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Commonwealth v. Neiman

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

December 16, 2013

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
James Howard NEIMAN, Jr., Appellant The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Intervenor.

Argued Sept. 11, 2012.

As Amended March 14, 2014.

Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered on September 8, 2010 at No. 1747 MDA 2007 affirming the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, Criminal Division, entered on September 27, 2007 at Nos. 1870 and 1871-2005. Trial Court Judge: William E. Baldwin, President Judge.

Page 604

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Jeffrey Bryant Engle, Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, Millersburg, for Appellant.

Douglas Joseph Taglieri, Karen Byrnes-Noon, James Patrick Goodman, Schuylkill County District Attorney's Office, Pottsville, for Appellee.

Thomas Walter Dymek, Jonathan F. Bloom, Karl Stewart Myers, Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young, L.L.P., Philadelphia, for General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Intervenor.

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

OPINION

TODD, Justice.

In this appeal, we consider whether Act 152 of 2004 (" Act 152" ), [1] which makes various amendments to the Judicial Code,[2] violates the " single subject" rule of Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution,[3] and, if so, whether the portions of Act 152 amending Pennsylvania's " Megan's Law" may be severed from the other provisions of Act 152 and remain in force. For reasons detailed at greater length herein, we conclude that Act 152 does violate Article III, Section 3, since its various provisions do not all relate to a single unifying subject. Further, we hold that the proper remedy for this violation of our Constitution is to strike Act 152 in its entirety. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the Superior Court, but stay our decision for 90 days.

I. Background

We begin with a discussion of the legislative history of Act 152, as it is necessary to understand the basis of the constitutional questions at issue. The legislation which ultimately became Act 152 of 2004 originated in the Pennsylvania State Senate on January 29, 2003 with the introduction of Senate Bill 92 of 2003, P.N. 0091. (" S.B. 92, P.N. 91" ). This eight-page bill had two sections amending Section 8103 of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8103, governing deficiency judgment procedures in the courts of common pleas after an execution sale of real property. The first section set a six-month statute of limitations for certain judgment creditors or debtors to file a valuation petition for real property purchased at an execution sale,[4] while the second section established, inter alia, deficiency judgment procedures when parcels of real property are located in more than one county. [5] This bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 11, 2003, and, thereafter, was considered by the full Senate three separate times, with final passage in the Senate occurring on March 5, 2003.

S.B. 92, P.N. 91 was then sent to the House of Representatives, and, after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee without amendment, it was considered twice by the full House. After the second consideration, S.B. 92, P.N. 91 was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, which re-reported it on July 15,

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2003, without amendment, for final consideration by the full House. However, during its final consideration on the House floor, the bill was amended to add two sections, one creating a separate chapter in Title 42 to govern eviction proceedings between landlords and tenants, and another section amending the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act to establish the jurisdiction of county park police in counties of the third class.[6] This altered legislation was redesignated S.B. 92, P.N. 1105. The full House voted to pass this version of the bill on July 15, 2003, and it was sent to the Senate for further consideration.

The bill remained in the Senate Rules Committee from July 17, 2003 until May 11, 2004, whereupon the committee made two alterations to the bill, changing its listing of sponsoring senators and changing the chapter and statutory designations for the proposed landlord/tenant act. The Rules Committee reported the altered version, now numbering 21 pages, to the full Senate as S.B. 92, P.N. 1614, which, in turn, recommitted it back to the Rules Committee on May 17, 2004.

After this recommitment, the bill underwent significant revision. Although the Rules Committee retained the aforementioned provisions related to deficiency judgments and county park police jurisdiction, it deleted all of the landlord-tenant chapters, redesignated the bill S.B. 92, P.N. 1995, and added 15 new sections— spanning 38 additional pages— which accomplished the following substantive legal changes: (1) established a two-year limitation for asbestos actions; [7] (2) amended the Crimes Code to create various criminal offenses for individuals subject to sexual offender registration requirements who fail to comply; [8] (3) amended the provisions of the Sentencing Code which govern " Registration of Sexual Offenders" ; [9] (4) added the offenses of luring and institutional sexual assault to the list of enumerated offenses which require a 10-year period of registration and established local police notification procedures for out-of state sexual offenders who move to Pennsylvania; [10] (5) directed the creation of a searchable computerized database of all registered sexual offenders (" database" ); [11] (6) amended the duties of the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (" SOAB" ); [12] (7) allowed a sentencing court to exempt a lifetime sex offender registrant, or a sexually violent predator registrant, from inclusion in the database after 20 years if certain conditions are met; [13] (8) established mandatory registration and community notification procedures for sexually violent predators; [14] (9) established community

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notification requirements for a " common interest community" — such as a condominium or cooperative— of the presence of a registered sexually violent predator; [15] (10) conferred immunity on unit owners' associations of a common interest community for good faith distribution of information obtained from the database; [16] (11) directed the Pennsylvania State Police to publish a list of approved registration sites to collect and transmit fingerprints and photographs of all sex offenders who register at those sites; [17] and (12) mandated the Pennsylvania Attorney General to conduct annual performance audits of state or local agencies who participate in the administration of Megan's Law, and, also, required registered sex offenders to submit to fingerprinting and being photographed when registering at approved registration sites.[18] S.B. 92, P.N. 1995 was reported out of the Rules Committee on November 19, 2004 and approved by the full Senate that same day.

S.B. 92, P.N. 1995 was sent to the House on November 20, 2004, and that body voted to approve it on that date. The bill was sent to then-Governor Rendell who signed it on November 24, 2004, at which time it became Act 152 of 2004. [19]

Appellant's criminal prosecution giving rise to this appeal originated after Act 152 became law, and its provisions were applied by the trial court therein. In October 2005, Appellant was arrested for various sexual offenses against two young girls— ages 7 and 10— committed over a two-year period from 2003-2005.[20] Appellant proceeded to a jury trial on those charges and was convicted on March 8, 2007, after which the trial court ordered Appellant to be assessed by the SOAB. On July 2, 2007, Appellant's counsel filed a motion raising a number of challenges under the federal and state constitution to the sexually violent predator portions of the version of Megan's Law in effect prior to the passage of Act 152— " Megan's Law II" [21]— which he contended was applicable to his case. At his sentencing hearing, the trial court entertained argument on this motion, rejected all of Appellant's constitutional attacks, and sentenced him to an aggregate sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years imprisonment. The trial court further ruled that Appellant was a sexually violent predator and, thus, the sex offender registration and reporting provisions of Act 152 applied to him.[22]

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Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal, and he was directed by the trial court to file a statement of matters complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). In this statement, Appellant again raised a panoply of constitutional challenges to both Megan's Law II and Act 152, including a claim that the legislature's passage of Act 152 violated Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because it contained multiple topics which were not germane to a single subject. Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal, 11/7/07, at ¶¶ 13, 14. The trial court rejected this claim, finding that " the provisions of [Act 152] are sufficiently related and germane to a single subject, the amendments of [Title 42]." Trial Court Opinion, 12/11/07, at 14.

On appeal to the Superior Court, that tribunal deemed Appellant's Article III, Section 3 challenge sufficiently important to certify for en banc review, and, ultimately, ruled, in a 7-2 decision authored by then-President Judge Ford Elliott,[23] Act 152 violated Article III, Section 3. Commonwealth v. Neiman,5 A.3d 353 (Pa.Super.2010). In reaching its decision, the court extensively discussed our Court's rulings in City of Philadelphia v. Com., 575 Pa. 542, 838 A.2d 566 (2003) (" City of Philadelphia " ) (holding that, in order to ascertain whether legislation violates Article III, Section 3, the various provisions added during the legislative process must be examined to determine if they are germane to the overarching subject of the legislation) and Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion Fund Inc. v. Com., 583 Pa. 275, 877 A.2d 383 (2005) (" PAGE " ) (concluding that the majority of the provisions of the Gaming Act did not violate single subject rule of Article III, Section 3, since they were germane to one subject— the regulation of gaming; however, provisions that were not germane to the subject of gaming were stricken). Pursuant to the principles articulated in these cases, the court reviewed the multiple provisions of Act 152 and, based on its observations that the provisions amending Megan's Law were both the first and last sections of the law, comprising almost 60% of its total pages, determined that the focus of Act 152 was those amendments. The court opined that there was " little relationship" between the amendments to Megan's Law and the provisions of Act 152 amending the deficiency judgment statutes, nor, in the court's view, was there any apparent way to harmonize the other subjects of the bill involving the establishment of statutes of limitations and county police jurisdiction. Neiman, 5 A.3d at 359. The court rejected the trial court's suggested unifying subject of " amendments ...


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