Failure to File Separate Notices of Appeal under Pa. R.A.P. 341

Commonwealth v. Young, 2020 WL 6392766 (Pa. Super. 2020) (unreported), appeal docket 19 MAP 2021; Commonwealth v. Casey, 2020 WL 6306055 (Pa. Super. 2020) (unreported), allocatur granted March 30, 2021, appeal docket 20 MAP 2021

In these consolidated cases, the Supreme Court will revisit its 2018 decision in Commonwealth. v. Walker, in which it adopted the bright-line rule that “when a single order resolves issues arising on more than one lower court docket, separate notices of appeal must be filed” for each case and “failure to do so will result in quashal of the appeal.” 185 A.3d 969, 979 (Pa. 2018).

Casey and Young (Defendants) were charged in three separate criminal informations with multiple counts of recklessly endangering another person (“REAP”), hazing, alcohol-related violations, and conspiracy, arising out of the February 2, 2017 death of Timothy J. Piazza at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the Pennsylvania State University. The three dockets involving Young were consolidated for trial with the three dockets involving Casey, and severed from dockets involving four other defendants.

Defendants filed an omnibus pre-trial motion bearing all three docket numbers assigned to the cases against them, which included a motion to suppress cell phone evidence based upon the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court concluded that the search warrant was overbroad, and suppressed the evidence. The trial court’s order granting suppression contained all three docket numbers assigned to the cases against Defendants. The Commonwealth filed a single timely notice of appeal from the order granting the suppression motion, upon which it listed those three docket numbers.

Superior Court issued a per curiam order directing the Commonwealth to show cause why the appeal should not be quashed in light of Pa. R.A.P. 341, as interpreted in Walker. In response, the Commonwealth argued that “‘Walker used the word ‘docket’ to mean ‘record of an individual case,’ not ‘docket number’” and that “requiring a separate notice of appeal at each docket number would ‘go a step beyond the holding in Walker and elevate form over substance’ in contravention of Pa. R.A.P. 105(a) (providing that the rules are to be liberally construed to effectuate their purpose).” Slip op. at 5.  The Commonwealth further noted that Defendants did not raise an objection, and requested that it be permitted to rectify its “formatting error” by filing notices of appeal at each docket number. Id.

Superior Court disagreed with the Commonwealth’s arguments, reasoning that:

We are unpersuaded by the Commonwealth’s attempt to distinguish a “docket” from a “docket number” for purposes of Walker. The Walker Court made no such distinction. See Walker, supra at 464 (defining the situation before it as “a single notice of appeal . . . filed in response to a single order that decides four motions to suppress in four cases with four different docket numbers”). Furthermore, post-Walker decisions do not limit its application to cases involving multiple defendants. Moreover, the cases filed against Casey at three docket numbers herein were not treated as a single case; each remained distinct throughout proceedings in the trial court. Before the court severed the cases involving Casey and Young, the trial court expressly mandated that every document involving any of the defendants be filed at each docket number.

Slip op. at 6-7 (footnote omitted). Thus, Superior Court quashed the Commonwealth’s appeal pursuant to Commonwealth v. Walker, 185 A.3d 969 (Pa. 2018), and Pa. R.A.P. 341(a), concluding that:

Here, as in Walker, by filing only one notice of appeal at one docket number bearing three docket numbers, the Commonwealth effectively and improperly consolidated three appeals for joint resolution without this Court’s approval or Casey’s agreement. Additionally, the Commonwealth fails to articulate how amendment can remedy its failure to timely file separate notices of appeal at the other two docket numbers at issue. Accordingly, we are constrained to find that the Commonwealth’s failure to file a separate notice of appeal at each of the three docket numbers at issue violates Walker and Rule 341, and is fatal to this appeal.

Slip op. at 8.

The Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider the following issue:

Did the Superior Court err 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?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.