Women and Justice: Court: Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Domestic Case Law

Commonwealth v. Eckrote Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2010)

Sexual violence and rape, Domestic and intimate partner violence

C.B. was arriving home from work when Joseph Eckrote leapt from his hiding place under the porch and “charged” at her.  He demanded that C.B. get in the car and forced her to do so after she refused.  Despite her yelling and struggling to get free, Eckrote was able to drive off with C.B. to a wooded area where he raped her after repeatedly telling her he was going to kill himself.  Eckroke appealed his convictions for assault, kidnapping, and rape.  The court upheld the convictions after finding sufficient evidence to support all three.  As for assault, Eckrote hid himself and attacked C.B. when she arrived home; he forcibly stuffed her into the car which resulted in bruising.  He had in the past threatened to kill C.B. after hitting her in the face.  His conduct created in C.B. fear of imminent seriously bodily injury, which, in fact, occurred.  As for the rape, the evidence supported the finding that Eckrote used psychological and physical force to compel C.B. to engage in intercourse with him.  Lastly, the evidence established kidnapping because Eckrote possessed the requisite intent to facilitate a felony—rape—when he forced C.B. into the car and transported her to the wooded area.


Mescanti v. Mescanti Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual harassment

William and Elizabeth Mecanti were married with children.  William subjected Elizabeth to a pattern of harassment that lasted months.  The couple had been experiencing marital difficulties and Elizabeth had been sleeping on the couch.  She slept during the daytime because she worked the night shift.  William would come home from work and wake her up to argue and instigate fights.  He hacked into Elizabeth’s emails and looked through her pockets, cell phone logs, purses, and car.  He would follow her when she was out with friends.  He wrote her pages expressing his love, his fear of losing her, and his wish to stay together forever.  On one occasion William hid her house and car keys and locked her out of the house; when she was finally able to reenter the house, Elizabeth discovered that he had disconnected the telephone lines.  Elizabeth sought a protection from abuse (“PFA”) order after an incident when William wanted her to sleep with him in their bedroom, even though she had told him she wanted a divorce and they had been sleeping apart for three years.  When she refused to follow him to the bedroom, William told her “this is going to get ugly” and “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” Then he left the house.  Elizabeth went to sleep on the couch and woke up when William returned home and turned on the television.  She asked him to turn it off but he refused; after some argument he stormed out of the room after saying “you better not go to sleep.  You better not even close your eyes.”  Elizabeth heard a noise like the cocking of a gun (William kept guns in the house) so she called the police.  After this incident she sought the order of protection, which was granted.  She had not filed for divorce because she was afraid of what William might do.  On appeal, William argued that the PFA should not have issued because his threats were indirect and Elizabeth never testified to a past occasion when he threatened her as he did the night of the incident.  The court considered the pattern of harassment as a whole, including Elizabeth’s testimony that she had heard William cock guns in the past, and concluded that that his behavior established “abuse” under the statute.



Commonwealth v. Kerrigan Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2007)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Daniel Kerrigan sexually abused A.R., the 7-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend, for 3 years.  The abuse was discovered when A.R. was diagnosed with genital warts when she was 10 years old.  The court held that the transmission of HPV and genital warts satisfies the serious bodily injury requirement of the crimes of Rape of Child (Serious Bodily Injury) and Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse with a Child (Serious Bodily Injury) because HPV is a permanent disease, can lead to cervical cancer, and may be transmitted to A.R.’s future sexual partners or children.



Karch v. Karch Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2005)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Dinzel and Christine Karch were married with three children.  Christine sought and was granted a protection from abuse (“PFA”) order for an incident in March wherein Dinzel placed his hands around her neck and threatened to “snap” it.  Then in May, during an argument about getting divorced and child custody, Dinzel put his hands on his wife’s forehead, made a motion as if he was firing a gun, and said “there is your future.”  This action made Christine’s head sore as if she had a brush burn.  Dinzel argued that the court should not have credited Christine’s testimony about the injury inflicted upon her by him because she did not seek medical treatment for her injury.  But neither the PFA Act nor the body of case law interpreting it requires that there be medical evidence or that the wife seek medical treatment for an injury in order for her testimony to be found credible.  And in any event, verbal threats are sufficient to support the grant of a PFA; actual physical injury is not a prerequisite.  Dinzel next argued that the lack of a police report filed cast doubts on Christine’s credibility because it demonstrated that the police did not believe that she had been abused and that the lack of police compliance precluded the issue of a PFA as a matter of law.  The court held that it is also not required that a police report be filed in order to obtain a PFA and wished to make it “abundantly clear” that it will not infer that the failure of the police to act on a report of domestic violence means that the victim is not credible.



Hoy v. Angelone Superior Court of Pennsylvania (1997)

Sexual harassment

Louise Hoy worked at Shop-Rite as a meat-wrapper.  During her tenure there, Dominick Angelone repeatedly subjected her to sexual propositions, filthy language, off-color jokes, physical groping, and the posting of sexually suggestive pictures in the workplace.  Eventually Hoy took medical leave to receive psychiatric treatment; when she returned, she requested that the store manager move her to another department.  In order to recover under a hostile environment claim, the employee must prove that (1) she suffered intentional sex discrimination because of her sex; (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the employee; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in that position; and (5) the existence of respondeat superior liability.  Hoy established the first four elements but Shop-Rite argued that it could not be liable under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act for Angelone’s conduct because it did not know nor had reason to know of the existence of a sexually hostile environment, and it took remedial action.  A plaintiff may establish an employer’s knowledge by showing (i) that she complained to higher management or (ii) that the harassment was so pervasive that the employer will be charged with constructive knowledge.  The court upheld the jury’s finding that the store manager knew or should have been aware of the conduct before Hoy requested transfer out of the meat department and failed to take remedial action; indeed, the conduct was so pervasive that several of Hoy’s coworkers knew of the abuse.  Thus, Shop-Rite was liable for Angelone’s conduct because the manager failed to take remedial action despite this knowledge.