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Judicial Reform Third Circuit

United States Court of Appeals: 3rd Circuit

Leans Pro Government
Total Judgeships: 

14 (1 vacancy)

Political Makeup: 

8 Dem – 5 GOP

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, the Virgin Islands


About The Court:

The Third Circuit Court was established on June 16, 1891 and is known to handle influential commercial cases due to its jurisdiction over Delaware where the majority of America’s publicly traded companies are incorporated.


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Recent Cases

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Fifth Amendment Rights Protected

Mon, 09/08/2014

United States v. Shannon: Pennsylvania State Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration worked with confidential informants and were able to observe part of a cocaine delivery. Agents observed the transaction and subsequently arrested two men involved. A third man involved, the supplier, Shannon, received the drug money from the transaction and was arrested at a truck stop. Agents found around $670,000 in his car. Shannon appealed his conviction based on Fifth Amendment violations from the government cross-examining him on his post-arrest silence.


Circuit court finds in favor of Shannon; the government violated his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent. The conviction is vacated and the court remands for a new trial.

Read the full decision here

Public Employees Political Donations Protected

Mon, 08/18/2014

Lodge No. 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Philadelphia: The Fraternal Order of Police (FOB), the police collective bargaining organization, and the affiliated Super PAC (COPPAC) challenged the Constitutionality of a provision in the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter that prohibits employees of the Philadelphia Police Department from making contributions “for any political purpose.” Implementation means employees of the police department cannot donate to COPPAC, which uses some funds for partisan political purposes. The charter ban only applies to the police and does not cover 20,000 other employees of the city of Philadelphia.


The Third Circuit reversed summary judgment upholding the ban. The city did not explain how the ban serves in a direct and material way to address these harms; the Charter ban is unconstitutional.

Read the full decision here

Rule Limiting Quotations Struck Down as Unconstitutional

Mon, 08/11/2014

Dwyer v. Cappell: Dwyer is a lawyer who, on his private law firm's website, posted quotations of Cappell, a regional judge, that were made in reference to Dwyer's on-job capabilities. Cappell asked for the quotations to be removed and Dwyer refused, arguing that the quotations were not false or misleading. The lower courts ruled in favor of Cappell, making a rule that judges' comments cannot be published on lawyers' personal websites. Dwyer appealed the decision on the basis that this new rule violated his freedom of speech under the First Amendment.


The 3rd Circuit Court reversed the decision of the lower courts, ruling that the new rule was a violation of Dwyer's freedom of speech. The court remanded the case for future proceedings in dealing with the potential damages of Cappell's direct quotations. The rule that the lower court created was an unnecessary threat to the civil liberties of Dwyer and others that could be in his position in the future.

Read the full decision here

What is Considered a “Public Work”?

Fri, 08/01/2014

NJ Carpenters v. Tishman Construction Corporation of New Jersey: The Revel Casino Project was financially assisted by the NJ Economic Development Authority (EDA) which is a public body. The workers on the project filed for wage compensation because they were not paid the prevailing wage as required by the Prevailing Wage Act (PWA) to be paid to all public employees. They also claimed that they should have been given retirement plans and a trust fund. The District Court ruled that formatting of the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERSA) preempts the claims, thus denying the requested benefits to the workers.


The 5th Circuit reversed the decision of the lower court, ruling that the case needs to be remanded for further proceedings in state court because neither the ERSA or the PWA clearly defines where wage compensation is due in this issue. This ruling promotes adequate due process and deliberation on what should be considered a public work and which workers should benefit on the public budget.

Read the full decision here

Ballots Made More Accessible to Independents

Wed, 07/09/2014

Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v. Aichele: Candidate running for public office in PA that are not registered as either Democrat or Republican, are required by a provision of the state election code to submit extra paperwork that include a number of necessary signatures. These papers must then be deemed acceptable by a PA court. Upon the court’s decision, the court can also impose on the candidate additional administrative and litigation costs. A group of politically natured organizations have filled suit against the Attorney General, challenging these processes.


The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Constitution Party of PA by overturning the decision of the lower court, which dismissed the case on lack of standing. The 3rd Circuit found that the problems addressed can be adequately connected to injuries-in-fact and are a direct result of the Commonwealth officials. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Read the full decision here

Equal Protection Under 1st Amendment Affirmed

Mon, 06/23/2014

Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny: The city of Shickshinny approved the establishment of a church’s sign on municipal property. The sign, meant to help people with directions, has the name of the church and an arrow along with the words “one block” on it. Tearpock erected her own sign in front of the church sign that states that the church sign violates her rights as a tax payer and filed suit stating the sign violated the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.


The Circuit Court vacated the decision of the District court, which had dismissed the case based on a time-barred challenge. The Circuit Court rejected the time-barred argument. The Court ruled that Tearpock has a right to erect her own sign but also that the church sign is allowed to be there as well. As a result, both parties are protected under equal protection of the law as well as the 1st Amendment.

Read the full decision here

Cops Must Make the Walk for "Knock & Talk"

Thu, 05/15/2014

Carman v. Carroll: Jeremy Carroll, a Pennsylvania State Trooper, arrived at the home of Andrew and Karen Carmen to search for a man who had stolen two loaded handguns and a car. He proceeded directly to the backyard and was confronted by the owner, Andrew Carmen. A search of the property found no evidence of criminal activity. Carmen filed suit claiming a 4th Amendment violation of unlawful entry and unreasonable search and seizure. The district court ruled that the troopers had qualified immunity under the "Knock & Talk" exception, which allows officers to approach a home and engage in voluntary interaction with the owner.


The Third Circuit Court overturned the decision and found that the 4th Amendment rights of Carmen had indeed been violated. The court held that Knock & Talk does not offer protection for law enforcement officers that do not first come to the main entrance of the property.

Read the full decision here

False Evidence Leads to Imprisonment of Innocent

Thu, 04/24/2014

Halsey v. Pfeifer: Halsey, who is “mildly mentally retarded”was taken to the police station where he was interrogated, presented false information, and pressured into signing a confessionary note, taking blame for the murders of his two siblings, whose bodies were found in his apartment. He was convicted and sentenced to life. Halsey was released 22 years later after it was clear that he had not committed the murders. Halsey filed suit against Pfeiffer, one of the police officers who ran the interrogations, to which the District Court granted immunity.


The Third Circuit Court reversed. The Court asserts that any officer who fabricates evidence acts in violation of a convicted individual’s constitutional right of due process. The false information that the officer manufactured led to Halsey’s false confession and his prosecution.

Read the full decision here:

A Regal Slip

Tue, 04/15/2014

Eileen Sheil v. Regal Entertainment Group: While using the restroom at a Regal Theater, Sheil slipped on the tile, fell, and was taken to the hospital. Sheil claims to have slipped on a small pool of water but theater employees state in their Incident Report that no water was seen on the floor directly following the incident. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Regal stating that it cannot be held liable for the water that may or may not have been on the ground considering the lack of information concerning how long the water had been present.


The Circuit Court voided the decision and sent the case back to the District Court for a re-trial. Evidence surfaced during testimony that Regal employees consistently find water on the ground in the bathrooms so therefore, Regal potentially is liable for injuries caused by the constant threat. As a result, Regal can be held liable for the injuries suffered by Sheil.

Read the full decision here

Blind Injustice in Jail Confrontation

Fri, 04/11/2014

Thomas v. Cumberland County:Thomas was being held in the Cumberland County jail facility when a group of inmates approached him and an argument ensued. Thomas was hit by two inmates during the confrontation before Officer Martinez was able to disperse the crowd, suffering a concussion and loss of sight in one eye. He sued the County stating that the officers could have ended the argument at the beginning, or could have prevented it from happening entirely. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, dismissing Thomas’ complaints.


The Third Circuit Court vacated, or voided, the decision made by the District Court stating that the Court has found genuine issues with the facts presented concerning the training that officers receive in conflict de-escalation and intervention. The Court fears that lack of conflict management training could be linked to the cause of Thomas’ injuries and therefore the County could be liable.

Read the full decision here