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March 2023 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | Mar 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

This month, the Court issued 3 precedential opinions and 7 grants of allocatur.  On the opinion side, Perrin provides some guidance as to whether parties in a criminal case can enter into stipulations in a post-conviction context, holding that the trial court is free to reject them because witness credibility is a matter reserved for the court.  Notably, the court does not address whether, but Justice Dougherty opines further that a court is not free to accept them, as stipulations are reserved for actual, tangible facts, which he views as exclusive of witness credibility.  Practitioners attempting to arrive at stipulations in this context, in this regard, would do well to form their stipulations in terms of what happened, as a first-order matter, rather than what a witness would say, which injects significant uncertainty, and rather than whether the witness would be believed, which may not be up to them to agree upon.  Green is also interesting, less for its holding that a statute regarding juvenile decertifications means what it says, but more for the cogent discussion of the absurdity canon.  In an opinion for the majority, Justice Brobson essentially retracks, albeit with his own perspective, a concurrence by Justice Wecht in a 2021 decision emphasizing that statutory language must be followed unless it is patently ridiculous.  The fact that this principle has proceeded from a musing in a concurrence by one of the Court's more liberal members to a major point of analysis in a unanimous opinion by one of the Court's more conservative members suggests that it is here to stay, and that practitioners should be wary of what they call absurd.

On the allocatur side, I'm most interested in Mertis, which could potentially create significant upheaval in the medical malpractice field, and Richards, in which the Court appears to be willing to take another run at its 3-3 deadlock in Verbeck, decided just a month ago, perhaps cognizant that, buy the time the case is briefed and argued, they may have a justice to break the tie.

Precedential Opinions

Yount v. Pa. Lawyers Fund, 2842 DD3 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (holding that attorney-subpoenas under Pa.R.D.E. 521(c) are only subpoenas to summon witnesses, not to obtain records)

Commonwealth v. Perrin, 2 EAP 2022 (Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding that trial courts have authority to reject proposed stipulations as to witness credibility in the context of post-sentence motions)

Commonwealth v. Green, 16 WAP 2022 (Opinion by Brobson, J.) (holding that petitions for decertification of homicide cases to juvenile court not ruled on within 20 days after hearing are denied by operation of law)

Allocatur Grants

Mertis v. Dong-Joon, 546 MAL 2022 (granting review to consider medical-malpractice defense counsel's permission pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 4003.6 to speak with a plaintiff's treating physicians under certain circumstances)

Caldwell v. Jaurigue, 521 MAL 2022 (granting review to consider whether a prior decision expands child support obligations to all third parties who seek and obtain custody rights)

In the Interest of: N.E.M., 288 - 289 EAL 2022 (granting review to consider whether the Superior Court was obligated to issue an opinion in a case initiated by petition for specialized review)

Commonwealth v. Richards, 518 MAL 2022 (granting review to consider (again) whether a defendant's prior acceptance of alternative rehabilitative disposition of a charge of driving under the influence constitutes a prior conviction for purposes of subsequent prosecutions for driving under the influence)

Commonwealth v. Dobson, 383 MAL 2022 (granting review to consider whether the Superior Court erred in its application of "Terry frisk" precedent to an automobile passenger)

In Re: Trust of Wells, 254 WAL 2022 (granting review to consider the Superior Court's apprehension and application of the Pennsylvania Charitable Trust Termination Statute)

Commonwealth v. Smith, 151 EAL 2022 (granting review to consider whether to abrogate a Superior Court decision holding that petitioners for post-conviction relief may not file new petitions while on direct appeal)

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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