Commonwealth v. Young

Decision Date22 December 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19 MAP 2021, No. 20 MAP 2021,19 MAP 2021
Citation265 A.3d 462
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Brendan Patrick YOUNG, Appellee Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Daniel Casey, Appellee
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Hugh J. Burns Jr., Esq., Kelly M. Sekula, Esq., Joshua D. Shapiro, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General, for Appellant.

Joseph E. McGettigan III, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C., John Francis X. Reilly, Esq., for Appellee.

BAER, C.J., SAYLOR, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

OPINION

JUSTICE DOUGHERTY1

This appeal arises from the prosecution of two defendants in connection with alleged hazing rituals at Penn State University in 2016 and 2017 that led to the death of a student. The prosecutions proceeded at multiple docket numbers for each defendant and although the common pleas court consolidated the docket numbers for trial, the docket numbers were not consolidated for all purposes. Defense suppression motions were granted in part and the Commonwealth filed two interlocutory appeals, one for each defendant. The notice of appeal for each defendant contained all docket numbers pertaining to that defendant. The Superior Court determined separate notices of appeal should have been filed for each docket number and quashed the appeals pursuant to this Court's ruling in Commonwealth v. Walker , 646 Pa. 456, 185 A.3d 969, 976 (2018) (when " ‘one or more orders resolves issues arising on more than one docket or relating to more than one judgment, separate notices of appeals must be filed’ "), quoting Pa.R.A.P. 341, Official Note. In doing so, the panel expressly denied the Commonwealth's request for leave to correct the procedural defect by filing separate notices of appeal at each docket number.

We granted review to examine whether the intermediate court correctly applied the holding in Walker considering the Commonwealth's position the matter is more properly controlled by our subsequent decision in Always Busy Consulting, LLC v. Babford & Co., Inc., ––– Pa. ––––, 247 A.3d 1033, 1043 (2021) (" ABC ") ("filing a single notice of appeal from a single order entered at the lead docket number for consolidated civil matters where all record information necessary to adjudication of the appeal exists, and which involves identical parties, claims and issues, does not run afoul of Walker , Rule 341, or its Official Note"). We conclude the exception to the Walker rule enunciated in ABC is not broad enough to encompass the present matter. Nevertheless, we remand to the Superior Court to determine, in its discretion, whether the Commonwealth should be granted relief through application of the safe harbor provision of Pa.R.A.P. 902 ("any step other than the timely filing of a notice of appeal ... is subject to such action as the appellate court deems appropriate, which may include ... remand of the matter to the lower court so that the omitted procedural step may be taken.").

I. Factual and procedural history

On the evening of February 2, 2017, the 19-year-old victim, Timothy Piazza ("decedent"), was summoned to a fraternity house for pledging activities, which included rituals involving alcohol consumption. Decedent became extremely intoxicated and ultimately fell down the basement stairs. By mid-morning the following day, he had been carried upstairs to a sofa and was unresponsive. Fraternity members called 911 around 10:45 a.m. According to the Commonwealth, after calling for assistance, appellees Brendan Patrick Young and Daniel Casey, who were officers of the fraternity, attempted to hide evidence of what occurred at the fraternity house during the relevant time. Decedent was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A medical examination revealed internal bleeding, brain swelling, a skull fracture, and a shattered spleen. Decedent's abdominal cavity contained substantial amounts of clotted blood, and according to medical personnel, had decedent received timely treatment, he could have survived.

The Commonwealth charged appellees with various offenses including involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, evidence tampering, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to minors. Many of the charges were related to the hazing activities described above, though some were related to hazing actions that allegedly occurred in the fall of 2016.2 After a preliminary hearing, only some of the charges were held for trial, and the case against each defendant was assigned a docket number. The Commonwealth refiled the dismissed charges and referred the prosecution to the Office of Attorney General due to a conflict of interest. After another preliminary hearing, some of the refiled charges were held for trial, while others were again dismissed. The newly held charges were given distinct docket numbers for each defendant. When the Commonwealth again refiled previously dismissed charges, a third preliminary hearing occurred. Again, some of the refiled charges were held for trial, while the remainder were dismissed. Those newly held charges were also given docket numbers distinct from those previously assigned. Consequently, the proceedings against each defendant included three separate docket numbers, which were consolidated for trial.3

Before the third set of charges was filed, appellees each filed an omnibus pre-trial motion listing the docket numbers assigned after the first two preliminary hearings. They later filed supplemental pretrial motions relative to the dockets created after the third preliminary hearing, and sought, inter alia , suppression of evidence obtained from their cell phones. In October 2018, the common pleas court held a hearing on the motions as supplemented and ultimately granted the defendantsmotions to suppress cell phone evidence on the basis the search warrant was overbroad. See Commonwealth v. Casey & Young , Nos. CP-14-CR-1377-2017, et al. , Opinion and Order at 35 (C.P. Centre Cty., Nov. 21, 2018). The court's opinion and order reflected a double caption at the top, one for each defendant in which all three docket numbers were listed for that defendant. See id. at 1.4

The Commonwealth filed two notices of appeal, one for each defendant under Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(d) which allows the Commonwealth to appeal from an interlocutory order if the Commonwealth certifies that the order substantially hinders or terminates the prosecution. Each notice of appeal contained the three docket numbers specific to the defendant in question.5

The Superior Court issued a rule to show cause for each appeal directing the Commonwealth to explain why the appeal should not be quashed pursuant to the bright-line rule of Walker . In its response, the Commonwealth sought to distinguish Walker from the present matter primarily by noting Walker involved one notice of appeal for a single suppression order applicable to four separate defendants at four separate docket numbers, whereas in the instant case each notice of appeal applies to a single defendant and includes all three docket numbers for that defendant. The Commonwealth also argued Walker is distinguishable from the instant matter because here, even though the case against each defendant involved three docket numbers , each criminal case comprised a single docket; the additional numbers existed only because of multiple preliminary hearings. The Commonwealth argued that requiring a separate notice of appeal for each docket number would be unduly formalistic and exceed Walker's scope. In the alternative, the Commonwealth requested leave to correct the purported procedural defect by filing new, duplicate notices of appeal at each docket number. The Superior Court discharged the rules to show cause and deferred the question to the merits panel.

In nearly identical unpublished opinions, the merits panel quashed the appeals. See Commonwealth v. Casey , No. 2089 MDA 2018, 2020 WL 6306055 (Pa. Super. Oct. 28, 2020) (unpublished memorandum); Commonwealth v. Young , No. 2088 MDA 2018, 2020 WL 6392766 (Pa. Super. Nov. 2, 2020) (unpublished memorandum). The panel rejected the Commonwealth's position that Walker requires separate notices of appeal only in the context of separate dockets, as opposed to separate docket numbers, noting Walker did not differentiate between a docket and a docket number. The panel indicated subsequent case law did not limit the holding of Walker to cases involving multiple defendants.6

The panel also reasoned the multiple cases filed against each defendant were not treated as a single case for that defendant but remained distinct through the proceedings; indeed, the trial court had mandated that every paper filed relative to each defendant be filed at all docket numbers. The panel held that although one individual is the defendant at each group of three docket numbers, and the suppression issue at those docket numbers is identical, a separate notice of appeal is still required at each docket number lest the Commonwealth be permitted to unilaterally consolidate the appeals, which Walker held would be improper because consolidation lies within the discretion of the appellate court. See Walker , 185 A.3d at 976, citing Pa.R.A.P. 513.7 Finally, the panel rejected the Commonwealth's request to amend the notices of appeal, ostensibly because the Commonwealth "fail[ed] to articulate how amendment can remedy its failure to timely file separate notices of appeal at the other two docket numbers at issue." Casey , 2020 WL 6306055 at *4 ; Young , 2020 WL 6392766 at *4.

We granted review to consider whether the Superior Court "err[ed] in extending Commonwealth v. Walker to require dismissal where the notice of appeal showed multiple docket numbers but there was only one case and one docket, with one defendant, one suppression ruling, and one set of facts and issues[.]" Commonwealth v. Young & Casey, ––– Pa. ––––, 251 A.3d 774 (2021) (per curiam ). As this is a...

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