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Summaries of Caselaw - 2002

Methodological Provisions:

Commonwealth v. Prout, 814 A.2d 693 (Pa. Super. 2002): Article V, Section 1, Superior Court decision repeating that Superior Court panels are bound by Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision notwithstanding prior ruling by en banc Superior Court.  In such an instance, no en banc Superior Court reconsideration of the prior ruling is needed.

Commonwealth v. Robins, 812 A.2d 514 (Pa. 2002): the Court granted relief to the defendant under the Sixth Amendment's right of confrontation and, for that reason, chooses not to reach the analogous Article I, section 9, issue.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court order allowing Robert Jubelirer to serve simultaneously as Lieutenant Governor, a member of the State Senate and President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, without oral argument and without opinion. See Caselaw, Lawless v. Jubelirer, 811 A.2d 974, (Pa. 2002). The court's per curiam order seems to have been drafted narrowly.

J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District, 794 A.2d 936 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): the Commonwealth Court held that the student was granted a full and fair opportunity to litigate the alleged violations of the student's constitutional rights, including state constitutional rights, in a prior expulsion proceeding, and thus the student's subsequent civil rights action against the school was barred by res judicata.

In the Interests of R.H., 791 A.2d 331 (Pa. 2002): plurality opinion, per Justice Nigro, holding that school police officers are subject to the requirements of Miranda warnings. Equally important, the plurality holds that once a case is decided on federal constitutional grounds, state constitutional grounds need not be discussed. See also PAP'S A.M. v. City of Erie, 719 A.2d 273 (1998), in which a plurality struck down a nude dancing ban on first amendment grounds, without reaching the Article I, section 7, issue. The United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded, 529 U.S. 277 (2000), and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court subsequently reinstated its earlier judgment of unconstitutionality, but on state constitution grounds. 812 A.2d 591 (Pa. 2002).

Article I. Declaration of Rights

Section 1--C & M Developers, Inc. v. Westminster Township Zoning Hearing Board, 820 A.2d 143, 2002 (Pa. 2002): zoning ordinance's one-acre minimum lot size struck down as not reasonable or substantially related to township's interest in preserving its agricultural lands and activities.

Carlacci v. Mazaleski, 798 A.2d 186 (Pa. 2002): per Zappala, C.J., held that there is a right grounded in due process and Article I, section 1, (reputation) of the Pennsylvania Constitution to petition for expungement of a dismissed protection from abuse proceeding, even in the absence of statutory authority.

Erfer v. Commonwealth, 794 A.2d 325 (Pa. 2002): court rejected a challenge to the General Assembly's redistricting plan redrawing federal congressional districts to comport with the results of the 2000 census as unconstitutional gerrymandering in violation of the equal protection guarantee and the free and equal elections clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Section 5--Erfer v. Commonwealth, 794 A.2d 325 (Pa. 2002). see Article I, section 1.

Section 7--Pap's A.M. v. City of Erie, 812 A.2d 591, (Pa. 2002): per Justice Castille. On remand, a City ban on nude erotic dancing was struck down under Article I, section 7, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The United States Supreme Court had upheld the ban against a First Amendment challenge. Commonwealth Court continues to regard Pap's A.M. as not changing the basic constitutional analysis pursuant to Article I, section 7. In Piatek v. Pulaski Township, 828 A.2d 1164, (Pa. Super. 2003), the court upheld restrictions on a sexually oriented business under authority of precedents pre-dating Pap's A.M. and did not mention Pap's.

Section 8--Commonwealth v. Perry, 798 A.2d 697 (Pa. 2002): potential threat of harm to police from loaded weapon in running vehicle justified warrantless search even in absence of occupants. There was no majority opinion.

Section 9--Commonwealth v. Haag, 809 A.2d 271 (Pa. 2002): upholding, against due process challenge, order requiring "next friend" who filed PCRA petition on behalf of incompetent criminal defendant to proceed with PCRA litigation.

Section 20--Wawa Inc. v. Alexander J. Litwornia & Associates, 2001 WL 1861377, 54 Pa. D. & C. 4th 375 (Pa.Com.Pl., December 24, 2001): defendants were entitled to the dismissal of plaintiff's action against them for various business tort claims because plaintiff's action was a SLAPP suit filed in retaliation for defendants' opposition to its plan to open convenience stores. Reversed by Superior Court, February 11, 2003, 2003 WL 282808.

Section 27--White v. Township of Upper St. Clair, 799 A.2d 188 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): Article I, section 27, provides taxpayers and residents standing to enforce terms of dedication of public park.

Article II. The Legislature

Section 7--Commonwealth ex rel. Baldwin v. Fisher, 809 A.2d 348 (Pa. 2002): affirmed, per curiam, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County removing a jury commissioner from office after conviction of theft by unlawful taking. Justice Saylor dissented.

Article IV. The Executive

Section 14--Lawless v. Jubelirer, 814 A.2d 974 (Pa. 2002): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court per curiam, without opinion and without oral argument, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court allowing Robert Jubelirer to serve simultaneously as Lieutenant Governor, a State Senator and President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate. Justices Zappala and Nigro dissented from both the decision and from the failure to grant oral argument.

Section 17--Venesky v. Ridge, 789 A.2d 862 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): the Court held that the Governor, as appointing power, could remove the Game Commissioner at will without violating either the Pennsylvania Constitution, Game and Wildlife Code or Administrative Code, in absence of statutory language indicating legislative intent to limit power of removal.

Article V. The Judiciary

Section 10--Payne v. Commonwealth Department of Corrections, 813 A.2d 918 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): in a wide-ranging decision, the court struck down a provision of the Pennsylvania Prison Litigation Reform Act that prohibits inmate litigation without payment of filing fee as violative of Pa.R.C.P. 240 and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's rulemaking authority. The court upheld other provisions of the Act, including the "three strikes provision", allowing dismissal of prison condition litigation as a jurisdictional limitation that does not compel dismissal and does not violate the separation of powers. The court also upheld Department of Corrections incoming publication policy and certain 1998 amendments to Pennsylvania obscenity law relating to obscene material in state prisons.

In re Appeal of Rolf Larsen, 812 A.2d 640 (Pa. Spec. Trib. 2002): although upholding other aspects of proceedings against former Justice of Pennsylvania Supreme Court, The Special Tribunal reversed Justice Larsen's disbarment by the Court of Judicial Discipline on the ground that the authority to disbar resides exclusively on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Gmerek v. State Ethics Commission, 807 A.2d 812 (Pa. 2002): equally divided court fails to overturn Commonwealth Court opinion invalidating the Lobbying Disclosure Act as violative of Article V, section 10, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which grants authority to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to regulate the conduct of lawyers. The Act provided for nonseverability were a court to hold that the Act could not be applied to lawyer/lobbyists (Castille, J., and Zappala, J., joined by Cappy, J. for affirmance; Saylor, J., joined by Nigro, J., and Newman, J., for reversal).

Section 10(c)--Bold Corporation v. County of Lancaster, 801 A.2d 469 (Pa. 2002): invalidates Philadelphia Local Rule 212.2, which provided for trial costs to be assessed for a party's failure to settle, as violative of Pennsylvania Supreme Court's exclusive power to establish rules of procedure under Article V, section 10(c).

Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Jepsen, 787 A.2d 420 (Pa. 2002): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the authority to disbar a district justice for misconduct in the practice of law pursuant to Article V, section 10(c), of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which grants the Supreme Court the exclusive power to supervise the conduct of attorneys. The court further held that the fact the Court of Judicial Discipline is also authorized to discipline judicial officers pursuant to Article V, section 18, of the Pennsylvania Constitution in no way abrogates the constitutionality conferred powers of the Supreme Court in disciplinary cases.

Section 18--See In re Appeal of Rolf Larsen, supra, (Article V, section 10).

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

Section 1--Golden Eagle Construction Company, Inc. v. Commonwealth, 813 A.2d 13 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): rejected uniformity challenge to distinction imposing sales or use tax on contractors who purchase stone to make asphalt for Department of Transportation highway project and contractors who use their own stone. "Rational[ity]" standard applied to uphold the distinction.

Devlin v. City of Philadelphia, 809 A.2d 980 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): enactment by Philadelphia of same-sex life partnership ordinance exceeded City's authority and legislated in State-preempted field; exemption of same-sex life partnerships from local realty transfer tax violates constitutional tax uniformity requirements.

Section 2--Community Options, Inc. v. Board of Property Assessment, 813 A.2d 680 (Pa. 2002): the Supreme Court, Zappala, CJ, held nonprofit corporation which owned and operated group homes for mentally retarded relieved the government of some of its burden of caring for mentally disabled residents, and thus qualified as a "purely public charity" under the state constitution for purposes of being granted a property tax exemption .

Borough of Homestead v. St. Mary Magdalen Church, 798 A.2d 823 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): court held that a former Catholic High School, now operated as an office building with profit and nonprofit licensees, whose missions involve helping the unemployed and generating new local businesses, is an institution of purely local charity for purpose of constitutional standards of tax exemption.

Article IX. Local Government

Section 2--See Devlin v. City of Philadelphia, supra (Article VIII, section 1).

Section 4--Wecht v. Roddey, 815 A.2d 1146 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): administrative Code of Allegheny County binds independently elected office of Coroner.

Article XI. Amendments

Section 1: Proposal and Adoption

Mellow v. Pizzingrilli, 800 A.2d 350 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): the court upheld the amendment of Article II, Section 17 (providing for election of a new State Senator when reapportionment creates a Senate district without a resident State Senator) against various challenges to the amendment process, including holding amendment was not, in and of itself, two separate amendments, and did not violate single amendment rule; Attorney General's plain English statement regarding constitutional amendment on ballot was proper, even though two joint resolutions of proposed amendments did not contain identical language.