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Pennsylvania Court Finds Plaintiff Made Good Faith Efforts to Serve the Defendants Under the Circumstances Created by COVID-19

December 18, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In a dispute focused on what constitutes sufficient notice of a lawsuit, Judge David Williamson of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas ruled in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/West-v.-Mulero-2.pdf">West v. Mulero</a> </em>that a plaintiff's lawyer's correspondences with and attempts to serve the Defendant's attorney directly, rather than follow procedural rules directing service through the Sheriff's Office were sufficient, despite delays created by the pandemic.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On December 6, 2019, plaintiff Elizabeth West filed a complaint alleging she sustained personal injuries in a motor vehicle accident due to the negligence of Defendant Brandi Mulero. Instead of immediately attempting to serve the Defendant through the proper channels laid out in Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiff's counsel tried to correspond with the Defendant's attorney, retained by Mulero's insurance carrier, to accept service.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff continued to reinstate her complaint every 30 days. However, in March 2020, Plaintiff had still not effectuated service, and the Court systems were effectively closed due to COVID-19, which also created a backlog at the Sherriff's Office, and delayed service even longer.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff filed a preliminary objection on the basis that she and her counsel were not served timely, and therefore the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over it. Judge Williamson noted the central issue is whether or not the Plaintiff had demonstrated an intent to stall judicial machinery or where Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure promptly has prejudiced the Defendant.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In this case, it was clear to the Court that Plaintiff's counsel tried to do everything but stall the case under the circumstances. The Court noted Plaintiff's counsel tried to discuss and arrange acceptance of service with defense counsel; the Defendant was aware of the claims made; knew a Complaint had been filed, and that Plaintiff was trying to ascertain if service would be accepted. The Court found those facts to show the Plaintiff attempted to move the case forward and had no intent to "stall the judicial machinery."</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Judge Williamson tossed the Plaintiff's objection to the suit and cited to the McCreesh v. City of Philadelphia decision, in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he said, "reiterated that a good faith effort to effectuate notice is sufficient to avoid a draconian result of dismissing an action."</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">"We find no intent to stall the judicial machinery in those several months after filing the complaint and no prejudice to the defendant," Williamson said.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Irving Fayman for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Thomas Bracken</a>.</p>

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