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April 2021 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | May 02, 2021 | 0 Comments

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.

Precedential Opinion

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)

Allocatur Grants

  • 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) 
  • 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)
  • 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)

About the Author

Corrie Woods

Corrie is our primary litigator, and focuses his practice on appellate, criminal, and post-conviction cases. Corrie also authors the firm's blog, SCOPABlog, which is the only regularly updated blog providing comprehensive coverage of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's docket. Corrie became an a...


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