eNotes: Liability – December 2022 – Pennsylvania
December 01, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
Pennsylvania Case Summaries
Jiminez v. Burlington Stores, Inc.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 1409 EDA 2021
Decided: October 26, 2022
Good faith effort at service demonstrated following COVID-19 judicial declaration of emergency.
Plaintiff brought suit for injuries sustained while shopping in Defendant’s store on April 4, 2018. Plaintiff filed a Praecipe for Writ of Summons on March 13, 2020. On March 18, 2020, the Supreme Court declared a statewide judicial emergency in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, which suspended all time calculations relevant to court cases. On March 24, 2020, the Court issued an Emergency Order defining that rules regarding service of original process were suspended by the prior order. The emergency suspensions lasted until April 30, 2020. Defendant’s counsel entered an appearance on April 13, 2020. Following the end of the emergency, Plaintiff had until May 25, 2020 to serve the original Writ. Plaintiff reissued the Writ on June 11, 2020 and was unsuccessful at serving the Writ due to Defendant’s business closing. The Writ was reissued again on October 28, 2020, and Plaintiff sent a certified letter to Defendant’s corporate address in New Jersey. Defendant conceded receiving notice of the suit via certified mail. Plaintiff filed a Complaint on April 7, 2021. Defendant challenged service via Preliminary Objection and argued that the case should be dismissed for Plaintiff’s failure to make a good faith effort at service. The Trial Court sustained the Preliminary Objections.
On appeal, Plaintiff argued that a good faith effort at service had been made. The Court noted that Plaintiff was under no obligation to attempt service while the Emergency Order remained in force. It observed that once the emergency suspension was lifted, Plaintiff reissued the Writ and attempted to serve it at the location of the accident. Plaintiff sought to locate the Defendant over the course of the next three months and ultimately ascertained an alternative address to effectuate service by certified mail. After reissuing the Writ a third time, the certified mail was immediately sent. The Court ruled that these facts did not warrant dismissal under Lamp v. Heyman. Coincidentally, the Court observed that because Defendant’s counsel entered an appearance within one month of the issuance of the initial Writ, there could be no argument of lack of notice of the suit.
The Superior Court reversed and remanded the judgment of the Trial Court holding that a good faith effort at service had been demonstrated.
Questions about this case can be directed to James F. Swartz, III at (610) 332-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Belfiore v. Truck Training Tech., Inc.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 342 WDA 2022
Decided: October 21, 2022
Case properly terminated under Rule 1901 for docket inactivity following evidence that delay in litigation caused prejudice to Defendants’ ability to present case.
John Belfiore had been an instructor at Truck Training Tech, Inc. (“TTT”) when, in 2007, an oral agreement was reached between Messrs. Krizan and Belfiore that Belfiore would purchase TTT from Krizan over time. However, alleging he had been locked out of financial matters and from physically entering the business, Belfiore filed a civil lawsuit against TTT and Krizan on September 11, 2008, asserting one count for breach of contract and another seeking an action for accounting. The pleadings closed on November 21, 2008. After more than two years of docket inactivity, on February 16, 2011, the Trial Court issued a Notice of proposed termination. Defendants responded with a Statement of intention to proceed on their Counterclaim. On July 15, 2015, after almost three years of docket inactivity, the Trial Court entered an Order presenting its own Motion to terminate the case with prejudice because it had been inactive for an unreasonable period. After a hearing, on August 13, 2015, the Trial Court set forth a detailed Order setting deadlines for the completion of the case. On July 28, 2020, after another 2.5 years of inactivity, the Trial Court again entered an Order presenting its own Motion to terminate the case with prejudice due to docket inactivity, pursuant to Pa. R. J.A. 1901. After a hearing, the Trial Court terminated the case. Belfiore filed a Motion for reconsideration, which was denied.
On appeal to the Superior Court, the Court reversed the Trial Court and remanded so the Trial Court could determine whether Defendants had suffered prejudice warranting dismissal under Rule 1901, a consideration that had not been presented during underlying hearings. Following remand, hearings were held and the Trial Court found that Belfiore’s undue delay caused Defendants actual prejudice warranting termination. The Court determined that Defendants were prejudiced because Krizan’s memory of events important to his defense had faded, witnesses had died, and documents had been lost. When the Trial Court again denied Belfiore’s Motion for reconsideration, Belfiore again appealed to the Superior Court.
The Superior Court affirmed. Citing the Note to Rule 1901 that requires a finding of prejudice before a case may be terminated for inactivity, it clarified that prejudice caused by undue delay may be established “by the death or absence of a material witness” and following “any substantial diminution of a party’s ability to properly present its case at trial.” The Superior Court agreed that sufficient evidence existed that Defendants’ defense had been prejudiced by the delay in litigation and affirmed dismissal pursuant to Rule 1901.
Questions about this case can be directed to Julia Morrison at (717) 441-7056 or email@example.com.
Grady v. Nelson
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 2115 EDA 2021, 2022 Pa. Super 186
Decided: October 21, 2022
Defendant was entitled to have default judgment against him stricken when record showed multiple fatal defects with the default judgment.
Plaintiff brought this suit against Defendant for personal injuries suffered when a lessee of Defendant shot Plaintiff. Plaintiff claimed Defendant was negligent for leasing the property to the shooter, Defendant allegedly knew the shooter was dangerous, violent, and engaged in frequent criminal activity and substance use. Plaintiff attempted to serve a Writ of Summons upon Defendant at an address which did not exist. The Sheriff’s return of service stated, “No such number on [Street]. No such address found on Chescoviews. Better address needed.” Defendant was later served in person at a public business. Plaintiff later filed the Complaint in July 2018 and served it on Defendant’s “home address” which was the previously identified non-existent address. Plaintiff then served a ten-day Notice, Praecipe for entry of default judgment, and a certification identifying Defendant’s address at this same, nonexistent address.
The Prothonotary entered default judgment in favor of Plaintiff, and sent a Rule 236 notice to Defendant at the same address. It was returned as undeliverable. The Court scheduled an assessment of damages hearing in March 2019, and entered a verdict in the amount of $1,000,000. Over two years later, Plaintiff served a Notice of deposition in aid of execution of judgment on Defendant at an alternative address, the first such item that was served to an alternative address. Defendant hired counsel and filed a Petition to strike or open judgment. The Trial Court denied the Petition, and Defendant filed a Motion for reconsideration, which was also denied. Defendant then appealed to the Superior Court.
The Superior Court reversed the Trial Court’s denial of the Petition to open or strike the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the record contained two fatal defects as of the date of judgment. The first was the conclusive evidence that Grady continued to serve the complaint, judgment, and all notices on an address they knew was non-existent, thus depriving Nelson from notice that this action was pending against him. The Court went further, suggesting that the service to a second address only after obtaining a $1,000,000 judgment suggested bad faith and an abuse of the rules. The second fatal defect was the language of the ten-day notice of intent to enter default judgment, which had the same language specifically ruled as insufficient in prior matters.
Questions about this case can be directed to Logan Nagle at (717) 255-7234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.