In Soltis v. Wakefern Food Corp., a Lackawanna County Common Pleas Judge cited some unlikely sources en route to denying dismissal to the parent corporation of a local supermarket. In that case, plaintiff Theresa Soltis filed suit for injuries she sustained when a box full of soy sauce jars fell on her foot as she was shopping at her local Price Rite supermarket. In her complaint, Soltis named Wakefern Food Corp. as the sole defendant despite the existence of PRRC, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary that operates the Price Rite chain. Wakefern moved for summary judgment, arguing that PRRC was the proper defendant and Wakefern should be dismissed because it did not directly operate the store in question.
Although Common Pleas Judge Carmen Minora seemingly agreed with Wakefern’s position as to liability, he ultimately refused to dismiss the parent corporation from the case. In doing so, Judge Minora cited an unreported federal decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a 47-year-old Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, and a United States Supreme Court ruling dating back to the early 1900’s. Minora concluded that while the plaintiff’s pleading is technically erroneous, the weight of authority suggests that there is sufficient “interaction and involvement” between Wakefern and PRRC to call into question whether the two legal entities should be viewed as separate and distinct for the purposes of litigation. Moreover, Judge Minora explained that the technical error was not attributable to a lack of diligence by the plaintiff, but rather Wakefern’s failure to provide timely notice of the discrepancy.
As it turns out, Wakefern’s delay in addressing the plaintiff’s error was more costly than could be anticipated. Not only did Judge Minora refuse to dismiss the parent corporation from the case, but he also granted the plaintiff leave to add PRRC as a defendant and conduct additional, specialized discovery into the parent-subsidiary relationship. The result was certainly an admonition of Wakefern’s delay and a reminder that Pennsylvania courts expect defendant businesses to know their own corporate structure.
Thanks to law clerk Adam Gomez for his contribution to this post. If you have an questions or comments, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.