Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where Corporate Franchisor is Named Defendant, Service of Process on Local Franchisee is Insufficient

In the case of  Trexler vs McDonald’s Corporation, 2015 Pa. Super. 131, 903 MDA 2014 (Pa. Super. June 3, 2015 Ford Elliott, P.J.E.,  Shogan, J., Stabile, J.)(Op. by Stabile, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently clarified that, where the named Defendant in a lawsuit is the Corporate Franchisor, in order for service of a Complaint as original process to be proper, the Complaint must be served upon that Corporate Franchisor Defendant, and not he individual franchisee who may own the local establishment.  

In this case, the Plaintiff sued the McDonald's Corporation after an alleged slip and fall at a local McDonald's located in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

The Plaintiff served the Complaint upon the manager of the local Pottsville franchisee McDonald’s where the Plaintiff was allegedly injured as a result of an alleged slip and fall.  The Plaintiff did not properly serve the Complaint upon an agent of McDonald’s Corporation, who was the actual Defendant named in the lawsuit.   

The Corporation argued in Preliminary Objections that it did not own or manage the local Pottsville McDonald’s and that, as such, service was improper or incomplete.  The McDonald’s Corporation also asserted that no one at the local McDonald’s in Pottsville was authorized to accept service of any lawsuit on behalf of the Corporate Franchisor.

The Court agreed that proper service of the Complaint had not been effectuated over the Corporate Franchisor Defendant named in the suit under the circumstances presented.

The Plaintiff countered with an argument that the Preliminary Objections filed by McDonald’s Corporations, which were filed eleven months after the local franchisee’s manager was served, were untimely, as the Preliminary Objections were well beyond the 20 days within which Rule 1026 permits the filing of pleadings subsequent to a Complaint.  

The Superior Court rejected this argument and emphasized that the deadline noted in Pa.R.C.P. 1026(a) to file Preliminary Objections within 20 days was a deadline the time for which did not begin until after proper service of the previous pleading.  Since there was no proper service of the Complaint, the 20 day rule to file the subsequent pleading never began to run.

As such, the trial court’s granting of the Corporate Defendant’s Preliminary Objections was affirmed by the Superior Court.

This Superior Court Opinion in the Trexler v. McDonald's case can be viewed online HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney Patricia Burns Horn of the Exton, PA law firm of Connors O'Dell, LLP for bringing this decision to my attention.

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