Thursday, April 22, 2021

Pennsylvania Superior Court Allows for Statute of Limitations Issue to be Addressed by way of Preliminary Objections

In the case of Sayers v. Heritage Valley Medical Group, Inc., No. 405 WDA 2020 (PA Super March 15, 2021, Bowes, J. Olson, J. and Musmanno, J.) (Op by Olson, J.), The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the trial court property dismissed a Plaintiff’s medical malpractice action on statute of limitations grounds even though the Defendants raised the issues by way of Preliminary Objections instead of through their New Matter.

According to the opinion, there were delays in reissuing and completing the service on the writ of summons.

One of the Defendants asserted a statute of limitations defense by way of Preliminary Objections. The Plaintiffs filed a Preliminary Objection to the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections. The main argument put forth by the Plaintiffs was that a statute of limitations defense must be raised in a New Matter.

After finding that the record clearly established that the writ of summons filed by the Plaintiff failed to toll the statute of limitations, the trial court elected to address the status of limitations defense in the interest of judicial economy and, as a result, dismissed the Complaint.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that generally speaking, a statute of limitations defenses is indeed properly raised in a New Matter and not in Preliminary Objections. 

However, the court noted that there is an exception to the rules that permits the trial court to address in affirmative defense on the merits when it has been brief, argued, considered, by the trial court, and if it is apparent from the record that, if the affirmative defense were properly raised in a New Matter, the Defendant party would have the right to assert the issue in a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

Pennsylvania Superior Court also stated that the affirmative defense may be raised by Preliminary Objections were it is established under phase of a Complaint that the same is of merit or where the Plaintiff failed to object to this procedural irregularity, i.e. by failing to file Preliminary Objections to improper Preliminary Objections asserted by the Defendant.

In this case, the court found that there is no evidence or information that the Writ that was filed by the Plaintiff was ever delivered to the Sheriff's Department for service.  Nor was there any other evidence to show a good faith effort on part of the Plaintiff to complete service. 

As such, the appellate court found that it was proper for the trial court to have addressed the statute of limitations issue. The appellate court also affirmed the entry of the Order of the trial court sustaining the Defendant's Preliminary Objections and dismissing the Complaint.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this case may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 30, 2021).

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