This month on SCOPAblog, the court issued 2 precedential opinions and 10 grants of allocatur. On the opinion side, I'm most interested in Conforti, a rare unanimous opinion affirming a trial court's order granting guilt-phase relief in a death penalty case. One of the more disturbing secrets of criminal practice is that the law governing constitutionally mandated disclosure of evidence is less than clear, and fairly complex, so it is often the case that district attorneys don't disclose what they're required to disclose. In recent years, more progressive-minded district attorney offices have trended toward overdisclosure, and even open-file discovery, but more conservative offices have jealously guarded the doctrine as it stands. In Conforti, which involved the Commonwealth's failure to disclose certain mental health records that would have been helpful to Conforti at his guilt-phase trial, Justice Mundy, writing for the Court, attempts to provide some clarity where she can and identify some unclear issues for a future case. The opinion also has great analysis of whether the Commonwealth's failure to disclose the records caused Conforti prejudice. The opinion is a good starting point for anyone with a potential disclosure issue in a PCRA case going forward.
On the allocatur side,I'm most interested in Garcia, which involves a claim that merchants illegally collected sales tax on certain face masks at the outset of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which the Superior Court effectively dismissed on the theory that the collection of sales tax is not "in the conduct of trade or commerce" as is required to invoke Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The Superior Court's decision has the potential to poke a considerable hole in the UTPCPL, as it would arguably apply equally to all sorts of not-strictly-mercantile activity, and, as far as this author has seen, no Court has yet conducted a thorough statutory analysis of the question. It will be interesting to see where the court lands.
Commonwealth v. Conforti, 794 CAP (Majority Opinion by Mundy, J.) (affirming PCRA court's grant of guilt-phase relief in a death-penalty case on the basis of the Commonwealth's violation of constitutional evidence-disclosure requirements)
A.M.D. v. A.L.R, et al., 13 MAP 2023 (Majority Opinion by Brobson, J.) (holding that an order determining that grandparents have standing to pursue "grandparents rights" in the form of partial custody is interlocutory and not appealable as a collateral order)
Kleinbard v. Lanc. Co. DA, et al., 288 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider budgetary dispute between Lancaster County's commissioners and district attorney)
Garcia v. American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 153-154 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider whether activities related to the collection of sales tax are "in the conduct of trade or commerce" as contemplated by Pennsylvania's consumer protection law)*
Commonwealth v. Kurtz, 289-291 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the legality of a search warrant for an unspecified individual's internet searches)
Elite v. Premier, 156 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider legality of medical care provider's attempt to avoid workers compensation cost-containment provisions by proceeding elsewhere)
Martin v. Donegal Twp., et al., 93 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider the constitutionality of a reduction-in-supervisors provision of the Second Class Township Code)
Commonwealth v. Strunk, 54 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the validity of a conviction for unlawful contact with a minor based on post-offense conduct)
Pottstown SD v Montgomery Co Bd, 120 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the Commonwealth Court's determination that a hospital paid an executive substantial compensation, precluding a real estate tax benefit)
Uni of Pgh, et al v. Herold, 94 WAL 2023 (granting review to consider the scope of the exclusivity provisions of the Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act)
Matos v. Geisinger Medical Center, 192-193 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the scope of the purported right of action under the Mental Health Procedures Act in voluntary inpatient scenarios)
Commonwealth v. Lear, 240-242 MAL 2023 (granting review to consider the Commonwealth's due diligence requirement under Pa.R.Crim.P. 600 during the initial stage of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic)
As election month is now upon us, we would be remiss to not remind readers of their opportunity to elect our state's newest Supreme Court justice on November 7th. Read more about the candidates here.
* This author is among counsel for the Petitioner in these matters.