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Failure to File Post-Trial Motions On Stipulated Facts and Law Results in a Quashed Appeal (PA)

August 4, 2023

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The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has issued an order quashing the appeal of a Condominium association for failure to file post-trial motions within the window prescribed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, despite the reality that arguments never reached the courtroom. In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Goshen-Valley-III-Condo.-Assn-v.-Messick.pdf">Goshen Valley III Condo. Ass'n v. Messick</a>,</em> the court found that although the parties submitted a Stipulation for Final Hearing rather than allowing the action to unfold before the bench, the Condominium Association appellant was required to take the same affirmative steps to preserve its right to appeal as taken by a party to an action allowed to so unfold. This outcome is meaningful because it demonstrates that trials on stipulated facts are governed by the rules of other non-jury trials, including timeliness of appeal.

The matter giving rise to the suit by the Condominium Association against one of its unit dwellers involved the nuisance behavior of a pet. The constant barking of the defendant unit dweller’s dog (a Shih-Tzu named Cutie Pie) had precipitated complaints from tenants and eventually an injunction action. The Condominium Association succeeded in obtaining an order denying the unit dweller’s occupancy rights with their current dog and requiring the payment of $500.00 to the association. The association, dissatisfied with an award lacking in attorneys’ fees, did not file its post-trial motions for appeal within ten days of the order.

The defendant-appellee unit dwellers argued that the appeal should be quashed because Pa.R.Civ.P.227.1(c) requires post-trial motions to be filed within ten days after “notice of nonsuit or the filing of the decision in the case of a trial without jury.” The plaintiff-appellant condominium association argued that its stipulation for final hearing was not a nonjury <em>trial</em>, and that the courts order concerning payment was itself a “post-trial proceeding” to any trial that may have occurred, such that an appeal of the order need not feature post-trial motions.

The <em>Goshen Valley</em> Court applied the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in <em>Motorists Mutual Insurance Co. v. Pinkerton</em>, 574 Pa. 333, 830 A.2d 958 (2003), and agreed with the unit dwellers. In <em>Motorists Mutual</em>, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that an appeal following a trial on stipulated facts requires a post-trial motion, and that appealing an order following such a trial requires as much. The Goshen Valley Court therefore quashed the appeal. Interpreting 68 Pa. C.S. § 3311(a)(3) (The Tort and Contract Liability Act), the court added that an order for payment of attorneys’ fees cannot be a post-trial proceeding, because attorney’s fees are a measure of <em>damages</em> under that act and therefore are included in the final verdict in a trial proceeding.

Thus, <em>Goshen Valley</em> puts forth two principles for appellate practice: a stipulation for final hearing is a species of nonjury trial for purposes of preserving a party’s right to appeal with a post-trial motion; and an order for attorneys’ fees is not a post-trial proceeding for purposes of the Tort and Contract Liability Act. Together, these two principles indicate that to appeal an order awarding damages, a trial proceeding, a party must file post-trial motions, even if the order follows stipulation.

Thanks to Ben Salvatore for his contribution to this article.  Should you have any questions, contact <a href="mcare@wcmlaw.com">Matthew Care</a>.

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