I may be dating my musical tastes with this post, but the 1970’s rock band, Ten Years After, once had a hit single, called “I’d Love to Change the World.” Well, if a plaintiff is looking to change the world for his client, he better not let his claim sit still for 10 years… which is what happened in Erie County, Pennsylvania, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
In July 2007, Golab v Knuth was commenced after Golab was injured in a May 2005 automobile accident. The parties exchanged pleadings and discovery and the case was scheduled for trial in October 2009. However, the case was never certified and therefore never proceeded to trial, prompting the trial court to publish a Termination Notice in October 2015.
The Termination Notice was published in the Erie County Legal Journal and informed the parties that the case would be terminated due to lack of docket activity, pursuant to Pa.R.J.A. 1901, unless the parties appeared at a November 30, 2015 hearing and showed good cause as to why the case should not be terminated. There was no Erie County Local Rule in effect at the time to govern implementation of Pa.R.J.A. 1901.
Neither party nor their respective counsel appeared at the November hearing, and thus the trial court terminated the case in December 2015. In November 2016, Golab filed a motion to reinstate the case citing various health issues to both she and her attorney, as well as arguing that neither she nor her attorney ever received notice of the Termination Notice. The court reinstated the case on November 30, 2016, over an objection by Knuth. Knuth subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration to reinstate the Termination Order in December 2016. In March 2017, the trial court granted Knuth’s motion and reinstated the Termination Order, terminating the case.
Golab then moved to reinstate the case, which the trial court denied. Golab appealed the court’s denial of her motion to reinstate, arguing that: 1) the trial court erred in dismissing the case in December 2015 without first enacting a Local Rule to implement Pa.R.J.A. 1901; 2) the one-time publication in the Erie County Legal Journal did not constitute adequate notice of the Termination Notice; and 3) the trial court erred in failing to make findings of fact as to the whether good cause for the lack of activity was shown.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court’s order, because a plaintiff has an affirmative duty to prosecute her action within a reasonable time and it is the plaintiff, not the defendant, who bears the risk of not acting within a reasonable time to move a case along. In response to the three issues brought by Golab in her appeal, the Superior Court explained that the lack of a local rule implementing Pa.R.J.A. 1901 did not render the trial court powerless to proceed under said rule, and that the publication of the Termination Notice was sufficient under Rule 1901. Additionally, the trial court was not required to conduct an evidentiary hearing concerning the reasons for Golab’s delay, particularly when the docket was inactive for nearly seven (7) years. This prolonged back-and-forth saga is a helpful reminder for clients and attorneys both to remain cognizant and vigilant to ensure that their cases are actually brought to a resolution.
The chorus of the Ten Years After song, which you may have heard, goes, “I’d love to change the world… but I don’t know what to do.” For purposes of this case, you need to at least do something to avoid a dismissal. Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.