(412) 329-7751

November 2019 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | Dec 01, 2019 | 0 Comments

This month, the Court issued 12 precedential opinions (linked below) and 7 orders granting allocatur.

On the opinion side, the court is continuing its course of protecting (or arguably expanding) the rights of civil plaintiffs and criminal defendants against corporate and governmental institutions alike. Indeed, its decisions this month come down on the side of a flight attendant over a national airline, a mentally ill criminal suspect against a popular attorney general engaged in one of the most popular prosecutions of one of the gravest criminal scandals of our time, and a citizen waging a campaign against Harrisburg's recent gun control efforts over our state capital itself. But the big show this month is clearly Davis, which holds that a criminal defendant may not be compelled to reveal a password to his encrypted computer consistent with his Privilege Against Self-Incrimination pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Although this author happens to agree with the decision for the reasons Justice Todd explains in her majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Saylor and Justices Donohue and Wecht, there is clearly room for reasonable disagreement, as evidenced by Justice Baer's dissent, joined by Justices Dougherty and Mundy. Although predicting whether a case will reach the United States Supreme Court is always a fool's game, I have a strong feeling the Commonwealth is considering a trip to Washington.

On the allocatur side, there are a lot of what I call housekeeping cases: appeals involving extremely narrow doctrinal exceptions (or exceptions to exceptions, or so on) which are not often repeated, but which the Court may want to definitively resolve for the bench and bar. That said, one case lawyers might want to keep an eye on is Raynor, in which the court will determine if a non-party attorney can maintain an action for another party's wrongful use of civil process under the Dragonetti Act arising out of the other party's vexatious request for a finding of contempt and sanctions. It's not exactly a perfect fit for the statutory text, but it may serve to calm some of the more rambunctious members of the civil bar.

Precedential Opinions

  • US Airways, Inc. v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Bockelman), 35 WAP 2018 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (holding that an airline employee injured on a union-negotiated, airport-provided employee shuttle could maintain an action against the airline for workers' compensation)

  • Estate of Wilson v. State Employees' Retirement Board, 21 WAP 2018 (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (holding that state employees' requests to change retirement plan options and beneficiaries are not effective upon mailing, but, rather, upon receipt)

  • Assouline v. Reynolds, 5 WAP 2019 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding that an action by the purchaser of a sheriff-sold home who wishes to expel its former owners and occupants may not do so via an action for eviction in magisterial district court, but, rather, must do so via an action for ejectment in a court of common pleas)

  • In re: Fortieth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, 85 WM 2018 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding that mental health treatment reports regarding the subjects of investigating grand juries are not subject to public disclosure under state law and may not be included in an ensuing grand jury report)

  • Chevalier, et al. v. General Nutrition Centers, Inc., 22 & 23 WAP 2018 (Opinion by Baer, J.) (holding that employers may not use a “fluctuating work week” to calculate salaried workers' entitlement to overtime pay pursuant to the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act)

  • Sayles v. Travelers Insurance Co., 59 & 59 MAP 2018 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding that insurer-drafted policy provisions requiring insureds to submit to “independent” medical examinations by insurer-chosen physicians at insurer-chosen times are void as contrary to public policy, specifically provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law designed to protect the actual independence of insurance medical examinations)

  • In re Risperdal Litigation, 22 & 23 EAP 2018 (Opinion by Donohue, J.) (reversing summary judgment in a case where a genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether the plaintiffs were on notice as to their injuries)

  • Commonwealth v. Mock, 68 MAP 2018 (Opinion by Mundy, J.) (holding that the sentencing enhancement for DUI with prior offenses within 10 years applies not to occurrences of DUI within the relevant 10 years, but, rather, to convictions for DUI within that period)

  • Commonwealth v. Smith, 73 MAP 2018 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding that a conviction for possession of a firearm with an altered serial number requires evidence of some alteration or obliteration of the serial number)

  • Commonwealth v. Davis, 56 MAP 2018 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding a criminal defendant may not be compelled to reveal his password to his encrypted computer consistent with his Privilege Against Self Incrimination pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution)

  • Sutton et al. v. Bickell, 4 MAP 2019 (Opinion by Saylor, C.J.) (holding a prison rule requiring certain types of boots to be surrendered or sent to prisoners' homes did not violate their constitutional rights to procedural or substantive due process, and that the establishment of the rule was within the scope of the prisons' statutory sovereign immunity and did not violate Pennsylvania consumer laws)

    • See also Dissenting Opinion by Wecht, J.

  • City of Harrisburg v. Prince, J-43-2019 (Opinion by Donohue, J.) (holding that a list of donors to a fund for the defense of a Harrisburg gun control ordinance was a financial record and therefore required to be disclosed pursuant to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, but remanding for further consideration as to whether disclosure would violate the donors' state constitutional right to privacy)

Allocatur Grants

  • In re J.W.B., 566 MAL 2019 (granting review to determine whether a Colorado-resident father's consent to the adoption of his children was properly revoked despite its failure to comply with a requirement under Pennsylvania law that he revoke it within 30 days because there is no such requirement under Colorado law)

  • Commonwealth v. Baker-Myers, 193 WAL 2019 (granting review to consider whether a conviction for corruption of minors based on the defendant's aiding and abetting the minor's commission of a crime may stand despite his acquittal of the underlying crime)

  • Estate of Benyo v. Breidenbach, 334 MAL 2019 (granting review to consider whether a court order directing transfer of ERISA-exempt police retirement benefits violates anti-alienation provisions of the Municipal Police Pension Law)

  • Raynor v. D'annunzio, et al. 300-301 EAL 2019 (granting review to consider whether a non-party attorney may maintain an action pursuant to the Dragonetti Act for a client's opponent's wrongful request for a finding of contempt and sanctions)

  • Commonwealth v. Ballentine, 379 MAL 2019 (granting review to consider whether a sentence of restitution in favor of a non-profit entity is valid despite being entered prior to a recent amendment to the Sentencing Code providing for such sentences)

  • In the Interest of D.R., et al., 296-299 WAL 2019 (granting review of whether the Superior Court improperly vacated an order directing parents involved in a child-dependency action to provide a urine sample for drug testing)

  • McMichael v. McMichael, 147-148 WAL 2019 (granting review of whether a jury in a wrongful death action may find liability but award zero damages)

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...


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Woods Law Offices Is Here for You

At Woods Law Offices, we focus on Appeals, Attorney consulting, Criminal/DUI Defense, and Referrals and we are here to listen to you and help you navigate the legal system.

Secure Online Payments

Make a Payment

(412) 324-3577 (fax)
Mon: 08:00am - 05:00pm
Tue: 08:00am - 05:00pm
Wed: 08:00am - 05:00pm
Thu: 08:00am - 05:00pm
Fri: 08:00am - 05:00pm