This month, the Court issued 15 precedential opinions and 7 orders granting allocatur.
First, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that once-and-former Chief Justice Saylor has handed the administrative reins over to his successor, now-Chief Justice Baer, in advance of his mandatory retirement at the end of this year. Chief Justice Saylor took charge of the Court at a time when it was in some degree of institutional and reputational crisis, and successfully helped steer it through those, and the current public-health, crisis. That said, former Chief Justice Saylor was always better known as an intellectual heavyweight author, and appears to have freed himself to do that again, issuing no less than 6 fairly nuanced secondary opinions this month. One suspects that he will have much to say for the rest of the year.
On the opinion side, the Court in Perez apparently felt that guidance was needed as to the appropriate standard of review governing preliminary hearings, perhaps in light of its recent decision imposing a greater level of scrutiny at such proceedings by requiring that the Commonwealth not proceed solely via hearsay therein. Typically, the Court is not inclined to grant review merely to supervise the lower courts' application of an uncontested standard of review to the particular facts of a case, but it both granted allocatur expressly for that purpose and performed relatively mundane review. Whether Perez is an outlier or an indicator that the Court is now open to double-checking the intermediate appellate courts remains to be seen. Additionally, the court in Pittsburgh Logistics Systems provided another win for workers, coming off of its recent decision to classify gig workers as employees for purposes of numerous state employee-benefits statutes.
On the allocatur side, certainly the most widely-applicable case will be Barr, which will address how police are to treat indicia of marijuana as a basis for probable cause after the General Assembly's adoption of the Medical Marijuana Act. Frankly, the current state of Pennsylvania law contains context after context in which those availing themselves of medical marijuana do so with the sword of Damocles above them, and the General Assembly has been anything but consistent. For example, virtually every patient who uses medical marijuana will carry metabolites in his or her body for weeks, but the General Assembly has recently beefed up controlled-substance DUI statutes and provided that virtually every patient who drives faces potential arrest and conviction for DUI at all times. Although Barr may help protect legal marijuana users from unwarranted government intrusions on the basis of legal marijuana use, only the Legislature can resolve the double-bind it routinely places them in.
- Commonwealth v. Eid, 10 EAP 2020 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (vacating sentence driving-under-suspension driving under the influence with refusal of chemical testing because the statute providing it lacks a maximum sentence)
Commonwealth v. Perez, 9 EAP 2020 (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (reviewing the Superior Court's application of the standard of review governing preliminary hearings)
- See also Concurring Opinion by Saylor, J.
- Commonwealth v. Speight, 778 CAP (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (vacating a bizarre order refusing to resentence a defendant in accordance with a federal court order vacating his death sentence and remanding for the imposition of a life sentence)
- Commonwealth v. Lopez, 787 CAP (Opinion by Donohue, J.) (affirming dismissal of serial post-conviction petition as untimely)
Commonwealth v. Hairston, 786 CAP (Opinion by Donohue, J.) (affirming the denial of post-conviction relief in a capital case involving, inter alia, facial and as-applied challenges to the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment)
- See also Concurring Opinion by Saylor, J.
Philadelphia Gas Works v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Commn., 14 EAP 2020 (Opinion by Donohue, J.) (holding that once a municipal lien is recorded, a public utility may no longer apply its regulatory tariff rate, but must apply the post-judgment rate, of interest)
- See also Dissenting Opinion by Saylor, J.
- Chester Water Auth. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Comm. and Econ. Dev., 44-45 EAP 2019 (Opinion by Saylor, J.) (holding that the internal-deliberative-process exception to the disclosure-requirements of the Right to Know Law do not apply to an agency's records shared with consultants)
Terra Firma Builders, LLC v. King, 15 MAP 2020 (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (holding a statutorily imperfect mechanics' lien rendered late-filed objections thereto unwaived)
- See also Dissenting Opinion by Donohue, J.
- Commonwealth v. Yale, 9 MAP 2020 (Opinion by Donohue, J.) (holding that evidence of a third-party's crimes, wrongs, or other bad acts offered by a criminal defendant is subject to ordinary relevance/prejudice rules, not prior-bad-acts evidentiary rules)
- Pittsburgh Logistics Sys., Inc. v. Beemac Trucking, LLC, 31 WAP 2019 (Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding that the Restatement test for no-hire/no-poach provisions ancillary to a services contract between two business entities governs in Pennsylvania and finding the subject no-hire/no-poach provision to be unenforceable)
- SLT Holdings v. Mitch-Well Energy, Inc., 6 WAP 2020(Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding that landowners who had contract remedies could not seek equitable remedies against energy company)
- Commonwealth v. Finnecy, 2 WAP 2020 (Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding that whether a defendant is eligible for a Recidivism Risk Reduction Act sentence is a nonwaivable challenge to the legality of sentence and that a single arrest for a violent offense does not constitute a record or pattern of violent behavior rendering a defendant ineligible for such a sentence)
- Commonwealth v. Wardlaw, 15 WAP 2020 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (holding that a mistrial is not, and only a defendant-initiated request for a new trial leading to a grant of the same is, a grant of a new trial within the meaning of a rule of appellate procedure permitting defendants to appeal from such grants raising claims that would lead to full discharge)
- Wise v. Huntingdon Cnty. Housing Dev. Corp., 97 MAP 2019 (Opinion by Baer, C.J.) (holding that insufficient lighting on Commonwealth property may constitute a "dangerous condition" of such property for purposes of avoiding statutory sovereign immunity)
In re: Nomination Petitions of Major, 15 EAP 2021 (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (holding that signatures on nomination petitions must include the address at which the signer is enrolled)
- See also Concurring Opinion by Saylor, J.
Commonwealth v. Jones-Williams, 646 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider a Commonwealth challenge to Superior Court decision holding that Pennsylvania's implied consent statute is unconstitutional as it pertains to blood draws and that no exigent circumstances existed to warrant the subject blood draw)
- See also Superior Court Opinion by Olson, J.
- Commonwealth v. Barr, 583 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether and under what circumstances detection of the odor of marijuana can contribute to probable cause)
- Energy Transfer v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Commn., 655-656 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether the Office of Open Records has authority to order the disclosure of records based on its own application of the Public Utility Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act in lieu of proceeding via the procedures set forth in that Act)
- O'Donnell v. Allegheny Cnt. North Tax Collection Committee, 11 WAL 2021 (granting review to consider several issues relating to the local taxability of a qui tam action settlement)
Commonwealth v. Pownall, 363 EAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether the Superior Court erred in quashing the Commonwealth's appeal challenging the constitutionality of a statute providing police authority to use deadly force to prevent a fleeing felon from creating a risk of death or serious bodily injury)
- See also Superior Court Judgment Order
- Commonwealth v. Santana, 654 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether sexual offender's conviction for failure to register as a sexual offender under an unconstitutional iteration of Pennsylvania's sexual offender registration requirements can be sustained because he was required to register under New York law and moved to Pennsylvania after the iteration's enactment)
- Eastern Univ. Academy Charter Sch. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila, 373 EAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether a school district's nonrenewal of a charter term must be effected during the term of the existing charter term)