Superior Court Slides Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Appeal To Commonwealth Court

In Lesh v. Erie International., No. 962 WDA 2017 (PA Superior Court), Plaintiff, a customer service agent for Piedmont Airlines, sued Erie International in a negligence action after she slipped and fell on ice near a jet way at Erie International Airport.  After completion of discovery, Erie International prevailed on summary judgment after the trial court determined that Erie International was entitled to immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.  Subsequently, Lesh filed a timely notice of appeal arguing that Erie International was erroneously granted immunity.

In the opinion accompanying its decision to transfer the appeal to the PA Commonwealth Court, the PA Superior Court articulated the standard for appellate jurisdiction regarding issues of governmental immunity in Pennsylvania.  The Superior Court noted that it had general jurisdiction over appeals that were not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or the Commonwealth Court.  To that end, the Superior Court also noted that the Commonwealth Court had exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving immunity waivers and actions against local parties.  Furthermore, the Superior Court cited case law concluding that the state legislature intended for the Commonwealth Court to maintain jurisdiction over appeals involving tort claims against a Commonwealth or local agency.

Despite the legislature’s intent that the Commonwealth Court exercise jurisdiction over the aforementioned appeals, the Superior Court explained that it could nevertheless retain jurisdiction if it determined that it was in the best interest of the parties and judicial economy.  Here, the Superior Court noted that, while the most expedient path would be to retain the case, other factors such as the legislative intent, the lack of oral arguments requiring expenditure of judicial resources, and the Commonwealth Court’s expertise in interpretation and application of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act supported their conclusion to transfer the matter to the Commonwealth Court.  This case offers a helpful primer not only highlighting potential issues regarding governmental immunity against local agency employers in Pennsylvania, but also the likely analysis a court may conduct when determining appellate jurisdiction of such cases.  Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.

Premature Appeals Quashed Because SJ Order was not “Final” (PA)

Without delving too deeply into the underlying facts, which are largely irrelevant to this issue, on February 24, 2016, In Casey v. Presbyterian Hospital et al., plaintiffs commenced suit against Presbyterian Medical Center alleging negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.  Presbyterian then joined Aramark Management Services who in turn then joined Allied Barton Security Services.  Presbyterian then filed cross-claims for contribution, common law indemnity, and contractual indemnity against Aramark and Allied Barton.

Following discovery, Presbyterian, Aramark, and Allied Barton all filed respective motions for summary judgment.  The trial court then issued an order which granted Presbyterian’s motion in full and dismissed all claims against it and then granted Aramark’s and Allied Barton’s motions, dismissing all claims against them except Presbyterian’s contractual indemnity claims.

The plaintiffs and all three defendants then filed appeals, and on March 5, 2018, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania quashed them all.   In Pennsylvania, an appeal may only be taken from a final order, certain interlocutory orders as of right, an interlocutory order by permission of the court, or a collateral order.  The parties appealed on one basis that the trial court’s decision was a final order since it extinguished the plaintiffs’ claims against Presbyterian, thus killing off any remaining claims.  In Pennsylvania, a final order is one that disposes of all claims and/or parties; or one that disposes fewer than all the parties/claims but is entered as a final order by the court.  The Superior Court disagreed with the parties’ position and found that the trial court’s order was not final in that Presbyterian could still seek costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees under its cross-claims, regardless of the outcome of its motion for summary judgment.  Thus, the case still continued.

Presbyterian also contended that the trial court’s order was appealable as a collateral order.  A collateral order is one that is separable from and collateral to the main cause of action where the right involved is too important to be denied review and is such that if review is postponed, the claim would be irreparably lost.  Courts usually disfavor collateral order appeals since they want to avoid “piecemeal determinations” in litigation – and the the Superior Court declined to address Presbyterian’s argument here.  Since the underlying order was neither final nor collateral, the parties’ appeals were premature and improper . In other states, such as New York, the appeal and cross-appeal would have been proper… but not in Pennsylvania.

This case demonstrates the intricacies of appellate practice — according to the Court, Presbyterian would have been better off simply waiting for a final determination before taking any affirmative appellate action, provided its rights were preserved.  In essence, the Court ruled that Presbyterian’s appeal is premature, and therefore a waste everyone’s time and money.  Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.