Friday, July 18, 2014

Summary Judgment Entered for Defendant Based Upon Failure to Make Good Faith Effort to Serve Complaint

In his recent decision in the Jefferson County case of Pearce v. Jones, PICS Case No. 14-0928 (C.P. Jefferson Co. May 23, 2014 Foradora, J.), Judge John Foradora addressed the issue of the applicability of the statute of limitations barring an automobile negligence claim based upon a service on process issue.  

Essentially, the court ruled that the Plaintiff’s failure to make reasonable efforts to serve the Defendant until months after the statute of limitations had expired precluded the Plaintiff from pursuing the action and, as such, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.
 
By way of background, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint on May 28, 2013 alleging personal injuries as a result of a May 30, 2011 motor vehicle accident.   The Plaintiff did not submit a request for service at the time of the filing of the Complaint.  

The statute of limitations then expired on May 30, 2013.
 
Thereafter, on June 12, 2013, the Plaintiff’s counsel provided the Defendant’s liability carrier’s adjuster with a copy of the Complaint.  
 
Later, under a September 11, 2013 letter to the Prothonotary, Plaintiff’s counsel enclosed a Praecipe to Reinstate the Complaint, another copy of the Complaint, and a check for the Sheriff’s service fee.  
 
On September 27, 2013, the Prothonotary advised the attorney as to the correct amount of the fee.  Nearly six (6) weeks later, counsel forwarded a second Praecipe and the correct fee, both of which were delivered to the Sheriff for service.   Service was then unsuccessful. 
 
On January 24, 2014, Plaintiff’s counsel sent another Praecipe and service was completed upon the Defendant a few days later on January 27, 2014.  
 
The Defendant filed a summary judgment motion based upon the Plaintiff’s failure to promptly effectuate service.   After finding that the Plaintiff did not make any effort to notify the Defendant of the claim until well after the applicable statute of limitations had expired, the court granted the Motion.
 
In so ruling, Judge Foradora noted that a Plaintiff making a good faith effort to complete service does to wait nearly four (4) months after the filing to even try to have the Defendant served and then an additional six (6) weeks upon learning of the attorney’s noncompliance with the Prothonotary’s requirement to submit the necessary documents and payment to insure compliance with the service rules.  
 
The trial court further found that the liability carrier’s knowledge of the suit in June of 2013 did not excuse the Plaintiff’s lack of good faith effort to complete service.  

 I do not have a copy of this one.  Anyone desiring a copy of this case may contact the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly by calling 1-800-276-7427 and providing the above noted PICS Case No. along with a payment of a small fee.  

Source: "Case Digests," Pennsylvania Law Weekly (June, 2014).

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