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Summaries of Caselaw - 2005

Methodological Provisions:

In re Appeal of Tenet Healthsystems, 880 A.2d 721 (Pa. Comwlth. 2005): the panel, per Leavitt, J., held that attorney's mistaken reliance on an erroneous version of a statute in Purdon's Statutes, an unofficial statutory compilation, did not merit nunc pro tun appeal, at least where the error in question was contained in only one section of a statute and a careful reading of the entire statute in its unofficial form would have alerted the attorney to the error.

Benn v. First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, 426 F.3d 233 (3rd Cir. 2005): Judge Sloviter held for a unanimous panel that the Judicial District is a state entity entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity in suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pennsylvania School Boards Ass'n v. Barnes, 885 A.2d 97 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the panel, per Colins, P.J., held that school boards lack standing to challenge Act 72, which introduced a scheme for property tax reduction the plaintiffs alleged violated Article VIII, Section 2 (homestead and farmstead exemptions).

In re Administrative Order No. 1-MD-2003, 882 A.2d 1049 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): court, per Colins, P.J., holds that Clerk of Courts of Berks County lacks standing to challenge expungement order Clerk believes violates Clerk's duty to keep records for public inspection. (Leavitt, J. dissented).

Article I: Declaration of Rights

    Section 1: Reputation

Christie v. Borough of Folcroft, 2005 WL 2396762 (E.D. Pa. October 27, 2005): despite state constitutional protection of reputation, federal court will apply the standard of Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976) to Section 1983 claims arising from acts occurring in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State University v. State Employees' Retirement Board, 880 A.2d 757 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the court en banc, per McGinley, J., held that the salaries of certain prominent employees of Penn State University (PSU), including Joe Paterno, were public records under the Right to Know Act (RTKA).

See infra Article III, Section 32 D.C., K.C., and K.J. v. School District of Philadelphia, 879 A.2d 408 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005).

    Section 3: Religious Freedom

Combs v. Homer Center School District, 2005 WL 3338885 (W.D. Pa. December 8, 2005): In an action brought by home schooling parents, Judge Schwab upheld the Pennsylvania Home Schooling Act (Act 169) against federal and state claims, including facial violation of the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, which was premised on Article I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Weber v. Dubois Area School District, 2005 WL 3338885 (W.D. Pa. 2005): in a wide-ranging opinion canvassing the background of compulsory schooling in Pennsylvania history and law, the court, per Schwab, J. denied both federal constitutional and Pennsylvania statutory facial challenges to the 1988 Home Schooling Act; plaintiffs had argued that the Act was an interference with the religious rights of home schooling families; the Pennsylvania statutory challenge was based on the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, which is premised on Article I, section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Deveaux v. City of Philadelphia, 2005 WL 1869666 (Pa.Com.Pl. July 14, 2005): although technically an application of the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Dych held that Philadelphia could require a Muslim firefighter to shave his beard, despite the RFPA and the separation of powers.

    Section 8: Search and Seizure

Commonwealth v. Sands, 887 A.2d 261 (Pa. Super. 2005): the court held constitutional amended section 6308(b), which lowered the standard for a traffic stop from probable cause to reasonable suspicion.

    Section 11: Open Courts and Remedies

Pa. Childcare LLC v. Flood, 887 A.2d 309 (Pa. Super. 2005): the panel, per Bowes, J., reversed the Court of Common Pleas order sealing judicial proceedings involving privately owned juvenile detention facility with County contract under the Pennsylvania Trade Secrets Act; the panel held that the interest asserted does not outweigh the presumption of openness of judicial proceedings under both the First Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Erdely v. Hinchcliffe and Keener, Inc., 875 A.2d 1078 (Pa. Super. 2005): Pennsylvania Business Corporation Law permitting corporate dissolution to abate a potential cause of action for asbestos exposure does not violate Pennsylvania Constitution's remedy clause.

Commonwealth v. Long, 871 A.2d 1262 (Pa. Super. 2005): in holding that media interveners did not have the right to the names and addresses of jurors in a high-profile homicide trial, the court noted that the open courts provision in Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides no greater right of access than does the federal First Amendment.

    Section 14: Bailable Prisoners; Habeus Corpus

Commonwealth v. Hamborsky, 75 D. & C.4th 505 (Pa.Com.Pl. 2005): in a potentially significant decision, the court decided that Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not automatically deny bail upon prima facie evidence in support of a charge of a capital or life sentence eligible crime, but only denies bail if upon evidence presented at the bail hearing; the court concluded that conviction on the charge is likely, and thus evidence of potential defenses must be considered in the bail decision.

See Grimaud v. Commonwealth, supra, 865 A.2d 835 (Pa. 2005), and Article I, Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Trial by Jury).

    Section 27: Environmental Protection

Eagle Environmental II, L.P. v. Commonwealth, Dept. of Environmental Protection, 884 A.2d 867 (Pa. 2005): the Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, upheld a regulation of the DEP which provided for a harm/benefit analysis when determining whether a landfill permit should be granted; Eagle objected to conditions placed in its permit to operate a landfill, and claimed that the regulation providing for the harm/benefit test was beyond the agency's statutory authority; a divided Court, per Justice Baer, disagreed in part because the agency's organic legislation sought to give force to Article I, Section 27, and the harm/benefit analysis serves that purpose.

Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 870 A.2d 942 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the panel held that Article I, Section 27 requires the PUC to take into consideration the historic and esthetic nature of a park in ordering repair of a railroad bridge, notwithstanding PUC regulations purporting to restrict the Commission's own remedial discretion.

Blue Mountain Preservation Association v. Township of Eldred, 867 A.2d 692 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): Article I, Section 27 does not require local government to go beyond statutory requirements in protecting the environment and does not impose an affirmative duty to enact zoning legislation.

Article II: The Legislature

    Section 15: Speech and Debate Clause

DeWeese v. Calkins Media, Inc., 70 Pa. D. & C. 4th 382 (C.P.Fayette 2005): Judge Leskinen denied media defendants' motion to compel discovery and/or for sanctions on the ground that the plaintiff had already withdrawn any claim that the defendants cannot defend without discovery of the House Minority Caucus Special Leadership Account, which the court found was protected by the "speech and debate clause" of the Pennsylvanian Constitution (Article II, Section 15) and thus cannot be compelled to be disclosed.

Article III: Legislation

    Section 3: Single Subject Rule

DeWeese v. Weaver, 880 A.2d 54 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): in effect, reaffirmed the Commonwealth Court's earlier ruling in DeWeese v. Weaver, 824 A.2d 364 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003) that the bill codifying the DNA Act and amending the Judicial Code concerning comparative negligence contained "more than one subject" in violation of the State Constitution.

    Section 29: Appropriations for Public Assistance

County of Mercer v. Amundsen, 879 A.2d 366 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the court en banc held that neither The County Code, nor Article III, Section 29, nor Article IX, Section 9 prohibits the county from loaning money to the former County nursing home.

    Section 32: Special Legislation

D.C., K.C., and K.J. v. School District of Philadelphia, 879 A.2d 408 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the court rejected as special legislation, a challenge to legislation providing for a transition center for certain students who have been removed from their regular classrooms, in school districts of the first class (Philadelphia is the only such district) before returning to regular classrooms, distinguishing DeFazio v. Civil Service Commission of Allegheny County, 756 A.2d 1103 (Pa. 2000).  The court, however, also held that due process (apparently both federal and state) requires an informal hearing before a student who requests placement in a regular classroom can be placed in a transition center.

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

Article V: The Judiciary

    Section 1: Separation of powers

In re Wilson, 879 A.2d 199 (Pa. Super. 2005): the court en banc held that a citizen seeking judicial review of District Attorney's disapproval of private criminal complaint has standing to challenge trial court order sustaining such disapproval and that such further review does not violate the separation of powers; the proper standard of review of trial court deference to District Attorney in policy-declination case is abuse of discretion.

    Section 10(c): Rule-Making Authority

Payne v. Commonwealth Department of Corrections, 871 A.2d 795 (Pa. 2005): in prison condition litigation, the court, per Chief Justice Cappy, held that: provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) providing requirements for dismissal of prison conditions litigation and PLRA provision providing for dismissal based on abusive litigation did not unconstitutionally interfere with Supreme Court's rulemaking authority; PLRA provision providing for automatic dissolution of preliminary injunction and PLRA provision requiring prisoner to pay costs when granted in forma pauperis status were unconstitutional as inconsistent with Supreme Court's rulemaking authority; and that criminal provisions of obscenity law and department regulations banning obscene material were not unconstitutional.

Article VIII: Taxation and Finance

    Section 1: Uniformity

Vees and Vees v. Carbon County Board of Assessment Appeals, 867 A.2d 742 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the court held that school district appeal of assessment of property following recent sale, which led to reassessment of property, did not constitute unconstitutional spot reassessment nor in any other way violate the tax uniformity clause under Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

    Section 2: Institutions of Public Charity Exempt from Taxation

American Law Institute v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 882 A.2d 1088 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the court, per Colins, P.J., held that corporation benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate objects of charity and thus qualifies as institution of purely public charity pursuant to Article VIII, Section 2(a)(v).  (Kelley, S.J. dissented).

Article IX: Local Government

    Section 9: Appropriation for Public Purposes

See County of Mercer v. Amundsen, supra, Article III, Section 29.

Section 11: Local Reapportionment

In re Municipal Reapportionment of Township of Haverford, 873 A.2d. 821 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): legislative redistricting standard in Article IX, Section 11 requiring that districts be "as nearly equal in population as population practicable" requires no greater equality in districts than does federal Equal Protection; the court applied a 10% deviation "safe harbor".