Statute of Limitations; Excuse from Pa. R.C.P. 401 Service Requirements
Ferraro v. Patterson-Erie Corporation, 2022 WL 1717935 (Pa. Super.) (unreported), allocatur granted Jan. 4, 2023, appeal docket 1 WAP 2023
The Supreme Court will consider whether a complaint not properly and timely served by Sheriff as required by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure may be excused, where such failure is not attributable to the Plaintiff and partially due to COVID-19.
This case arises from a personal injury complaint arising from a slip and fall incident initiated by Beverly Ferraro against Patterson-Erie Corporation. The trial court summarized the relevant facts as follows:
[Beverly Ferraro, hereinafter, “Plaintiff”], avers the alleged slip and fall incident that caused her injuries occurred on August 25, 2018. Being as such, [Plaintiff] was constrained to file her personal injury action related thereto on or before August 25, 2020. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5524, Two Year Limitation (“The following actions and proceedings must be commenced within two years: (2) An action to recover damages for injuries to the person or for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another”). [Plaintiff] filed her Complaint in Civil Action on March 4, 2020, well within the applicable Statute of Limitations period. On March 9, 2020, [Plaintiff] mailed a cover letter to the Butler County Sheriff’s Department, along with a certified copy of the Complaint in Civil Action and a check for service of the Complaint upon [Appellant]. For unknown reasons, the Sheriff’s Department never attempted service. On or about May 6, 2020, Plaintiff’s counsel became aware that the Complaint had not been served on [Appellant]. She immediately hired a process server, who promptly served [Appellant] with the Complaint in Civil Action on May 6, 2020. Thereafter, on or about November 3, 2020, [Plaintiff] reinstated her Complaint. The Sheriff’s Department formally served the Complaint in Civil Action upon [Appellant] on November 30, 2020.
Slip op. at 1-2.
Patterson-Erie filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the basis that Ms. Ferraro did not timely serve the complaint by Sheriff as required by Pa. R.C.P. 401. The trial court denied Patterson-Erie’s motion on the pleadings, reasoning that:
Plaintiff engaged in a good faith effort to properly serve [Appellant] with the Complaint in Civil Action within the applicable time period, provided actual notice to [Appellant] of the commencement of suit, and any delay in proper service or reinstatement of the Complaint was not an attempt to stall the judicial machinery.
Furthermore, [Appellant] failed to demonstrate any prejudice stemming from the above actions.
Slip op. at 4. In reaching its determination, the trial court relied on McCreesh v. City of Philadelphia, 888 A.2d 664 (Pa. 2005), in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a plaintiff satisfies the obligation to make good-faith effort to give notice of commencement of action when defendant has actual notice of the commencement of litigation and is not otherwise prejudiced, therefore even if the plaintiff fails to comply strictly with the Rules of Civil Procedure and local practice, dismissal is appropriate only if a plaintiff has demonstrated an intent to stall the judicial machinery or where plaintiff’s failure to comply has prejudiced defendant. Patterson-Erie filed a petition for permission to appeal, which Superior Court granted.
Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Patterson-Erie’s motion on the pleadings and adopted the trial court’s opinion in support.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider:
Whether the Superior Court’s conclusion that [Respondent] was excused from compliance with the Rules of Civil Procedure to serve [Petitioner] timely and via the Sheriff before the statute of limitations expired was in conflict with this Honorable Court’s holdings on the same legal question and other holdings of the intermediate appellate courts?