Sunday, April 8, 2012

Judge Terrence R. Nealon of Lackawanna County Addresses Gist of the Action Doctrine

In his recent March 20, 2012 decision in the case of Healey v. Wells Fargo, No. 2011-Civil-3340 (C.P. Lacka. Co. March 20, 2012 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections raised in a case involving a lender and breach of contract and tort claims.

Of note in this decision is Judge Nealon’s analysis of the gist of the action doctrine and its impact on the Plaintiff’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress and other tort claims pled in this matter.
While the facts involved in this case are convoluted, the opinion is a worthwhile read if you are faced with a gist of the action doctrine issue. This doctrine basically maintains the distinction between breach of contract claims and tort claims and precludes Plaintiffs from recasting ordinary breach of contract claims as tort claims.  Stated otherwise, under Pennsylvania law, a cause of action framed as a tort but reliant upon contractual obligations will be analyzed to determine whether the cause of action properly lies in tort or contract.

Judge Nealon reviewed in this decision the law of the gist of the action doctrine which serves to bar tort claims that arise solely from a contractual relationship between the parties, when the alleged duties breached are grounded in the contract itself, where any liability stems from the contract, when the tort claim essentially duplicates the breach of contract claims, and/or where the success of the tort claim is dependent on the success of the breach of contract claim.

Ultimately, the court in this case of Healey v. Wells Fargo found that the gist of the action doctrine served to bar certain tort claims presented by the Plaintiff.

Anyone desiring a copy of Judge Nealon’s 49 page opinion may click here.

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