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Summaries of Caselaw - 2003

Methodological Provisions:

Wert v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 821 A.2d 182 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held that Pennsylvania constitutional claims presented in conclusory fashion, in a footnote, cannot be addressed because such a presentation does not explain the basis for the legal claim as required by Pa.R.A.P 2119(a).

Article I. Declaration of Rights

    Section 1: Due Process

In re Appeal of Realen Valley Forge Greenes Associates From the Decision of the Zoning Hearing Board of Upper Merion Township, 838 A.2d 718 (Pa. 2003): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that agricultural zoning, designed to prevent development of property and to "freeze" its substantially undeveloped state to serve the public interest as "green space", constituted unlawful reverse spot zoning.

Nixon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, 839 A.2d 277 (Pa. 2003): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Older Adults Protective Services Act, which disqualified certain persons with criminal records from employment in facilities catering to older adults, as violating the due process right to pursue particular occupation, under Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

    Section 6: Trial by Jury

Mishoe v. Erie Insurance Company, 824 A.2d 1153, (Pa. 2003): the Court held that there is neither a statutory nor a constitutional right to a jury trial in an action by an insured against an insurance company for bad faith failure to pay pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. section 8371.

Commonwealth v. White, 818 A.2d 555 (Pa. Super. 2003): the court held that the trial court's denial of Commonwealth's right to a jury trial is reviewable on appeal by the Superior Court; the Commonwealth may oppose and prevent a plea by defendant to murder generally under Pa.R.Crim.P. 509(c).

    Section 7: Free Expression

Uniontown Newspapers v. Roberts, 839 A.2d 185 (Pa. 2003): Uniontown Newspapers attempted to obtain copies of Representative Roberts telephone records, alleging that it had the right to the telephone records pursuant to common law, state and federal constitutions.  In concluding that Uniontown Newspapers had no right to the records under Article I, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Court held that although Article 1, Section 7 "may be read to protect the right to publish information about the Legislature, it has not been so broadly interpreted to include a heightened right to gather information from the Legislature"; and that Article 1, section 7, "provides no more expansive rights of the press to access information than the First Amendment."

In re Condemnation by Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, 823 A.2d 1086 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court upheld a declaration of a taking of an adult movie theater pursuant to multi-million dollar project to redevelop blighted area. The court held that Pap's A.M. v. City of Erie, 812 A.2d 591 (2002), which interpreted Article I, Section 7, more broadly than the federal First Amendment, does not always require a "least restrictive means" test in cases involving speech activities.

Rising Sun Entertainment v. Commonwealth, 829 A.2d 1214 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): Commonwealth Court distinguished Pap's A.M. and held that prohibition on topless dancing in establishment licensed to sell alcohol does not violate Article I, Section 7, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. [The court reaffirmed this holding in a later case, 860 A.2d 1193, 2004 WL 2481264 (Pa. Cmwlth, November 5, 2004). See Commentary.]

    Section 8: Search and Seizure

Commonwealth v. Edwards, 26 PLW 1037,Court of Common Pleas, Clinton County, 9/3/2003, Williamson, J., two cases in the Court of Common Pleas in Clinton County holding that under Article I, Section 8, Pennsylvania does not follow the federal open fields doctrine. Under the rulings, State game officials would need a warrant or exigent circumstances to enter an open field on private property marked with a no trespassing sign.

Theodore v. The Delaware Valley School District, 836 A.2d 76 (Pa. 2003): the court, per Castille, J., held that policy authorizing random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of students seeking parking permits or participating in voluntary extracurricular activities would be constitutional under Article I, section 8, only if district made some actual showing of specific need for policy and an explanation of basis for believing that policy would address that need.

Commonwealth v. Coleman, 830 A.2d 554 (Pa. 2003): the court, per Justice Castille, upheld an anticipatory search warrant as based on sufficient probable cause. The court had previously upheld the issuance of anticipatory search warrants per se, but not as applied. The case was remanded to decide whether the warrant had been prematurely executed.

Commonwealth v. Gillespie, 821 A.2d 1221 (Pa. 2003): "Police officers who had good reason to believe that defendant illegally had a firearm in his home acted reasonably and did not violate [Article I, section 8 of] state Constitution by temporarily seizing home and requiring defendant to step outside until a warrant could be obtained; although the shotgun was not as readily destructible as drugs, a danger existed that defendant, in his agitated and violent state, could use the weapon, and the police conduct was a reasonable reaction to the aggressive behavior of a person suspected of illegally possessing a firearm." Description quoted from West Headnotes.

Commonwealth v. Keller, 823 A.2d 1004 (Pa. Super. 2003): the court held that the warrantless request by the police of a blood alcohol content test directed to hospital personnel does not violate Article I, section 8, as long as the police have probable cause to believe the suspect has been driving under the influence.

Commonwealth v. Duncan, 817 A.2d 455 (Pa. 2003): per Castille, J.: no reasonable expectation of privacy in name and address that would prevent police from obtaining that information from banking records associated with an ATM card. The court refuses to apply Commonwealth v. DeJohn, 403 A.2d 1283 (Pa. 1979), to merely identifying information.

    Section 9: Confrontation, Self-incrimination and Due Process

Commonwealth v. Fears, 836 A.2d 52 (Pa. 2003): per Chief Justice Cappy, court upholds acceptance of plea of guilty to first degree murder without requiring Commonwealth to establish this degree of guilt. The court defines the State Constitutional due process inquiry as follows: the due process inquiry "entails an assessment as to whether the challenged proceeding or conduct offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental, and that defines the community's sense of fair play and decency."

Commonwealth v. Hall, 830 A.2d 537 (Pa. 2003): the court, per Justice Castille, upheld as constitutional a statutory permissive inference that use of an unlicensed firearm may be regarded as evidence that the defendant intended to commit the offense, here aggravated assault. The court upheld the permissive inference against due process challenge under the federal standard of County Court of Ulster County v. Allen, 422 US 140 (1979). The court acknowledged Pennsylvania precedent applying a test for such inferences more restrictive than the current federal standard, but held that this caselaw applied federal analysis. The court declined to treat the Pennsylvania Constitution as more restrictive since counsel did not argue text, history or policy to apply a more restrictive standard under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvania due process analysis therefore was treated as coextensive with federal analysis.

    Section 10: Double Jeopardy and Just Compensation

In re Condemnation of Certain Properties and Property Interests for Use as Public Golf Course, 822 A.2d 846 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2003): municipal golf course is "public use" suitable for eminent domain proceedings under state constitution.

Commonwealth v. Sattazahn, 763 A.2d 359 (Pa. 2000): court held that defendant's double jeopardy rights under Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, section 10, were not violated when, after defendant had received a mandatory sentence of life in prison due to jury deadlock, the State sought the death penalty during retrial. The decision was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, 337 U.S. 101 (2003).

    Section 11: Open Courts and Remedies

Zdrok v. Zdrok, 829 A.2d 697 (Pa. Super. 2003): the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court's order denying the appellant's request to close the trial to the public. The court noted that both the common law and the Pennsylvania Constitution hold the presumption that all court proceedings are open to the public. Id. at 699. The court further explained there are two methods available when analyzing closure of judicial proceedings, the constitutional approach and the common law approach. Id. Pennsylvania Constitution, as stated in Article 1, section 11, follows the constitutional approach. Id. Under this approach, the party requesting trial closure may rebut the presumption of openness by setting forth evidence showing that closure would serve an important government interest and that it is the least restrictive way to serve that interest. Id. Although the court comments on the Pennsylvania Constitution approach to analyzing judicial proceedings, the court states that the issue can be settled under the common law approach and determines that a constitutional analysis is not needed. Id. at 700.

In the Interest of M.B., 819 A.2d 59 (Pa. Super. 2003): the court upheld closure of a juvenile dependency hearing against constitutional challenge under Article I, Section 11; the court held that a constitutional presumption of openness applies, but was rebutted in this case.

    Section 13: Cruel Punishments and Forfeiture

Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 833 A.2d 1220 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held per Simpson, J., that the forfeiture of defendant's vehicle was not grossly disproportional to defendant's guilty pleas to four felony counts of possession with intent to deliver a schedule I substance, and thus the forfeiture did not violate the constitutional prohibition against excessive fines.

Commonwealth v. Real Property and Improvements, 832 A.2d 396 (Pa. 2003): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court opinion (see below) in an unanimous opinion by Justice Lamb. The court held that only the federal standard of gross disproportionality to the gravity of the defendant's offense applies to challenges to punitive forfeitures under Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The court overruled In re King Properties, 635 A.2d 128 (Pa., 1993).

Commonwealth v. Real Property and Improvements, 787 A.2d 1117, 2001 WL 1637507 (Pa. Cmwlth., December 20, 2001): the Commonwealth Court concluded that the eighth amendment and section 13 now require separate and different analyses for testing the constitutionality of forfeitures. The court described the eighth amendment test in terms of gross disproportionality and the section 13 test as requiring a substantial relationship between the forfeited property and the crime. In terms of section 13, the Commonwealth must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the property forfeited was used as part of a pattern of criminal activity and not a onetime occurrence. Since State constitutional provisions may not weaken federal standards, a defendant of necessity will be permitted to make claims of unconstitutional forfeitures under both constitutions. The defendant did so in Real Property and failed under both arguments.]

    Section 27: Environmental Protection

Baker v. Upper Southampton Township Zoning Hearing Board, Reargument denied, 830 A.2d 600 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the Court affirmed invalidation of a ban on off-premises billboards. The court adopted a substantive due process analysis and treated the case as a zoning prohibition of a legitimate use of property. The court held that an argument supporting the billboard ban as implementing protection for natural, scenic and aesthetic values under Article I, section 27, of the Pennsylvania Constitution had not been argued below and was waived. Whether billboard bans can be legislated under section 27 is still an open question.

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

    Separation of Powers:

Tri-County Industries, Inc. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 818 A.2d 574 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held that the adoption by the Environmental Quality Board of regulations requiring landfill operators to perform a harms benefits test to receive a permit to construct or operate a solid waste disposal facility did not violate the separation-of-powers as an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.

Article III. Legislation

    Section 1: Passage of Laws

North-Central Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association v. Weaver, 827 A.2d 550 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the Court upheld S.B. 138, which amends the Judicial Code on a variety of topics, including grand juries, venue in medical malpractice actions and changes to Pennsylvania's "Megan's Law". The Court held that the title of the bill reflected its various effects and all of its parts related to a single "subject"-amendment of the Judicial Code. The Court distinguished DeWeese v. Weaver, 824 A.2d 364, (Cmwlth. Ct. 2003), which found a violation of the requirement that all subjects of a bill be germane to each other in a bill that included DNA testing and limits on civil damages. The Court also held that the venue provisions violated the exclusive power of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to regulate procedure.

    Section 3: Single-Subject Rule

City of Philadelphia v. Commonwealth, 838 A.2d 566 (Pa. 2003): per Saylor, J., legislation that pertained to a variety of unrelated subjects, involving local government, was enacted in violation of the single subject rule under Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

See North-Central Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association v. Weaver, supra (Article III, Section 1).

Section 4--See North-Central Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association v. Weaver, supra (Article III, Section 1).

Section 11--The Hospital & Health System Assoc. of Pa. v. The Department of Public Welfare, 828 A.2d 1196 (Pa. 2003): the court held, inter alia, that an appropriation bill limitation restricting medical reimbursement did not effect a substantive change in existing law and therefore was not an improper appropriation.

Section 20--D.C., K.J., and K.C. v. The School District of Philadelphia, 2004 WL 362313 (Pa.Com.Pl., January 30, 2004): Judge Jones upheld the transition statute that regulates return to class of students in public schools after proceedings in Juvenile Court. (There is a wide-ranging discussion of the principles of general laws as related to federal equal protection.)

See D.C., K.J., and K.C. v. The School District of Philadelphia, supra, Article III, Section 20.

Harrisburg School District v. Zogby, 828 A.2d 1079 (Pa. 2003): the court reversed an earlier Commonwealth Court decision. Justice Saylor held, with Justice Lamb dissenting, that a Pennsylvania statute allowing mayors of medium-sized cities to assume control of failing school districts violated neither Article III, section 32 (prohibiting special legislation) nor Article IX, section 3 (right of voters to adopt municipal form of government).

Article V. The Judiciary

    Separation of Powers:

Commonwealth v. Bethea, 828 A.2d 1066 (Pa. 2003): the court held, per Cappy, CJ, that courts of Common Pleas have statewide jurisdiction to hear cases alleging violations of the Crimes Code. Thus, the trial of a defendant in a County other than where a crime took place raises an issue of venue rather than subject matter jurisdiction. The court affirmed the criminal conviction in this case because of the failure of the defendant to show prejudice from the choice of venue. The general rule is reasserted, however, that "[v]enue in a criminal action properly belongs in the place where the crime occurred."

Section 7--South Newton Tonwship Electors v. South Newton Township Supervisor, 838 A.2d 643 (Pa. 2003): per Cappy, C.J., held that: (1) provision of Second Class Township Code was unconstitutional as it conflicted with clause of State Constitution governing removal of civil officers, and (2) Second Class Township Code's removal provision was not effective as having pre-dated the 1874 Constitution.

Section 9--MEC Pennsylvania Racing, Inc. v. Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Com'n Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, Pennsylvania National Turf Club, Inc., 827 A.2d 580 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held that under Article V, Section 9, there is a right of appeal from all administrative adjudications, whether or not the underlying statute provides for a right of appeal.

Section 10--Shaulis v. Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, 833 A.2d 123 (Pa. 2003): per Newman, J., a closely divided court held the State Ethics Act unconstitutional to the extent that it bars government employees who are also attorneys from representing clients before the employee's former employer for a period of one year after the employee leaves that employment. Justice Lamb represented the deciding fourth vote for the majority.

Commonwealth v. Liebel, 825 A.2d 630 (Pa. 2003): the court held that ineffectiveness of counsel in failing to file a petition for allowance of appeal in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is cognizable under P.C.R.A. because the rule-based right to counsel (Pa.R.Crim.P. 122) includes the right to effective assistance of counsel.

See North Central Pa. Trial Lawyers Assoc. v. Weaver, supra, Article III, Section 1.

Section 10(c)--Commonwealth v. Mockaitis, 834 A.2d 488 (Pa. 2003): per Castille, J., the court held that statutes governing sentencing courts' responsibilities over installation of ignition interlock devices violated separation of powers doctrine, but the unconstitutional provisions were severable.

Article VI. Public Officers

Section 7--South Newton Township Electors v. South Newton Township Supervisors, 838 A.2d 643 (Pa. 2003): the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined that Section 503 of the Second Class Township Code, 53 P.S., section 65503 is unconstitutional. Section 503 provides for the "recall of a township supervisor". The court found this section to be in conflict with Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which "provides for the exclusive method of removal of elected officials."

Article VIII. Taxation and Finance

Section 2--Connellsville Street Church of Christ v. Fayette County Board of Assessment, 838 A.2d 848 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): unfinished addition to Church property is taxable because it is not a "place of regularly stated religious worship".

Section 4--Safe Harbor Water Power Corp. v. Williams, 825 A.2d 733 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held that neither Article VIII, Section 4, nor general principles of due process entitle public utilities to challenge a tax before having to pay it.

Article IX. Local Government

Section 2--City Council of the City of Reading v. Eppihimer, 835 A.2d 883 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held that separation of powers doctrine did not require that positions of city council chief of staff and city council legislative coordinator fall within city council's purview, where such positions were non-exempt career service positions and city's home rule charter provided that mayor and managing director alone possessed administrative and executive authority over city's merit personnel system; Pennsylvania Constitution does not require separation of power in city government.

Section 3--Harrisburg School District v. Zogby, 828 A.2d 1079 (Pa. 2003): see Article III, Section 32 (special legislation).