Post-Trial Relief Post-Remand
Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1, the parties to a case must file post-trial motions before filing an appeal after the trial or risk waiver of issues on appeal. Although the aforesaid rule reflects longstanding and standard procedure, evidently there has been some dispute as to what precisely triggers the application of the rule and that is the issue raised and ruled upon in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Newman Development Group of Pottstown, LLC v. Genuardi’s Family Markets, Inc., 617 Pa. 265.
The underlying case involved a lease dispute which went to trial. At the conclusion of the trial, both parties filed the appropriate post-trial motions and appeals pursuant to PaR.C.P. 227.1(c). The Superior Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded to recalculate damages. Accordingly, the parties filed memoranda with the trial court and presented oral argument, but presented no additional evidence or legal arguments regarding damages; thereafter, the trial court again entered a judgment, this time using recalculated numbers. An appeal from the trial court’s new calculation of judgment was filed, but no post-trial motions were filed, and, as a result, Superior Court quashed the appeal as non-compliant with Pa.R.C.P. 227.1(c). As a result, an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from the Superior Court’s decision to quash the appeal from the trial court was filed and is the subject of this article.
The single issue to be decided by the Supreme Court on appeal was whether post-trial motions were required to be filed before the filing of an appeal from a trial court hearing which was not a trial.
The Court’s opinion focused on the language of Pa. Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1(c), which reads as follows: “[p]ost-trial motions shall be filed within ten days after (1) verdict, discharge of the jury because of inability to agree, or nonsuit in the case of a jury trial; or (2) notice of nonsuit or the filing of the decision in the case of a trial without jury.” The Court stated that one of its goals was to help ensure the appellate process is consistent and predicable. The Court first noted that the Rule does not, by its own terms, refer to anything but trials, but it does not define precisely what a “trial” is, nor does it address its applicability on a remand for a specific issue. Ultimately, the Court indicated that applying a rule which, on its face only applies to trials, to a non-trial hearing would be at odds with the reasonable expectations of attorneys reading the rule. Indeed, as the Court pointed out, a new rule addressing the procedures for non-trial hearings could be drafted and adopted.
The Court next looked at the available cases decided under Pa.R.C.P. 227.1(c), specifically looking at the cases of Lenhart v. Travelers Ins. Co., 408 Pa.Super. 1 (1991) and Cerniga v. Mon Valley Speed Boat Club, 862 A.2d 1271 (2004). The Court asserted that these cases stressed the application of Pa.R.C.P. 227.1(c) would only be triggered if a remand produced new or additional factual findings or conclusions of law. Per the Court’s reading of these cases, it believed an attorney could review them and reasonably conclude that no post-trial motions would be required absent additional factual findings or conclusions of law, as there would have been no “trial” as required by the Rule.
In sum, the Court simply did not believe that the Rule addressed a remand scenario as occurred in this case; therefore, any failure to file a post-trial motion in this matter would not result in a waiver of any issue or argument. Regardless, considering the vague wording of the Rule, and the strength of the two cases cited above, the Court believed a waiver would be too great a penalty for a reasonable interpretation of a vaguely worded Rule. Finally, the Court referred the Rule, and the issues in this case, to the Civil Procedural Rules Committee in order to better clarify these matters.
Originally published on February 13, 2015 in The Legal Intelligencer Blog and can be seen here.