Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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The case involves Marcus Womack, who was arrested in 2017 following a search warrant executed at a residence in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. The search revealed that Womack had been selling drugs from the location, and he was found in possession of a large sum of money, drugs, and a stolen firearm. On the same day, a criminal complaint was filed against Womack, charging him with nine offenses. Unable to post bail, Womack remained in custody. Subsequent investigations revealed that Womack's drug enterprise extended beyond Huntingdon County, leading to the involvement of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and a statewide investigating grand jury. In 2018, a second criminal complaint was filed against Womack, charging him with twenty-eight offenses based on evidence gathered during the grand jury investigation.The trial court denied Womack's motion to dismiss the second complaint under Pa.R.Crim.P. 600(D)(1), which requires a trial to commence within 365 days from the date the complaint is filed. Womack's motion to dismiss the first complaint on the same grounds was granted. Womack was found guilty of several offenses in a bench trial on the second complaint and was sentenced to an aggregate term of 39 to 90 years’ imprisonment. He appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that the computation of time for Rule 600 purposes should have been based on the filing date of the first complaint. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Superior Court’s order denying relief. The court applied the test from Commonwealth v. Meadius, which requires the Commonwealth to demonstrate due diligence between the period in which the complaints were filed, establish that the filing of the second complaint was necessitated by factors beyond its control, and show that its actions were not an attempt to circumvent or manipulate the speedy trial requirements. The court found that the Commonwealth met these requirements, and therefore, the Rule 600 clock began when the second complaint was filed. View "Commonwealth v. Womack" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the City of Lancaster, Borough of Carlisle, and Borough of Columbia (collectively referred to as the Municipalities). The dispute centers around Section 59.18 of the PUC’s regulations, which gives natural gas distribution companies (NGDCs) the authority to determine the location of gas meters in historic districts. The Municipalities argued that this regulation violates Article II, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which vests legislative power in the General Assembly, not in private entities like NGDCs.The Commonwealth Court agreed with the Municipalities, concluding that Section 59.18 unlawfully delegates legislative authority to NGDCs without providing adequate standards to guide their decisions. The court therefore declared Section 59.18 unenforceable.The PUC appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The PUC argued that Section 59.18 does not delegate legislative power to NGDCs, but rather is a regulatory act under the PUC’s administrative authority. The PUC also contended that the Commonwealth Court failed to consider the safety issues related to meter placement, which is the primary concern of the regulation.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. The court found that the General Assembly never enacted a statute giving the PUC legislative authority to determine the location of gas meters in historic districts. Therefore, the PUC could not have unlawfully delegated this authority to NGDCs. The court concluded that the Municipalities' disagreement with the PUC's regulation does not amount to a constitutional violation. The case was remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "City of Lancaster v. PUC" on Justia Law

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The primary issue in this complex case concerned a man, Ronnie Lehman, who was residing at a residential program called the Renewal Center as a condition of his parole. While there, he was discovered unresponsive due to a drug overdose, and a search revealed possession of illegal drugs. He was charged under Section 5123(a.2) of the Crimes Code, which prohibits a prisoner or inmate from unlawfully possessing a controlled substance. Lehman's legal team argued that he didn't qualify as an "inmate" under this law because he was on parole and voluntarily living at the Renewal Center.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disagreed, concluding that Lehman did qualify as an "inmate" under Section 5123(a.2), (e) of the Crimes Code at the time he unlawfully possessed a controlled substance. The court reasoned that the term "committed to" in the statute didn't necessarily imply forceful or involuntary commitment, and could encompass Lehman's situation where he agreed to reside at the Renewal Center as a part of his parole conditions. Therefore, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to sustain Lehman's conviction under Section 5123(a.2), and reversed the judgment of the Superior Court which had granted Lehman post-conviction relief. View "Commonwealth v. Lehman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) is subject to the Right to Know Law’s record-disclosure mandates. The PIAA is a non-profit corporation and voluntary-member organization which organizes interscholastic athletics and promotes uniform standards in interscholastic sports. In 2020, Simon Campbell, a private citizen, filed a records request under the Right to Know Law seeking eight categories of records from the PIAA. The PIAA objected, asserting it is not a Commonwealth authority or entity subject to the Right to Know Law, and noted its intent to litigate the issue. The court found that the inclusion of PIAA in the definition of a state-affiliated entity, a subset of the definition of a Commonwealth agency, indicates that the General Assembly intended to subject PIAA to the Right to Know Law's record-disclosure scheme. Furthermore, the court found that the General Assembly did not mean the phrase "Commonwealth entity" to be strictly limited to official government agencies. Instead, the Assembly intended the phrase to include organizations that perform some role associated with statewide governance. View "Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc. v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, finding that the Commonwealth Court violated the coordinate jurisdiction rule by dismissing the Congregation's petition against the Department of Human Services. According to the faith's tenets, congregation elders are obligated to maintain the confidentiality of confessions, which might include confessions of child abuse. The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (“CPSL”) identifies certain individuals, including clergymen, as mandated reporters of child abuse. The Congregation filed a petition for review, asking for a declaration on whether their elders are entitled to the clergyman privilege, which would protect them from the mandatory reporting requirements of the CPSL. The Commonwealth Court dismissed the petition, reasoning that the Department of Human Services was not a proper defendant and that declaratory relief would not terminate the controversy. However, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that this dismissal violated the coordinate jurisdiction rule as it directly contradicted the Commonwealth Court's prior determination on the same issues. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ivy Hill Cong. of Jehovah Witnesses v. DHS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court confirming certain modifications to a recovery plan for the City of Chester under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, commonly known as Act 47. The case arose from the City of Chester's financial distress, which led to the appointment of a receiver. The receiver sought to modify the existing recovery plan due to the City’s challenges and the failure of local officials to cooperate with his efforts. The City objected to several initiatives in the modified plan, arguing they unlawfully deprived its elected officials of their authority to govern on behalf of the residents. The Supreme Court held that the modifications were necessary to achieve financial stability in the City and were not arbitrary, capricious, or wholly inadequate to alleviate the City's fiscal emergency. The court emphasized that the financial health of the municipality was paramount and that local officials must accept the measures necessary for recovery, whether they like it or not. View "Dept of Comm and Econ Dev v. City of Chester" on Justia Law

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In Pennsylvania, a group of casinos, including Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, Inc., Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, LLC, and Chester Downs and Marina, LLC, sued the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. The casinos claimed that online games offered by the state lottery simulated slot machines, violating restrictions imposed by the state legislature and infringing on the casinos' share of the online market. The Commonwealth Court disagreed and dismissed their complaint.Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that the Commonwealth Court erred in its interpretation of the law by focusing on individual components of an online lottery game. The Supreme Court held that determining whether an online lottery game violates the prohibition against simulating a slot machine requires a subjective assessment of the game's overall appearance and effect when in play.The Supreme Court vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case for further proceedings, instructing the lower court to focus on the overall presentation and effect of the challenged game, not on individual features. View "Greenwood Gaming v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was called upon to determine whether the ascension of an unclassified service employee to a classified service position with higher pay with the same public employer is a promotion under the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) and the Veterans’ Preference Act (VPA). The case arose when Ralph E. Lynn, a classified service employee, and Aaron Novotnak, an unclassified service employee, both veterans, applied for a classified service position with the Department of Corrections (DOC). The Office of Administration (OA) deemed the position a promotion for Lynn and did not apply veterans’ preference, while it deemed the position an appointment for Novotnak and applied veterans’ preference. The DOC selected Novotnak for the position, and Lynn appealed to the State Civil Service Commission.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the ascension of an unclassified service employee to a classified service position with higher pay with the same public employer is not a promotion under the CSRA and the VPA, but rather an appointment. Therefore, it is not discriminatory under section 2704 of the CSRA to award a veterans’ preference to an unclassified service employee seeking an appointment but not to a classified service employee seeking a promotion. The court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court in part and reversed in part. The court ruled that Lynn was not entitled to veterans’ preference as he was seeking a promotion, not an appointment. However, Lynn will remain in his position due to a separate issue of technical discrimination that was not reviewed by the court. View "Department of Corrections v. Lynn" on Justia Law

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In April 2017 and June 2017, Appellant Diane Zilka filed petitions with the Philadelphia Department of Revenue (the “Department”), seeking refunds for the Philadelphia Tax she paid from 2013 to 2015, and in 2016, respectively. During the relevant tax years, Appellant resided in the City, but worked exclusively in Wilmington, Delaware. Thus, she was subject to four income taxes (and tax rates) during that time: the Philadelphia Tax; the Pennsylvania Income Tax (“PIT”); the Wilmington Earned Income Tax (“Wilmington Tax”); and the Delaware Income Tax (“DIT”). The Commonwealth granted Appellant credit for her DIT liability to completely offset the PIT she paid for the tax years 2013 through 2016; because of the respective tax rates in Pennsylvania versus Delaware, after this offsetting, Appellant paid the remaining 1.93% in DIT. Although the City similarly credited against Appellant’s Philadelphia Tax liability the amount she paid in the Wilmington Tax — specifically, the City credited Appellant 1.25% against her Philadelphia Tax liability of 3.922%, leaving her with a remainder of 2.672% owed to the City — Appellant claimed that the City was required to afford her an additional credit of 1.93% against the Philadelphia Tax, representing the remainder of the DIT she owed after the Commonwealth credited Appellant for her PIT. After the City refused to permit her this credit against her Philadelphia Tax liability, Appellant appealed to the City’s Tax Review Board (the “Board”). The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review as whether, for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause analysis implicated here, state and local taxes had to be considered in the aggregate. The Court concluded state and local taxes did not need be aggregated in conducting a dormant Commerce Clause analysis, and that, ultimately, the City’s tax scheme did not discriminate against interstate commerce. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court order. View "Zilka v. Tax Review Bd. City of Phila." on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation; Yassmin Gramian, individually; Michael Carroll, in his capacity as Acting Secretary of the Department of Transportation; and Melissa Batula, P.E., individually and in her capacity as Acting Executive Deputy Secretary for the Department of Transportation (collectively, PennDOT) appealed a Commonwealth Court order that denied, in part, and granted, in part, a “Motion for Adjudication of Civil Contempt or in the Alternative . . . Motion for a Preliminary Injunction” (PI Motion) filed by Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc. (Hawbaker). Pertinent here, the Commonwealth Court’s order preliminarily enjoined PennDOT from proceeding with any action for the debarment of Hawbaker as a prequalified bidder on PennDOT construction contracts based upon criminal charges filed against Hawbaker or Hawbaker’s subsequent entry of a corporate nolo contendere plea to those criminal charges. After review, the Supreme Court agreed with PennDOT that the Commonwealth Court erred in exercising equitable jurisdiction to award Hawbaker preliminary injunctive relief in this matter. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court order, and remand the matter for further proceedings. View "Glenn Hawbaker, Inc. v. PennDOT" on Justia Law