A A Email Print Share

Summary of Caselaw - 2009

Methodological Provisions:

Fumo v. City of Philadelphia, 972 A.2d 487 (Pa. 2009): per Castille, C.J., the Court held that legislative standing is present only when there is "a discernable and palpable infringement on...authority as legislators" alleged; applying that standard, the Court upheld standing to challenge a city issuance of gaming license on submerged lands, but held there was no standing to challenge other aspects of city gaming license decisions.  The Court also denied taxpayer standing.  (McCaffery, J., concurred in result in part).

NRA v. City of Philadelphia, 977 A.2d 78 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2009): per Leadbetter, P.J., the court held that plaintiff gun owners lacked standing to challenge three city ordinances regulating firearms in the context of imminent danger, protection from abuse and reporting lost or stolen guns; the court struck down on preemption grounds city ordinances prohibiting possession of assault weapons and banning straw gun purchasing.  Accord, NRA v. City of Pittsburgh, 999 A.2d 1256 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2010).

Nykiel v. Borough of Sharpsburg, 2009 WL 1549535 (W.D.Pa. 6/2/2009): the court, per Lancaster, C.J., held that there is no private cause of action for money damages for violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution, citing both Commonwealth Court and federal court precedent, but noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue.

Article I. Declaration of Rights

    Section 7: Freedom of Press and Speech

DePaul v. Commonwealth et al., 969 A.2d 536 (Pa. 2009): per Castille, J., the Court held Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (4 Pa.C.S. § 1513), which attempted to impose an absolute ban on political contributions on persons affiliated with licensed gaming in Pennsylvania, unconstitutional under Article I, Section 7 to the extent that it prohibited contributions of any amount. (McCaffery, J. dissented).

    Section 8: Search and Seizure

Commonwealth v. Basking, 970 A.2d 1181 (Pa.Super. 2009): applying a full Edmunds analysis, the panel, per Allen, J., adopted the federal the apparent authority exception to the warrant requirement and held that the rights secured by Article I, Section 8 are no greater than those provided under the Fourth Amendment.

    Section 9: Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions

Commonwealth v. Atkinson, 987 A.2d 743 (Pa. Super. 2009): the panel, per Freedberg, J., reaffirmed that Confrontation Clause protections are the same under the Pennsylvania and federal Constitutions and held that the use of video testimony at a suppression hearing violated both constitutions in the absence of case-specific findings of necessity; however, the court found harmless error in regard to the Confrontation violations.

    Section 27: Environmental Protection

Belden & Blake Corp. v. Commonwealth, 969 A.2d 528 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Eakin, J., held that an obligation under Article I, Section 27 as trustee of public resources does not grant to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources the authority to impose a coordination agreement on an owner of mineral rights inside a state park.  (Saylor & Todd, J.J. dissented).

    Section 28: The Equal Rights Amendment

Weaver v. Hapster, 975 A.2d 555 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Baer, J., held that Section 28 does not create a common law claim under the public-policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine for sex discrimination by a private employer not covered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.  (Todd, J., joined by Castille, C.J. dissented).

Article II. The Legislature

    Section 1: Delegation

Association of Settlement Companies v. Department of Banking, 977 A.2d 1257 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2009): per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the court overruled preliminary objections to various constitutional challenges to the Debt Management Services Act; the court held unconstitutional as applied to Debt Settlement Services (DSS) Providers, Act 117's delegation of power to the Department of Banking to regulate and set fees for DSS Providers. (Smith-Ribner, J. dissented on ripeness grounds).

    Section 8: Compensation

Stilp v. Commonwealth, 974 A.2d 491 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Todd, J., affirmed dismissal of challenge to legislative cost of living adjustments, expense allowances and other benefits as not beyond the "salary and mileage" to which Section 8 limits legislative compensation. (Saylor, J., concurred in the result).

Article III. Legislation

    Section 3: Single Subject Rule

Spahn v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 977 A.2d 1132 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Castille, J., upheld the State legislature's amendment of the First Class City Home Rule Act limiting standing in zoning appeals to remove taxpayer standing that had been granted by Philadelphia's Zoning Ordinance; the Court held that access to the courts is not a an issue of purely local concern, but a matter of statewide concern, and that the amendment did not violate the single subject rule under Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

    Section 24: Payment of Public Monies

Council 13, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees v. Commonwealth, 986 A.2d 63 (Pa. 2009): per Castille, C.J., the Court held that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act preempted Article III, Section 24 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, thus permitting the payment of wages to covered State employees despite a budget impasse that precludes the payment of wages through appropriation made by law (Greenspan, J. concurred in result and Saylor, J. concurred in part and dissented in part).

    Section 27: Changes in Term of Office or Salary Prohibited

Buckwalter v. Borough of Phoenixville, 985 A.2d 728 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Eakin, J., held that a municipal ordinance constitutes "law" for purposes of Section 27, overruling Baldwin v. City of Philadelphia, 99 Pa. 164 (1881), and therefore held unconstitutional a borough ordinance eliminating salary for borough council members under Article III, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  (Saylor, J. concurred).

Article V. The Judiciary

    Section 1: Separation of powers

Jefferson County Court Appointed Employees Assoc. v. Pa. Labor Relations Board, 985 A.2d 697 (Pa. 2009): per Baer, J., the Court held that the County violated the judiciary's constitutional right to hire, fire and supervise its employees when County Salary Board, in a cost-cutting move, eliminated five trial court employee positions.  (Eakin, J., dissented).

Hess v. County of Lehigh, 2009 WL 2461734 (E.D.Pa. 8/10/2009): per Golden, J., the court dismissed a federal due process claim by County Probation Officer in part because collective bargaining agreements with employees of Pennsylvania courts do not grant property interests because they are not enforceable under the separation of powers; the discharge of a judicial employee is an inherent judicial power under Pennsylvania law.

    Section 10(a): Supervisory Authority

Joseph v. The Scranton Times, 987 A.2d 633 (Pa. 2009): pursuant to its supervisory power over lower courts, in a case in which the Court had assumed plenary jurisdiction, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, per curiam, ordered a new trial because of the appearance of judicial impropriety in the first trial.  It bears noting that the order was not issued pursuant to the federal due process standard announced in Caperton v. Massey Coal Co., 690 S.E.2d 322 (W.Va. 2009), but pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

    Section 13(b): Vacancy Appointment by the Governor

Otter v. Cortés, 969 A.2d 1276 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009): the panel, per Leavitt, S.J., applied the ten-month rule for judicial vacancies strictly and refused to follow the single judge opinion in Brady v. Cortes, 872 A.2d 170 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2005), which had affirmed a per curiam order that allowed some vacancies to be filled even though they less than ten months before the next municipal election.

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

    Section 1: Uniformity

Clifton v. Allegheny County, 969 A.2d 1197 (Pa.2009): per Castille, C.J., the Court held unconstitutional, as a violation of the Tax Uniformity Clause, Article VIII, Section 1, the current base year property assessment system, as applied in Allegheny County. (Baer, J. concurred).

Article IX. Powers of Local Government

    Section 2: Home Rule

Spahn v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 977 A.2d 1132 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Castille, P.J., upheld State legislature's amendment of the First Class City Home Rule Act limiting standing in zoning appeals to remove taxpayer standing that had been granted by Philadelphia's Zoning Ordinance; the Court held that access to the courts is not an issue of purely local concern, but a matter of statewide concern, and therefore the amendment did not violate the single subject rule of the Pennsylvania Constitution.