Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Latest Pronouncement on Service of Process Issues (And Another Great Dissenting Opinion by Justice Wecht)

In the case of Ferraro v. Patterson-Erie, No. 1 WAP 2023 (Pa. April 25, 2024) (Op. by Donohue, J.), the court addressed a statute of limitations argument related to service of process issues in a slip and fall case.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff slipped and fell at a Burger King and, thereafter, filed a negligence lawsuit against the operators of the restaurant.

The Plaintiff filed her Complaint within the two (2) year statute of limitations.

However, the Plaintiff encountered difficulties with serving the Complaint on the Defendants due to issues with the Sheriff’s service and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Plaintiff eventually served the Complaint through a private process server. She later reinstated the Complaint and then served it through the Sheriff.  However, this service by the Sheriff occurred after the statute of limitations had elapsed.

The Defendants argued that the action was barred by the statute of limitations because the Plaintiff did not make a good faith effort to serve them in a timely manner.

The trial court had denied the Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in this regard. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

On appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the decision of the Superior Court was reversed.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Plaintiff failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that she made a good faith effort in diligently and timely serving process on the Defendants.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court found that the Defendants’ informal receipt of actual notice was irrelevant.

The court emphasized that the Plaintiffs are not permitted to opt out of the Rules of Civil Procedure regarding service in order to give notice of the commencement of a lawsuit by way of informal means. The court noted that, if attempts at service of process were viewed as optional for given such notice of the filing of a lawsuit, then no Plaintiff would be required to rely upon the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure to complete service of process in a proper manner.

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

The Dissenting Opinion by Justice Wecht, in which Justice Mundy joined, can be viewed HERE.  Justice Wecht's Dissenting Opinion provides and excellent and thorough overview of the jurisprudence in Pennsylvania on the service of process law.  Justice Wecht also proposes ways to provide clarity on this area of law going forward.

Source: Justia.com Daily Opinions Summaries (April 26, 2024).

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