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Pennsylvania Constitution -Summaries of Current Caselaw

Recent Court Decisions (2013-2014)

Article I. Declaration of Rights

Section 1: Due Process

MCT Transportation, Inc. v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 60 A.3d 899 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013): per Leavitt, J., the court held that Section 5707(b) of the Parking Authority Law was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power because the General Assembly failed to establish standard for the Parking Authority with regard to setting spending limits and fees in violation of the separation of powers. The court also held that the statute violated due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because there is no opportunity for taxicab companies to challenge the fee that they must pay to stay in business, which has the effect of condemning property without a hearing.

Section 5: Elections

Applewhite v. Commonwealth, --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 184988 (Pa. Cmwlth. January 17, 2014): per McGinley, J., the court held that the Voter ID law, Act 18, unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote afforded by Article 1, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, but does not violate the equal protection provided Sections 1 and 26 of the state constitution.

Section 6: Trial by Jury

Commonwealth v. Real Property and Improvements at 2338 N. Beechwood Street Philadelphia, PA 19132, --- A.3d ---, 2013 WL 1360084 (Pa.Cmwlth. April 5, 2013)(No. 631 C.D. 2012): per Cohn Jubelirer, J., the court held that Rule 1007.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure concerning waiver of a jury trial does not apply where due process concerns are implicated by a quasi-criminal proceeding under the Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act when claimant's personal residence could be forfeited. Claimant had not been convicted in any criminal proceeding with regard to drug arrests made at the property, and was not informed of her right to a jury trial under Article I, Section 6 in an in rem proceeding pursuant to the Forfeiture Act. The trial court had held that she waived that right under the Rules of Civil Procedure. The court vacated and remanded based on subsequent precedent that was made by the court concerning the quasi-criminal nature of forfeiture proceedings.  Judge Simpson concurred in the result only.  Judge Pellegrini wrote a concurring opinion in which he listed other rights that a person facing forfieture of property has before the hearing.

Section 8: Search and Seizure

Commonwealth v. Lyles, 2014 WL 3579690 (Pa. July 21, 2014): per Eakin, J., held that suppression of drug evidence found on a Defendant should not be suppressed under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The drugs were discovered when a police officer removed the Defendant's hand from his pants pocket while the officer was inspecting the Defendant's ID. The court held that the Defendant could not reasonably believe that he was not free to leave under the circumstances and had therefore not been detained by the officer and that their interaction could only be seen as a mere encounter. In dissent, Justice Saylor stated that "the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that no seizure occurs where an officer stops a citizen, takes possession of an identification card, and later explains that the citizen was not free to leave in the circumstances." In dissent, Justice Saylor wrote that the defendant could not have reasonably believed he was free to leave.

Commonwealth v. Gary, --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 1686766 (Pa. Apr. 29, 2014): per McCaffery, J., the court held that the federal automobile exception will apply to warrantless searches of motor vehicles under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Therefore, police need only probable cause when conducting such a search.

Commonwealth v. Dunnavant, --- A.3d ---, 2013 WL 696500 (Pa. Super. February 27, 2013)(No. 1046 WDA 2012): per Shogan, J., the court upheld the order granted the suppression motion of the defendant with regard to silent video stills taken when a confidential informant was in the defendant's home. These video stills of the inside of the home were obtained without a warrant and therefore, were in violation of the right to privacy in the home and in depictions of the home under both the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Section 10: Initiation of Criminal Proceedings; Twice in Jeopardy; Eminent Domain

Commonwealth v. Ball, WL 3670023 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 24, 2014): per Musmanno, J., the court held that a retrial on a charge that was dropped against the defendant by a Magisterial District Court judge after hearing evidence at a hearing and dismissing the charges was barred by the prohibition against Double Jeopardy under Art. I, §10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In making the ruling, the court observed that under Pennsylvania Double Jeopardy "jeopardy attaches when a defendant stands before a tribunal where guilt or innocence will be determined" and thus, provides more protection than the Federal Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment.

Commonwealth v. Perez, --- A.3d---, 2014 PA Super 142 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 9, 2014): per Mundy, J., held that new registration requirements under Pennsylvania's SORNA statute are constitutional under Pennsylvania's and federal government's ex post facto clauses. When analyzing Pennsylvania's ex post facto clause under Article I, §10 of the State Constitution, the court found that the appellants did "not include the required Edmunds analysis to consider whether . . . the Pennsylvania Constitution would provide higher ex post facto protections."

Section 11: Courts to be Open; Suits Against the Commonwealth

Telwell, Inc. v. Pub. Sch. Employees' Ret. Sys., 88 A.3d 1079 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Jubelirer, J., the court held that "the clear and unambiguous language of" 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 102(f.1) gave the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) "sovereign immunity pursuant" to Article 1, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 1702(b) for suits involving loans made by the agency.

Friends of Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School v. Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals, 61 A.3d 354 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013): per Jubelirer, J., the court held that the retroactive application of 24 P.S.C. § 1722 A(e)(3) would be a violation of Article I, Section 11 because it would impermissibly eliminate a vested right in a tax lien on property that had already been accrued by reversing the obligation to pay those real estate taxes that had already been paid.

Section 13: Bails, Fines and Punishments

Commonwealth v. Batts, --- A.3d ---, 2013 WL 1200252 (March 26, 2013)(N0. 79 MAP 2009): per Saylor, J., the Court held that, juvenile offenders who had a non-final judgment of sentence for murder as off the issuance of Miller v. Alabama, are subject to the mandatory maximum sentence of life imprisonment under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(a) with the minimum sentence to be determined by the common pleas court upon resentencing. Juveniles who were convicted on or after the date when Miller was decided are subject to higher mandatory minimum standards and the possibility of life without parole under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102.1, upon evaluation by the sentencing court using the guidelines identified in Miller. The Court also held that life without parole for a juvenile offender was not cruel and unusual punishment under Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Justice Bear wrote a concurring opinion in which he expressed his belief that for the purposes of uniformity in sentencing, the trial court should apply the new statue upon resentencing for appellants whose conviction pre-dated Miller.

Section 17: Ex Post Facto Laws

Berkhimer v. State Employees' Retirement Board, 60 A. 3d 873 (Pa.Cmwlth 2013): per McCullough, J., the court rejected claims made by petitioner, a former judge who had been subject to disciplinary action for using improper language with staff that included sexual connotations, that the forfeiture of his pension was an unconstitutional impairment of his retirement contract under Article I. Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and that the forfeiture was a violation of Article V, Section 16(a) prohibiting diminution of judicial salaries during a judge's term in office.  There was no impairment of a contract because, when a public official begins each new term in office, he or she renews the pension contract to include the new term in public service.  The renewal of the contract after the 1993 amendments relating to forfeiture put all earnings at risk.  Additionally, there was no ex post facto violation of Article I, Section 17 due to the forfeiture.  Finally, there was no impermissible diminution of judicial salary, because the forfeiture of a pension takes place after the term in office.

Section 27: Natural Resources and the Public Estate

Robinson Twp. v. Commonwealth, 2014 WL 3511722 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 17, 2014): per Pellegrini, J., on remand from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, held that various sections of Act 13 did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution as special laws or under the single subject rule, but also held that these sections were not severable from the parts of the act that the State Supreme Court held unconstitutional and thus enjoined their application and enforcement. Those sections included one that required notice to public, but not private water systems in the event of a spill and another that concerned the obligations of the energy companies to disclose contents of their chemicals to physicians when treating people as a result of exposure of those chemicals. The one section that was held to be severable was one which set limitations on local oil and gas ordinances.

Section 28: Prohibition Against Denial or Abridgment of Equality of Rights because of Sex

Beattie v. Line Mountain School Dist., --- F.Supp.2d ---- 2014 WL 131637 (United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania. January 13, 2014): per Brann, Matthew W., District Judge, the court held that the Pennsylvania Constitution's Equal Protection clause requires a showing that gender classifications "must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capabilities, or preferences of Males and Females." For that reason, the school board must show genuine justification explaining why prohibiting a girl from competing on boy's wrestling team is not based purely on gender classifications and substantially related to an important government interest. The court finds that the proposed government interests fail to meet this standard and grants an injunction prohibiting the school board from interfering with the child's joining of the wrestling team.

Article II. The Legislature

Section 1: Delegation

MCT Transportation, Inc. v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 60 A.3d 899 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013): see Article I, Section 1 above.

Article III. Legislation

Section 1: Passage of Laws

Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners v. Commonwealth, (Pa. March 14, 2013): per Baer, J., reversed the Commonwealth Court and held that the law allowing counties to eliminate the office of jury commissioner was unconstitutional because it violated the single-subject rule of Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The law had been added as an amendment to a bill relating to the sale of personal property by electronic auction and surplus farm equipment.  The Court found that, although the label of "powers of county commissioners" was not overbroad, the elimination of the office of jury commissioner by county commissioners was a completely unrelated legislative act. 

Section 27: Changes in Term of Office or Salary Prohibited

Meade v. City of Philadelphia, --- A.3d ---, 2013 WL 1136833 (Pa.Cmwlth. March 20, 2013): per McGinley, J., the court held that Appellees Nigro and Goldsmith, appointed members of the Board of the Revision of Taxes, were public officers within the meaning of Article III, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because their duties were set by statute, they were appointed for a fixed term, their duties were quasi-judicial in character, and the Board's services are an essential part of the taxation system for real estate. As a result, the diminution of the compensation of Nigro and Goldsmith in the middle of their term was in violation of Article III, Section 27.

Section 32: Special Legislation

Williams v. Corbett, --- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2012 WL 6808575 (M.D. Pa. January 9, 2013): court, per Jones III, J., invokes abstention pursuant to Burford v. Sun Oil, Co., to refrain from deciding plaintiffs' "special laws" claim because state law review is available and the challenge to Pennsylvania's Financially Distressed Municipalities Act involves "difficult questions" of purely state law or policy.

Article V. The Judiciary

Section 16(a): Compensation and Retirement of Justices, Judges and Justices of the Peace

Berkhimer v. State Employees' Retirement Board, 60 A. 3d 873 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013): See Article I, Section 17.

Article VI. Public Officers

Section 7: Removal of Civil Officers

In re Humane Society of Harrisburg Area, Inc., --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 2534923 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Leadbetter, J., held that a DUI offence by Humane Society police officer committed five years before he was appointed was not an "infamous crime" under Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Judge Leadbetter held that the DUI conviction was not "a felony, a crimen falsi offense, or a like offense involving the charge or falsehood that affects the public administration of justice."

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

Section 1: Uniformity

Weissenberger v. Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals, 62 A.3d 501 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013): per Simpson, J., the court held that the appeal taken by the school district to the board, which resulted in an increased assessment on two properties of taxpayer, was not a violation of the Uniformity Clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution because the taxpayer did not show that any of the other properties in the school district were under-assessed. The court also held that the school district's choice to appeal only the assessments of taxpayer did not constitute "deliberate, purposeful discrimination in violation of the Uniformity Clause." (Judge Leavitt dissented, finding that other similarly situated properties within the county and the school district were not appealed. As a result, taxpayers assessment value is higher than similarly situated complexes in the county.)

Berks County Tax Collection Committee v. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, 60 A.3d 589 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013): per Pelligrini, J., holding that where one taxpayer earns income both inside and outside of the City of Philadelphia, thus paying EIT on the portion earned within the city, he is not similarly situated with another taxpayer who earns all his income outside the city and is not subject to the non-resident EIT. Thus, there is no violation of the Uniformity Clause.