Friday, May 21, 2021

Judge Julia K. Munley of Lackawanna County Addresses Service of Process Issues

In the case of Kadtka v. 81 Keystone, LLC, No. 2019-CV-7109 (C.P. Lacka. Co. May 6, 2021 Munley, J.), Judge Julia K. Munley of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed Preliminary Objections that raised the primary issue of whether or not the Plaintiff had made a good faith effort to notify the Defendant of the commencement of the litigation with the service of the Complaint.

According to the Opinion, the Defendant was asserting that the Plaintiff unduly delayed in completing service and engaged in non-compliance with the Rules of Civil Procedure. The Plaintiff countered that a good faith effort was made and that the Defendant allegedly evaded service.

After reviewing the current status of Pennsylvania law relative to the Lamp v. Heyman standard of review for the completion of service of process, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s most recent pronouncement on the issues in the Gussom case, Judge Munley found that the Plaintiff had indeed made a good faith effort to complete service. [Click HERE to see the Tort Talk post on the Gussom case along with a link to that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion].

In this Kadtka case, Judge Munley took into account that some of the delays with respect to the completion of service may have been attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic which the court acknowledged had had a significant impact upon lawyers, litigants, and the court system.

The court additionally encouraged the utilization of evidentiary hearings with regards to service of process issues as the court believed that the credibility of the claims and defenses with regard to service could be more fully addressed at an evidentiary hearing as opposed to the reliance upon submitted paperwork in the form of pleadings, affidavits or deposition testimony.

The court was also influenced to deny the Preliminary Objections on the basis of its findings that a technical non-compliance with the rules of service was excusable, particularly where the record confirmed that the Defendant received actual notice of the lawsuit and was not prejudiced by the delay in service.

The decision by Judge Munley is also notable in that the court rejected a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in which it was asserted that, in this trip and fall case, the allegations by the Plaintiff that the exterior steps upon which the Plaintiff allegedly fell were “dangerous” and “unreasonably unsafe” were not sufficiently specific to allow the claims to go forward.  The court instead found that the Complaint as a whole put the defense on notice of the claims presented.

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

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