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June 2024 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | Jun 30, 2024 | 0 Comments

This month on SCOPAblog, the court issued 3 precedential opinions and 9 grants of allocatur. 

On the opinion side, the Court's two postconviction cases offer glosses on Commonwealth v. Bradley, 261 A.2d 381 (Pa. 2021), in which the Court recognized a procedural path for petitioners in postconviction cases to challenge the stewardship of postconviction counsel: getting new, appellate postconviction counsel and raising former postconviction counsel's ineffectiveness at the earliest opportunity on appeal.  The Superior Court is then to consider whether the claims fail as a matter of law, and, if not, remand for further proceedings in the trial court.  The process in substance shoehorns a new postconviction petition into an appeal and gives it something of a truncated review process.

The difficulty with Bradley has been its implementation.  Questions abound as to how to administer it in a reasonable and nondiscriminatory way.  But after Parrish and Greer, there is a little more illumination.  For example, it has been unclear whether new postconviction counsel should raise Bradley claims in a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal.  It is not typical for litigants to request the trial court's opinion on whether other types of remand -- e.g., a remand for a Grazier hearing to determine whether an appellant wants to proceed pro se -- and, given that a petitioner's Bradley claims are first evaluated as a matter of law, the trial court's input does not change the review.  In Parrish, however, the Court reiterated that Bradley counsel should raise Bradley claims in a concise statement, and, coincidentally related to a different issue, emphasized the importance of appellate courts acting with an adequate foundation for review, not just adjudication.

Similarly, the process to even getting Bradley counsel is confusing.  In Bradley, new counsel was retained.  The Court has not yet made clear whether and to what extend initial postconviction counsel must alert a petitioner as to his ability to raise Bradley claims.  The Court has not yet made clear whether an indigent petitioner has a right to counsel to raise them.  Indeed, the Court has not made clear when to ask.  But Greer provides at least something of a roadmap.  In that case, initial postconviction counsel filed an appeal and was advised by the petitioner that he wished to raise Bradley claims, and, before the Superior Court issued its briefing schedule, sought a remand to allow the petitioner to do so.  The Superior Court denied relief, ultimately affirming the postconviction court's denial of relief and later remanding for Bradley claims.  The Court in Greer held that this was error, and that the Superior Court should have remanded before briefing for a detailed discussion of the petitioner's options.  Like ParrishGreer seems to reiterate that Bradley was meant to allow something of a brief retreat from ordinary appellate proceedings, not piecemeal litigation.

The Court's conception of Bradley is getting clearer, but it is still far from clear.  I can't imagine that the Court will embrace a holding that only those petitioners with the money to obtain new counsel Bradley claims, much less only those with the legal acumen to research Bradley and bring it up to counsel who do happen to something about it, are entitled to raise Bradley claims, but the Court has been remarkably circumspect in describing the process.  One hopes that it, or its Appellate Rules Committee, are planning something more comprehensive soon.

On the allocatur side, I'm interested in both R.W. and Mezzacappa, which implicate the ever-confounding constitutional right to reputation.  Interestingly, the former involves records of suspensions caused by criminal charges after those charges have been withdrawn and expunged, and the latter involves mug-shots, or photos of criminal suspects taken for booking purposes.  In both cases, the information at issue is not itself necessarily harmful to the reputation, but it does reveal that something harmful to the reputation was alleged (which generally initiates a rumor mill that ultimately harms one's reputation).  It may be possible that the Court is confronted with a choice between the formal and the functional, and it will be interesting to see where it lands.

Precedential Opinions

Commonwealth v. Parrish, 803 CAP (Majority Opinion by Brobson, J.) (remanding a capital postconviction case for advancement and adjudication of claims of ineffective assistance of initial postconviction counsel)

Mertis v. Oh, No. 31 MAP 2023 (Majority Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding that Rule 4003.6 of the Rules of Civil procedure precludes a defense attorney from obtaining information from a treating physician via a subsequent representation)

Commonwealth v. Greer, 87 MAP 2023 (Majority Opinion by McCaffery, J.) (holding the Superior Court erred in addressing the merits of a postconviction petitioner's claims before remanding for a colloquy regarding his ability to raise claims of ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel)

Allocatur Grants

Roberts v. Komeau, 145 EAL 2024 (granting review to consider the scope of rules governing interlocutory appeals in a child custody proceeding)

R. W. v. Dept. of Ed., 284 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider whether state education officials are statutorily required to remove references to educator suspensions after underlying criminal charges have withdrawn and expuned, and, if not, whether the statute violates their constitutional rights)

*In re: Three PA Skill Amusement, 7 MAL 2024 (granting review to consider whether skill-games are legally gambling devices for purposes of the Crimes Code)

Housing Auth. City of Pgh. v. Nash, 60 WAL 2024 (granting review to consider whether a public housing authority may evict a tenant because an invitee of both that tenant and another tenant commits a homicide there)

Cicero v. PUC, 568-570 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider several issues related to a wastewater utility)

Downingtown Area SD v Chester Cnty Bd of Assessment, 678-679 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider a case involving selective property tax assessment appeals and the Uniformity Clause)

Met-Ed v. PUC, 557 & 590 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider several issues related to an electric utility and a telecommunications utility)

**Commonwealth v. Smith, 197 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider the unit of prosecution of the offense of arson endangering persons)

Mezzacappa v. Northampton Co., 339-340 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the discloure of mug-shots under the Criminal History Information Act and Pennsylvania constitutional privacy rights)


*The author is counsel for one of the amici curiae in suppot of the Respondent, now Appellee, in this matter

**This author is counsel for the Petitioner, now Appellant, in this matter.

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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