In simple terms, allocatur is a petition to an appellate court for permission to be allowed to file an appeal. An allocatur petition is generally filed where an automatic right to appeal does not exist.
In Pennsylvania, a litigant has an absolute right to appeal a decision of a magisterial district judge to the Court of Common Pleas for the county in which the district magistrate sits. A litigant also has a right to appeal a decision of the Court of Common Pleas to the Pennsylvania Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, depending on the type of case. Both the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court are intermediate level appellate courts.
In most cases, however, there is no right to file a direct appeal from the Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Most cases heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court begin with the filing of an allocatur petition, formally known as a Petition for Allowance of Appeal. Unlike the lower courts, you must first ask for and receive permission to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
According to its internal statistics, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court receives approximately 2,000 allocatur petitions in an average year. However, only about 3% of those petitions are granted; 97% of the requests filed seeking the right to appeal to the Supreme Court are denied.
In order to be selected as a case to be heard on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court your case must be special. The Supreme Court lists the following standards which make a case “special” and likely to be heard by the Court:
- the lower court’s decision in your case conflicts with another decision from the same court;
- the lower court’s decision conflicts with a holding of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court on the same legal question;
- the issue in your case is one of “first impression,” in other words, it has never been decided before by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
- the question presented in your case is of such substantial public importance as to require prompt and definitive resolution by the Supreme Court;
- the issue in your case involves the constitutionality of a state statute;
- the lower court has so far departed from accepted judicial practices or has so abused its discretion as to call for intervention by the Supreme Court; or
- the lower court has erroneously entered an order quashing or dismissing an appeal.
The bottom line is this: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not take on many cases, and the cases that it does take on are typically unique or of public importance. The vast majority of allocatur petitions are denied, leaving the final judgment of the intermediate appellate court to stand as the final judgment in the case. While we think of the Supreme Court as the “court of last resort,” the reality is that in Pennsylvania, the court of last resort is typically the Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court. If you win there, your victory is usually secure.
– Kevin Palmer