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Understanding the Supreme Court’s Procedures for Hearing a Case

By Matthew Haverstick

In a ruling earlier this week, the Supreme Court denied the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to bypass Commonwealth Court and get a direct decision on the constitutionality of the City’s soda tax by the state’s highest court. Procedures are often confused for getting the Supreme Court to hear a case “out of order”, sooner than the case would have otherwise been slated to go before the Court.

The Supreme Court takes cases using several procedural vehicles. The most commonly understood by practitioners is a grant of allocatur – the Court’s discretionary review of an appeal from an intermediate appellate court. Supreme Court hears direct appeals from Commonwealth Courts and on grand jury matters. There are even a (very limited) set of cases that fall within the Court’s original jurisdiction. And then there’s King’s Bench.

A request for the Court’s exercise of its King’s Bench discretion (usually reserved for a matter of significant public policy or import) is a direct request that the Court hear a standalone action and decide the issue/case once and for all. King’s Bench petitions occur only when there is no pending action anywhere else in the Pennsylvania judicial system. King’s Bench is often confused with its close cousin, the Court’s exercise of its extraordinary jurisdiction, which is a request by a litigant that the Court assume jurisdiction over a matter already pending in another state court. It is this latter vehicle that the City of Philadelphia attempted to use in the filing that was denied Monday. In practice, the Court’s grant of either a King’s Bench or the exercise of its extraordinary jurisdiction are rare events indeed, so it is no surprise Philadelphia unsuccessfully sought one. (Full disclosure – the author recently asked for, and was granted, a King’s Bench, demonstrating that from time to time the Court will avail itself of these unique procedural mechanisms).