Friday, April 25, 2014

PA Commonwealth Court Reaffirms Rule Requiring Statute of Limitations Defense to be Raised in New Matter (Not Preliminary Objections)


Beware of the Statute of Limitations


In a March 12, 2014 decision, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held in the case of Daniel v. City of Philadelphia, PICS Case No. 14-0443 (Pa.Cmwlth. March 12, 2014 Friedman, S.J.), that a Plaintiff’s Complaint could not be reinstated after the expiration of the statute of limitations where the Plaintiff did not make good faith attempts to serve the Defendant with original process on the initial Complaint.  

According to the summary of this case, this action arose out of a slip and fall event. 

Just prior to the expiration of the two (2) year statute of limitations, the Plaintiff filed a personal injury Complaint against the City of Philadelphia.  The Plaintiff did not serve the Complaint at that time.  

Rather, approximately eight (8) months later, and over seven (7) months after the expiration of the statute of limitation, the Plaintiff reinstated the Complaint and, a few days later, served the Complaint on the City. 

The City filed an Answer and New Matter asserting that the statute of limitations had expired.   The City then moved for a judgment on the pleadings alleging that the Plaintiff had failed to serve the Complaint before the statute of limitations had expired, thereby barring her cause of action.  

The Plaintiff countered with an argument that the City had waived the issue by failing to raise it in Preliminary Objections. 

The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision that the City had properly raised its statute of limitations defense by way of Answer and New Matter under Pa. R.C.P. 1030(a), which rule mandates that all affirmative defenses, including the statute of limitations, must be pleaded in a responsive pleading under the heading “New Matter.”  As such, the Court rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that the statute of limitations argument should be raised by way of Preliminary Objections. 

Moreover, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 1007(2), the Plaintiff must serve original process within thirty (30) days after the filing of a Complaint.    If service is not made within that time, the Prothontoary may reinstate the Complaint thereby continuing the validity of the Complaint.  

The Court went on to note that a Plaintiff has the further duty to promptly serve the Complaint and not prevent or delay service of the Complaint.  The Court, following the case of Lamp v. Heyman, 366 A.2d 882 (Pa. 1976), noted that a failure to promptly notify the Defendant of the suit nullifies the commencement of the action.  

In order to toll the statute of limitations under these circumstances, a Plaintiff must make a good faith effort to serve the Complaint in a timely fashion.  

In this matter, the Plaintiff filed her lawsuit just prior to the expiration of the two (2) year statute of limitations but, thereafter, did not make any attempt to serve this original process.  Accordingly, the Plaintiff was found to have failed to toll the statute of limitations.  

When the Plaintiff attempted to reinstate the Complaint approximately eight (8) months later, the court noted that there was no evidence of a good faith effort to serve the Complaint in a timely  manner.

As such, the Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings was granted on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations and the failure to serve the Complaint in a timely fashion.  

 The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's decision in Daniel can be viewed HERE.
 
Source:  "Case Digests," Pennsylvania Law Weekly.
 
Source of imagewww.sandz.net

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