order resolves issues arising on more than one docket, separate notices of appeal must be filed for each case. View "Pennsylvania v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to resolve a dispute over an affidavit of probable cause used in support of a search warrant application. Specifically, the issue reduced to whether a statement contained in one paragraph, which when read in the context of the whole affidavit appeared to be an inadvertent error, rendered the affiant’s information stale, and therefore lacking in probable cause. After review of the affidavit at issue here, the Supreme Court concluded it did not; the search warrant was not based on stale information and was supported by probable cause. Therefore, the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated, and the superior court’s order was affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Leed" on Justia Law

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This discretionary appeal addressed the role of a court following a school district’s decision to conduct a private sale of an unused or unnecessary school building pursuant to section 7-707(3) of the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949. Ridgefield Elementary School (“Ridgefield”) sat on 7.9 acres of land (the “Property”), which contained the school, a playground, a parking lot and open greenspace. Ridgefield was located in Millcreek Township (the “Township”) and was in an R-1 single- family residential zoning district. In 2013, the Millcreek Township School District (the “School District”) closed Ridgefield, partitioned the Property into three lots, and tried to sell the Property through a sealed bid process, but it received no bids. In July 2014, the School District listed the Property for sale. Two offers were made on the property; in 2015, the School District petitioned the trial court for approval of the private sale of Lot 1 of the Property. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a trial court’s involvement in such cases is limited to either approving or disapproving the sale. The statute required a determination of whether the petition for private sale contains the requisite information and was adequately supported by the opinions of two disinterested individuals who are familiar with the real estate in the geographic area, have viewed the property for sale, and concluded that the proposed sale price “is a fair and reasonable one and in their opinion a better price than could be obtained at public sale.” The statute does not require, and thus courts may not consider, whether the sale serves the public interest. Here, the Commonwealth Court based its decision on an erroneous interpretation of section 7-707(3) and the prior decisions of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In Re: Private Sale of Prop. by Millcreek Twp. SD" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, we consider whether Appellant, the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), is entitled to subrogation of benefits that a trooper – who was injured in a motor vehicle accident – was eligible to receive under the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) against the trooper’s recovery from a third-party tortfeasor pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In 2011, Pennsylvania State Trooper Joseph Bushta (“Claimant”) was on duty when his police vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer. As a result of the collision, Claimant suffered various cervical, thoracic, and lumbar injuries which required medical treatment and physical therapy, and which resulted in Claimant’s inability to perform his job duties for approximately 16 months. PSP, a self-insured public employer, issued a notice of compensation payable (“NCP”) indicating a weekly compensation rate of $858.08 under the WCA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that all of the benefits Claimant received were Heart and Lung benefits, not WCA benefits. Thus, pursuant to the MVFRL, PSP does not have a right of subrogation against Claimant’s settlement with the third-party tortfeasors. View "Penn. State Police v. WCAB (Bushta)" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kevin Bundy appealed pro se the deduction of funds from his prisoner account to satisfy financial obligations imposed as part of his criminal sentences. He contends, primarily, that he was constitutionally entitled to predeprivation notice and a hearing before such deductions began. Several of Appellant’s averments focused on the alleged impropriety of making deductions from gifts from family and friends. Others claim an entitlement to an ability-to-pay hearing, which, under prevailing Pennsylvania law as established by the Commonwealth Court, would only be implicated in relation to Act 84 deductions if there had been a “material change of circumstances” - such as a threat of additional confinement or increased conditions of supervision as a result of unpaid financial obligations. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Appellant’s first theory relating to gifted funds. Still, construing Appellant’s pro se averments with some leniency, the Court found he has alleged that, due to his indigence, the deductions have adversely affected his ability to litigate his PCRA petition. The Court found this allegation “resonant” because the change-in-circumstances prerequisite, as developed by the Commonwealth Court, was grounded on the premise that the prisoner can obtain meaningful merits review of the financial aspects of his sentence through direct appeal or post-conviction proceedings. If (as asserted) that opportunity was substantially encumbered by the Department of Corrections’ Act 84 deductions, an issue arises whether the “George/Ingram” rule should be extended to encompass such a circumstance. “[T]he law does not say with certainty that no relief is available. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court should not have sustained Appellees’ demurrer.” The order of the Commonwealth Court was reversed and the matter was remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Bundy v. Wetzel et al" on Justia Law

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In two discretionary appeals consolidated for opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tackled an unsettled question in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. In Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourth Amendment prohibited law enforcement officers from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a residence for the purpose of conducting a routine felony arrest. In dictum expressed at the end of its opinion, the Payton Court stated that a warrant requirement for arrests in the home placed no undue burden on law enforcement, and that “an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.” The following year, in Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981), the Court held that a warrant for an individual’s arrest did not authorize an entry into the home of a third party not named in the arrest warrant. To protect third parties’ interests in the privacy of their homes, the Steagald Court held, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement mandated a magistrate’s determination of probable cause before police may enter those homes in order to search the premises for the individual named in the arrest warrant. In these two Pennsylvania cases, the Pennsylvania Court addressed circumstances in which a law enforcement officer sought to execute an arrest warrant inside a home: how would it be determined that the home was that of the intended arrestee, such that the Payton dictum could apply, rather than the home of a third party, where Steagald would apply? The Pennsylvania Court concluded the Fourth Amendment required that, police officers may enter the home of the subject of an arrest warrant to effectuate the arrest, but they must obtain a valid search warrant before entering the home of a third party. View "Commonwealth v. Romero, A., Aplt." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether a defendant, who was ineligible for statutory collateral review because he was sentenced to pay a fine without incarceration or probation, could obtain review of ineffective assistance of counsel claims presented in post-sentence motions filed with the trial court. The lower courts held that Appellant Edward Delgros could not obtain review because he failed to satisfy any of the exceptions to the Supreme Court’s general rule deferring such claims to collateral review under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a new exception to the general deferral rule: requiring trial courts to examine ineffectiveness claims when the defendant is ineligible for PCRA review. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded to the trial court for consideration of Appellant’s postsentence claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Pennsylvania v. Delgros" on Justia Law