Friday, April 15, 2011

Judge Van Jura of Luzerne County Addresses Motion For Coordination in a Post-Koken Case

I recently reported on Judge Terrence R. Nealon’s Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas Opinion in the case of Bingham v. Poswistilo Ritz, and Erie Ins., No. 10-CIV-6020 (Lacka. Co., April 8, 2011, Nealon, J), in which Judge Nealon ruled that third party liability claims and UIM claims may be consolidated under one caption in the post-Koken world but in which Judge Nealon also ruled that such claims should be severed in the case before him under venue issues,

At the end of his Opinion in Binghman, Judge Nealon noted that the Court took no position as to whether a plaintiff may attempt to thereafter coordinate a UIM claim in Lackawanna County with the severed tort claims in Lehigh County under the different standards applicable under Pa. R.C.P. 213.1(a)(c), pertaining to “coordination of actions in different counties.”

On the heels of Judge Nealon's opinion, comes a Luzerne County decision by Judge Joseph Van Jura in the case of Orsulak v. Penn National Mutual Cas. Ins. Co. and Penn National Ins., No. 12255-Civil-2010 (Luz. Co., April 12, 2011, Van Jura, J.), addressing the open issue of coordination that was raised by Judge Nealon in the Bingham decision.

Judge Van Jura tackled this very issue in the Orsulak case and set forth the various factors to be considered on a Motion for Coordination/Petition to Transfer Venue that filed by the Defendant carrier pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 213.1.

Under Pa. R.C.P. 213.1(a), it is provided that “[i]n actions pending in different counties which involve a common question of law or fact or which arise from the same transactions 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.”

Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213.1(c) sets forth at least six (6) factors to be used by the Court in determining whether to order coordination and to determine which location is appropriate for the coordinated proceedings. Judge Van Jura noted that the “basis for the rule is the avoidance of multiple trials and proceedings in these separate actions and the resultant economy to both the parties and the judicial system.” Orsulak at p. 4.

In addition to reviewing the factors noted under Rule 213.1, Judge Van Jura also noted guidance from the Explanatory Comment to the rule “which explains that the ultimate determination that the Court must make is whether coordination is ‘a fair and efficient method of adjudicating the controversy.’” Id.

In Orsulak, the Plaintiffs’ claims arose from a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Monroe County. The Plaintiffs filed a Writ of Summons in Monroe County against the tortfeasors only.

The case in Monroe County sat dormant with a Writ only filed while the Plaintiffs attempted to resolve their claims with a worker’s compensation carrier and with Penn National as the UIM carrier.

When the claim with the UIM carrier and the worker’s compensation carrier could not be resolved, the Plaintiffs filed a separate Complaint against Penn National as the UIM carrier alleging causes of action for breach of contract (UIM) and bad faith in Luzerne County.

Thereafter, the UIM carrier filed its Motion for Coordination/Petition to Transfer. After applying the six factors under Rule 213.1(c), along with a guidance from the Explanatory Comment, to the case before him, Judge Van Jura ruled that the Motion for Coordination should be granted and that venue in the Luzerne County case should be transferred to Monroe County.

Judge Van Jura noted that Luzerne County had no, or virtually no, connection with, the issues involved, the facts or site of the accident in question, the potential witnesses, or other sources of proof.

Judge Van Jura also noted that the Plaintiffs reside in Northampton County and that their residence was less than 33 driving miles from the Monroe County Courthouse, but over 61 driving miles to the Luzerne County Courthouse.

The court was also influenced by the fact that both the Luzerne County case and the Monroe County case were in their seminal stages and that coordination would, therefore, not result in any unreasonable delay, expense, or prejudice to any party in the action. Judge Van Jura additionally pointed to the benefits of judicial economy that would result from a coordination of the actions together in Monroe County.


Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion in the case of Orsulak v. Penn National by Judge Van Jura may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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