Civil procedure, Coordination, Rule 213.1
HTR Restaurants, Inc. v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 260 A.3d 978 (Pa. Super. 2021), allocatur granted May 25, 2022, appeal dockets 21-24 WAP 2022
This case concerns whether actions involving similar coverage issues against Erie Insurance Exchange (Erie) can be coordinated pursuant to Rule 213.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
HTR Restaurants, Inc. (HTR) and Joseph Tambellini (Tambellini) filed civil actions against Erie seeking coverage of business interruption losses incurred as a result of the shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As summarized by the Superior Court, the relevant factual background is as follows.
On April 17, 2020, Tambellini filed a civil complaint against Erie in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. On June 17, 2020, HTR filed a civil complaint against Erie in the Allegheny County court. Both Tambellini and HTR asserted claims against Erie under their insurance policies for business interruption losses incurred in connection with COVID-19-related shutdowns.
On June 24, 2020, pursuant to Rule 213.1, Tambellini and HTR jointly filed a motion to coordinate requesting that the Allegheny County court (1) coordinate Tambellini’s and HTR’s actions in Allegheny County with the Lancaster County and Philadelphia County actions and (2) coordinate any other Pennsylvania action against Erie concerning its denial of business interruption coverage in Allegheny County. Other plaintiffs with similar actions against Erie in Philadelphia County (Capriccio Parkway, LLC) and Lancaster County (Perfect Pots, LLC) joined in this motion.
On July 17, 2020, Erie filed a response in opposition to the motion to coordinate and attached a list of all pending actions against Erie in Pennsylvania Courts. Subsequently, Tambellini and HTR jointly filed a reply brief stating that they sent notice of the motion to coordinate via certified mail to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the other cases. Several plaintiffs in these cases objected to coordination, while others agreed that the coordination was appropriate.
On July 24, 2020, following oral argument, the Allegheny Court entered an order granting the motion to coordinate. The order provided:
- The Allegheny County Action[s], Philadelphia County Action, and the Lancaster County Action are coordinated for all pre-trial matters, trial, and full and final resolution;
- Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213.1(e), the Clerk of this Court shall immediately send a certified copy of this Order to the respective courts in the actions set forth in Paragraph 1 and a notice to all Plaintiffs and [Erie] of this Order immediately upon its entry. [Erie] shall also serve this Order on counsel for all parties in the actions set forth in Paragraph 1 and all other similarly situated Plaintiffs;
- [Erie] shall notify this Court of any further similar actions filed against [Erie], and those actions will be transferred to this Court and made part of the proceedings coordinated by this Order;
- Any party in an action identified in a notice filed with this Court as raising common questions of fact or law can within thirty (30) days of this Order or within fourteen (14) days after the notice is filed (whichever is later), file an objection to being part of the coordinated proceedings with this Court. If no objection is filed within the thirty (30) day period, the Clerk shall send a certified copy of this Order and the notice that the case is part of this proceeding to the court where the action was initially filed to implement the transfer to this Court. If a party files an objection, any party to the coordinated proceeding may file a response to the objection within fourteen (14) days. If the Court rules that the action should not be part of the coordinated proceedings, the action will not be transferred. If the Court finds that the action shall be part of the coordinated proceedings, the Clerk shall send a certified copy of the Order denying the objection to the court where the action was initially filed to implement the transfer to this coordinated proceeding; and
- All parties shall bear their own costs in connection with coordination and the litigation of the coordinated actions.
Slip op. at 2-4 (internal citations omitted) (footnote omitted). After the trial court granted the motion for coordination, various parties filed objections and others agreed to the coordination.
Erie timely filed notices of appeal to Superior Court from the trial court’s coordination order. Erie raised several issues on appeal, only one of which is the subject of the Supreme Court’s discretionary review: “Did the Trial Court exceed its authority and abuse its discretion under Pa.R.Civ.P. 213.1 by divesting other courts in other counties of jurisdiction and plaintiffs of their choice of venue in a case where no party requested coordination?” Slip op. at 7.
Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213.1 provides:
(a) In actions pending in different counties which involve a common question of law or fact or which arise from the same transaction or occurrence, any party, with notice to all other parties, may file a motion requesting the court in which a complaint was first filed to order coordination of the actions. Any party may file an answer to the motion and the court may hold a hearing.
(b) The court in which the complaint was first filed may stay the proceedings in any action which is the subject of the motion.
(c) In determining whether to order coordination and which location is appropriate for the coordinated proceedings, the court shall consider, among other matters:
(1) whether the common question of fact or law is predominating and significant to the litigation;
(2) the convenience of the parties, witnesses and counsel;
(3) whether coordination will result in unreasonable delay or expense to a party or otherwise prejudice a party in an action which would be subject to coordination;
(4) the efficient utilization of judicial facilities and personnel and the just and efficient conduct of the actions;
(5) the disadvantages of duplicative and inconsistent rulings, orders or judgments;
(6) the likelihood of settlement of the actions without further litigation should coordination be denied.
(d) If the court orders that actions shall be coordinated, it may
(1) stay any or all of the proceedings in any action subject to the order, or
(2) transfer any or all further proceedings in the actions to the court or courts in which any of the actions is pending, or
(3) make any other appropriate order.
(e) In the order of coordination, the court shall include the manner of giving notice of the order to all parties in all actions subject thereto and direct that specified parties pay the costs, if any, of coordination. The court shall also order that a certified copy of the order of coordination be sent to the courts in which the actions subject to the order are pending, whereupon those courts shall take such action as may be appropriate to carry out the coordination order.
(f) The final order disposing of a coordinated action or proceeding shall be certified and sent to the court in which the action was originally commenced to be filed of record.
Slip op. at 8-9 (quoting Pa.R.Civ.P. 213.1). Superior Court explained that the purpose of Rule 213.1 is the “avoidance of multiple trials and proceedings in these actions and the resultant economy to both the parties and the judicial system. Slip op. at 9 (quoting Explanatory Comment, Pa.R.Civ.P. 213.1) (internal quotations omitted).
Erie argued that Rule 213.1 “did not entitle Tambellini and HTR, as parties in Allegheny County actions, to seek coordination with actions from outside Allegheny County.” Slip op. at 11. Erie’s interpretation of Rule 213.1 as applied to the facts presented is that the rule permits only parties outside the Allegheny County action to file for coordination with the Allegheny County action. Specifically, Erie maintained that Rule 213.1 “‘does not, on its face, permit a stranger to Case A to file a motion to use a commandeering maneuver to coordinate Case A with a case filed earlier by the stranger. That is, it is up to the parties to Case A—and not the stranger—to seek coordination.’” Slip op. at 12 (quoting Erie’s Br. at 28-29). Superior Court disagreed, noting that “the plain language of Rule 213.1 permits any party, including Allegheny County parties such as Tambellini and HTR, to request coordination of their Allegheny County actions with actions outside Allegheny County.” Slip op. at 11.
Superior Court explained that the relevant statutory language of Rule 213.1 provides, “‘[i]n actions pending in different counties. . . any party, with notice to all other parties, may file a motion requesting the court in which a complaint was first filed to order coordination of the actions.’” Slip op. at 11 (quoting Pa.R.Civ.P. 213.1(a)) (emphasis in original). Because there were multiple actions pending against Erie in multiple counties, Superior Court concluded, “any party” to any one of the multiple actions is entitled under Rule 213.1 to file for coordination; accordingly, the Allegheny County plaintiffs were allowed to move for coordination of all actions in Allegheny County. As Superior Court explained, “[h]ad our Supreme Court intended Erie’s interpretation to apply, it would have provided in the rule that ‘any party other than the plaintiff in the court in which a complaint was first filed’ may seek coordination, or words to that effect.” Slip op. at 12.
The Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider the following issue:
Did the Superior Court endorse an erroneous, unprecedented and dangerous expansion of Pa.R.Civ.P. 213.1 contrary to its plain language and which threatens to disrupt this and other litigations pending in multiple Counties throughout the Commonwealth, in holding that a litigant who is not a “party” to other cases in “different counties,” has standing to file a Rule 213.1 motion to transfer such cases to the County of the nonparty’s choice?