United States: Recent Superior Court Decision Highlights Perils Of Post-Trial Practice In Pennsylvania

The Superior Court's recent decision in Vietri v. Delaware Valley High School, No. 648 EDA 2012 (March 22, 2013), brings into sharp focus the intricacies of Pennsylvania post-trial practice and the need to proceed cautiously in preserving appellate rights.

The case features a complicated procedural history, initially stemming from the plaintiff's incorrect filing of a posttrial motion after the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff also filed a timely notice of appeal. By letter to the plaintiff's counsel, the Superior Court expressed concern over its jurisdiction, noting that the post-trial motion remained outstanding and that an appeal may not be taken until a valid post-trial motion has been decided. The letter did not address whether the posttrial motion had in fact been properly filed. The appellant's counsel failed to respond to the Superior Court's letter, and the Superior Court quashed the appeal.

Shortly thereafter, the trial court denied the pending posttrial motion and the plaintiff filed another notice of appeal one day later. The Superior Court again quashed the appeal, this time upon the defendant's petition arguing that the new notice of appeal was filed more than 30 days after the summary judgment order became final and therefore was untimely. The Superior Court's order specified that it quashed the appeal without prejudice to the plaintiff's right to seek relief nunc pro tunc in the trial court.

The plaintiff followed the Superior Court's advice and filed a petition to appeal nunc pro tunc in the trial court. The trial court denied the petition without opinion or explanation. The plaintiff then filed his third appeal to the Superior Court.

The Superior Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the petition for appeal nunc pro tunc. The Superior Court first noted that the plaintiff erred by filing a post-trial motion to an order granting summary judgment. Accordingly, the post-trial motion was either a legal nullity or potentially could be construed as a motion for reconsideration, but in neither event would this filing toll the time to appeal. The plaintiff did, however, file his original notice of appeal within 30 days of the final order entered by the trial court, and so the Superior Court admitted that it "arguably erred" by quashing the plaintiff's first appeal. The Superior Court corrected what it characterized as "a breakdown in this Court that interfered with Appellant's right to appeal" by directing the trial court to enter an order restoring the plaintiff's right to appeal nunc pro tunc.

As even this brief overview of the case's complicated procedural history shows, this case highlights several of the many possible pitfalls of Pennsylvania appellate practice:

  • First, know when to file post-trial motions and when not to do so. This can be a difficult area. Post-trial motions can be necessary to preserve appellate rights, but the Supreme Court's recent decision in Newman Development Group v. Genuardi's Family Markets, Inc., 52 A.3d 1233 (Pa. 2012), instructs that failure to file a post-trial motion should not result in waiver of a right to appeal unless the rules clearly require a post-trial filing. Lower courts have not always followed that guidance, however. Indeed, just this week, the Superior Court heard argument en banc in a case, In re Estate of Smaling, that may give rise to post-trial motion requirements arguably at odds with terms of the Orphans' Court Rules. In light of the understandable concern cases like Smaling can cause, parties often will do what the plaintiff did here: file a post-trial motion out of an abundance of caution. But here it was unnecessary; the law has been clear for some time that post-trial motions are not needed after entry of a summary judgment.
  • Second, keep track of the 30-day appeal period. There is nothing wrong with filing a post-trial motion out of an abundance of caution, so long as the filer avoids complacency while the post-trial motion is pending. If a post-trial motion is improperly filed, the 30-day appeal period continues to run, and a notice of appeal must be filed within those 30 days or all appel- late rights are waived — even if the post-trial motion remains undecided. The plaintiff acted properly here in filing a notice of appeal despite the pendency of his post-trial motion.
  • Third, vigilantly protect the appeal once it is filed, and, in particular, promptly respond to any questions from the Court about its validity. Here, the Superior Court wrote to the plaintiff's lawyer to question whether the appeal was valid even though the post-trial motion was pending, but the lawyer did not respond to the Court. And when it received no response, the Court quashed the appeal.
  • Fourth, immediately seek further review if the Court decides to quash the appeal. File a motion for rehearing that explains why the Court erred. If that fails, file a petition for allowance of appeal that asks the Supreme Court to review the order. Otherwise, the appeal is lost. And if the quashal order is entered more than 30 days after the final order from which the appeal was taken, there is little chance the appeal can be resurrected. For example, a second attempt to take an appeal may be met with a motion to quash on the ground that the second appeal is untimely, just as happened in this case.

Here, the plaintiff got lucky. Even though no petition for rehearing was filed regarding the original quashal order, the Court reviewed what happened, recognized that the first quashal order was erroneous, and set in motion a procedure by which the plaintiff could obtain relief through a motion to appeal nunc pro tunc. Such motions are sel dom granted, however, and this opinion illustrates that this case was an exception. Don't expect to be as lucky as this plaintiff was. To avoid waiver of any appellate rights, it is critical to retain appellate counsel experienced in handling such procedural complexities.

www.schnader.com

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.