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September 2020 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | Sep 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

This month, the Court issued 4 precedential opinions (linked below) and 6 orders granting allocatur.

On the opinion side, two big elections cases this month. In Pennsylvania Democratic Party,the Court faced several questions concerning the Commonwealth's new no-excuse mail-in (or hand-in) voting regime. First, on the issue of whether counties may use absentee ballot "drop boxes," the court found that the election provisions directing voters to return ballots to their "county board of election" was ambiguous as to whether that meant the principal office of the board or, more generally, *to* them. The Court resolved the ambiguity noting the fundamental nature of the right to vote and the strong policy goal and legislative intent in creating no-excuse mail-in voting of encouraging participation. counseled toward the latter interpretation On this issue, Chief Justice Saylor, joined by Justice Mundy, dissented, reasoning that drop boxes undermined the General Assembly's clear preference to avoid third-party handling of votes. Next, the court extended the mail-in ballot deadline by three days, essentially reasoning that COVID-19 and concomitant mail delays constitute a natural disaster implicating other provisions of the code permitting natural-disaster-based diversions from otherwise-strict election provisions. Justice Donohue, joined by Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Mundy, dissented on this point, noting the holding undermined the legislative intent that the election conclude at 8 p.m. on Election Night. Finally, the court rejected efforts to require that voters who submit defective ballots get notice and an opportunity to cure the defects, to require that elections officials "clothe and count" so-called "naked ballots," or ballots that do not satisfy security-envelope requirements in the mail-in voting law, and to permit out-of-county poll watchers, noting that each was a regulatory matter within the General Assembly's province as the legislature.

In Scroggin, the Court held that, because the initial Green Party nominee for president filed only a faxed and incomplete copy of her candidate's affidavit, as opposed to the actual affidavit, and never actually sent the actual affidavit, she was never a duly nominated candidate, and so the ensuing efforts to substitute the new Green Party nominee, Howie Hawkins, were essentially moot. Chief Justice Saylor, joined by Chief Justice Mundy, made the case that the General Assembly previously eliminated statutory language allowing for challenges on the basis of candidate affidavits (and that he'd consider the issue in the future) and, with it, court discretion to allow candidates to cure problems with affidavits. The Chief suggested that a remand to the Commonwealth Court to consider whether to allow the candidate to file the actual affidavit would thus be appropriate.

On the allocatur side, the Court in Leadbitter will address an order requiring the disclosure of medical records from the files of a credentialing committee for compliance with federal and state medical records laws, and, in Cobbs, will address the validity of former juvenile lifers' convictions for assault by a life prisoner. The former case could conceivably affect every plaintiff who files a medical malpractice action thereafter; the latter, a considerably less numerous universe of whatever number of Pennsylvania's roughly 500 juvenile lifers who happened to be charged, tried, and convicted of that offense. That said, former juvenile lifers already face steep sentences that may well result in their dying in prison, and the offense of assault by a life prisoner carries a shockingly high and presumably consecutive sentence equivalent to that of a conviction for second-degree murder. In other words, a former juvenile lifer could convicted of the offense could face another term of up to life imprisonment. Thus, although the case may effect very few, it may nevertheless permit those few to someday see the light of day.

Precedential Opinions

  • Commonwealth v. Hill, 36 WAP 2019 (Opinion by Baer, J.) (holding that a claim that multiple convictions for DUI offenses arising out of the same act violates the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy does not itself implicate the legality of sentencing and, thus, is waivable, whereas a challenge to the sentence itself as violative of double jeopardy does implicate the legality of sentencing and, thus is nonwaivable)

  • In re: Nomination Papers of Scroggin, 55 MAP 2020 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (holding that Green-Party candidate Elizabeth Scroggin's failure to file a candidate's affidavit was a fatal defect to her nomination as a candidate for president, and, thus, precluded substitution of Howie Hawkins as the nominee)

  • Pa. Democratic Party v. Bockvar, 133 MM 2020 (Opinion by Baer, J.) (holding that no-excuse mail-in votes may be returned to drop boxes, imposing a three-day extension of time for receipt of mail-in votes, and rejecting attempts to require local elections officials to provide mail-in voters who return defective ballots notice and an opportunity to cure the defects, to require them to “clothe and count” so-called “naked” ballots that do not meet certain security standards, and to allow out-of-county poll watchers)

  • Nicole B. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 16 EAP 2019 (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding that the equitable tolling principles of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act apply where a minor's parents fail to file an administrative complaint prior to the minor's majority)

Allocatur Grants

  • In re: Petition for Formation of Independent School District, 224 & 230 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider the Commonwealth Court's review of the Secretary of Education's review of the educational merits of a proposed transfer of geographical area between school districts where the Secretary determined the educational merits of the transfer were outweighed by the transfer's financial impacts)

  • K.N.B. v. M.D., 64 WAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether actions under the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act are subject to a six-year statute of limitation and the quantum of evidence necessary to support a protective order thereunder)

  • Commonwealth v. Cobbs, 165 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether juvenile lifer's conviction for assault by a life prisoner is infirm because his life sentence was declared unconstitutional under Miller and he was resentenced to a term of 40 years to life imprisonment)

  • Leadbitter v. Keyston Anesthesia Consultants, Ltd., 86 WAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether disclosure of certain healthcare records violates the Pennsylvania Peer Review Protection Act and/or the Federal Healthcare Quality Improvement Act)

  • Domus, Inc. v. Signature Building Sys. of Pa., LLC, 101 MAL 2020(granting review to determine whether failure to authenticate a foreign judgment pursuant to Pennsylvania's Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act deprives a trial court of subject matter jurisdiction)

  • Keystone RX, LLC v. Bureau of Workers' Comp. Fee Review Hearing Office (Compservices, Inc.), 93 & 94 EAL 2020 (granting review to review a Commonwealth Court decision granting pharmacies, medical testing facilities, and medical product providers a right to intervene in certain Workers' Compensation fee review determinations)

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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