798 A.2d 186 (Pa. 2002), Carlacci v. Mazaleski

Citation:798 A.2d 186, 568 Pa. 471
Opinion Judge:The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Chief Justice Zappala
Party Name:Maura CARLACCI, Appellee, v. Edward R. MAZALESKI, Appellant.
Case Date:May 31, 2002
Court:Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Page 186

798 A.2d 186 (Pa. 2002)

568 Pa. 471

Maura CARLACCI, Appellee,


Edward R. MAZALESKI, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

May 31, 2002.

Argued Dec. 6, 2000.

Page 187

[568 Pa. 472] James T. McHale, for appellant.

Andrew Phillips, for appellee.



Chief Justice ZAPPALA.

We granted allocatur in this case to determine whether the Superior Court properly affirmed the Lackawanna County Common Pleas Court's order denying expungement of a Protection From Abuse Act 1 (PFAA) proceeding. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

On October 6, 1998, Appellee, Maura Carlacci, filed a PFAA petition 2 against Appellant, Edward R. Mazaleski. Appellee and Appellant are not married, but are the parents of a minor child. The Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County entered a temporary PFAA order ex parte that same date and scheduled a hearing for October 15, 1998. On October 15th, Appellant was awarded partial custody of the minor child and the parties agreed to continue the PFAA matter until November 16, 1998. On November 16th, the parties executed a stipulation that the temporary PFAA order should be declared null and void, ab initio, 3 which was adopted as an "Order of Court." 4

[568 Pa. 474] On November 19, 1998, Appellant filed a motion to expunge the docket related to the PFAA petition. On December 24, 1998, the common pleas court denied Appellant's motion. On December 30, 1999,

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the Superior Court affirmed in an unpublished memorandum. Appellant's subsequent Application for Reargument was denied by order of the Superior Court dated March 10, 2000.

In this Commonwealth, there exists the right to petition for expungement of a criminal arrest record. See e.g., Commonwealth v. Armstrong, 495 Pa. 506, 434 A.2d 1205, 1206 (1981). This right is an adjunct of due process and is not dependent upon express statutory authority. Id.; see also Commonwealth v. Rose, 263 Pa.Super. 349, 397 A.2d 1243 (1979). "In determining whether justice requires expungement, the Court, in each particular case, must balance the individual's right to be free from the harm attendant to the maintenance of the arrest record against the Commonwealth's interest in preserving such records." Commonwealth v. Wexler, 494 Pa. 325, 431 A.2d 877, 879 (1981). The factors that must be considered in making such a determination include, but are not limited to:

[T]he strength of the Commonwealth's case against the petitioner, the reasons the Commonwealth gives for wishing to retain the records, the petitioner's age, criminal record, and employment history, the length of time that has elapsed between the arrest and the petition to expunge, and the specific adverse consequences the petitioner may endure should expunction be denied.

Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Iacino, 270 Pa.Super. 350, 411 A.2d 754, 759 (1979) (Spaeth, J., concurring)).

Although this Court has never addressed an expungement in the context of the PFAA, the Superior Court did so in P.E.S. v. K.L., 720 A.2d 487 (Pa.Super.1998). There, a PFAA petition had been filed by the appellant against the appellee, requesting the issuance of a temporary PFAA order. The [568 Pa. 475] petition was denied and a hearing on the petition was scheduled; the parties, however, failed to appear and no action was taken on the petition. The appellee thereafter filed a "Motion to Dismiss and Expunge the Record." The common pleas court granted the motion to dismiss, but denied the motion to expunge based on its determination that there was no statutory authority for expungement of a PFAA record.

On appeal, the Superior Court reversed. After conceding that the PFAA did not specifically authorize expungement of a PFAA record, the Superior Court stated that it was "extend[ing] the concept of expungement to the PFAA in limited circumstances where a [petitioner] seeks to protect his or her reputation." P.E.S., 720 A.2d at 490. The Superior Court analogized the appellee's request to expunge the record of the dismissed PFAA petition to a request to expunge court records of an illegal commitment to a state psychiatric hospital pursuant to this Court's decision in Wolfe v. Beal, 477 Pa. 477, 384 A.2d 1187 (1978) (holding that a person who has been unlawfully committed to a state psychiatric hospital has a right, arising out of the right to protect one's reputation guaranteed by Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, to the destruction of the hospital records which were created as a result of the illegal commitment); accord Commonwealth v. J.T., 279 Pa.Super. 127, 420 A.2d 1064 (1980) (applying Wolfe to the expungement of court records of a psychiatric commitment order determined to be null and void for having not been entered in compliance with the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966, 50 P.S. § 4406 (repealed in part 1976)). 5 Accordingly, the

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Superior Court ordered that the record of the dismissed PFAA petition be expunged. The Superior Court also went on to hold in P.E.S. that in ruling on a petition to expunge a PFAA record, the trial court must utilize the Wexler balancing test.

On appeal to this Court...

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