Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Pennsylvania Superior Court Addresses Validity of a Concise Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal; Also Upholds Exculpatory Clause in a Lease

In the case of Keystone Specialty Services Co. v. Ebaugh, No. 1289 WDA 2020 (Pa. Super. Nov. 22, 2021 Olson, J., Nichols, J., and Collins, J.) (Op. by Collins, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of landlord Defendants in a breach of contract and negligence action that the Plaintiff filed.

The case arose out of alleged damage to equipment and other personal property that the Plaintiff stored in a building owned by the landlord. The Plaintiff’s property allegedly sustained water damage from water flowing from a broken pipe in the building.

The landlord Defendants asserted that exculpatory provisions in the lease agreement protected the landlords from any liability exposure. The trial court entered summary judgment on the basis of the exculpatory clauses and the Plaintiff eventually appealed.

With regard to an appellate procedure issue of note, the court found fault with the Plaintiff’s sparse Concise Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal required by Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b). The Plaintiff had responded that it was unable to discern from the lower court’s Order as to the reasons relied upon by the trial court in entering its decision.

In this regard, the Pennsylvania Superior Court noted that, if a party feels that it cannot discern the basis for the trial court’s Order sufficiently in order to identify the issues that the party intends to raise on appeal, the party is required to preface the [Rule 1925(b)] Statement with an explanation as to why the Statement has identified the errors only in general terms.  See Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b)(4)(i).

On this basis, in terms of the Plaintiff’s failures with its Concise Statement, the court found that the Plaintiff’s appeal was barred by the Doctrine of Waiver. The Pennsylvania Superior Court also went on to note that the Plaintiff’s appeal failed on the merits in any event.

In this regard, the court upheld the exculpatory clause relied upon by the Defendant. The court noted that exculpatory clauses and contracts are valid (1) where they do not contravene public policy, (2) where the clauses are between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs, and (3) where each party was a free bargaining agent to the agreement. See Op. at 9.

As such, the trial court’s entry of summary judgment was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court for these multiple reasons noted.

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

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