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November 2023 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | Nov 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

This month on SCOPAblog, the court issued 7 precedential opinions and 4 grants of allocatur.  On the opinion side, I'm most interested in Hangey, which, depending on your view, either reaffirms or quite liberalizes the rules governing venue under Pennsylvania law by deemphasizing the amount of business a corporation must do in a particular county in favor of emphasizing the regularity with which it does that business.  When viewed in conjunction with recent rules changes, among other developments, Hangey represents something of a boon for litigants (and their lawyers) who want to gain access to Philadelphia County juries, who are viewed as more likely to grant large awards than juries elsewhere.  Predictably, Hangey has already been lauded by the plaintiffs' bar and decried by the defense bar, already reeling from the Court's (and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision) in Mallory, affirming as constitutional a state statute providing for expansive personal jurisdiction over corporations.  It will be interesting to see how all these factors converge into verdicts over the next year or so, but I would bet that the market is bullish.

I'm also interested in the Court's decision in Doyle, which reverses a lower court award of attorney's fees in an election petition challenge.  One particularly interesting aspect of the decision is that it recognizes the somewhat Wild-West nature of those challenges.  After petitions are submitted, sometimes with thousands of lines of identifying information and signatures, would-be objectors are expected to conduct a line-by-line investigation of whether the information and signatures match what is in public election records, and, if not, whether the variances are material under exceedingly unclear and inconsistent precedent and numerous enough to warrant setting aside the petition.  This often requires exceedingly plodding searches in the state's election database, the retention of handwriting experts, and significant legal research on ambiguous legal issues, and the Election Code gives would-be objectors an exceedingly small window of time to do it.  Making matters worse, outside major statewide campaigns, candidates generally want to spend most of their money appealing to voters, not paying counsel, and expertise in the area is rare, such that the petitions/objections period of each election is just something of a scrum.  The Court's recognition of this fact, and its import for whether objectors should be required to pay candidates' fees for defending against objections on the theory that they have filed them in bad faith, is well-put.

On the allocatur side, I'm most interested in Muhammad, which involves an issue of inconsistent verdicts - here, a conviction inconsistent with a special jury interrogatory.  In both the civil and criminal contexts, the Court has recently ventured into something of a thicket in trying to balance having a sensible verdict with the practical reality that sometimes, juries just compromise, and, as one U.S. Supreme Court decision put it, it is difficult to tell whose ox has been gored: i.e., here, whether the jury's conviction should be impeached by its interrogatory because the jury convicted despite its answer; or whether the jury's interrogatory should be impeached by its conviction.  In earlier decisions, the Court had focused on the "special weight afforded acquittals" to invalidate other convictions, but has since retreated from that position in the face of problems of practical application.  It will be interesting to see how the Court deals with the ox-gore problem here.

Precedential Opinions

Commonwealth v. Weeden, 19 WAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Todd, C.J.) (holding that a computer-generated summary of "ShotSpotter" data is nontestimonial for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against oneself)

Commonwealth v. Rizor, 32 & 33 WAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Donohue, J.) (reversing the Superior Court's reversal of a PCRA court's rejection of a claim of ineffective assistance of plea counsel)

In Re: Nom. Pet Doyle, 78 MAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Todd, C.J.) (reversing the Commonwealth Court's award of counsel fees in an election petition challenge)

Hawbaker, Inc. v. PennDOT, 20 MAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Brobson, J.) (applying the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies in a complex matter involving a prequalified bidder for state construction contracts)

Zilka v. Tax Review Bd. City of Phila., 20 & 21 EAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Todd, C.J.

Dinardo v. Kohler, 22 & 23 EAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Todd, C.J.) (reaffirming the no-felony-conviction-recovery rule barring felons from bringing actions implicating their criminal conduct)

Hangey v. Husqvarna, 14 EAP 2022 (Majority Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (reframing and liberalizing extant venue requirements)

Allocatur Grants

Eastern Steel Constr. v. Int. Fidelity Insurance, 574 & 609 MAL 2022 (granting review to consider several surety-liability issues in a commercial construction case)

Commonwealth v. Crosby, 142 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider conflicting precedent concerning the meaning of "substantial force" in the context of the offense of resisting arrest)

Velasquez v. Miranda, 454 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider several issues in a case involving special immigrant juvenile status under federal law)

Commonwealth v. Muhammad, 200 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction in light of a specific jury interrogatory involving one of the elements of the offense)

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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