decided: April 24, 1968.
PHILCO CORPORATION, APPELLANT,
Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Nov. T., 1959, No. 23, in case of Philco Corporation v. David E. Sunstein and General Atronics Corporation.
H. Francis DeLone, with him Norma L. Shapiro, Herbert Epstein, and Dechert, Price & Rhoads, for appellant.
Franklin Poul, with him William F. Fox, and Fox, Differ, Di Giacomo & Lowe, and Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell and Mr. Justice Musmanno join in this dissenting opinion.
[ 429 Pa. Page 608]
This is an appeal from an order staying proceedings in the court below on appellant's cause of action until the completion of proceedings in a separate action pending before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, or until further order of the court below.
On December 9, 1959, appellant instituted this action in equity seeking to establish, inter alia, ownership rights in certain inventions allegedly devised by appellee, Sunstein, while in the course of his employment with appellant. The complaint also seeks a mandatory injunction against appellee, General Atronics Corporation, to restrain it from making further use of inventions devised and rightfully owned by Philco. After extensive discovery by all parties concerned, and after settlement negotiations collapsed, Sunstein commenced an antitrust action in the federal courts alleging that "Philco and RCA individually and with others" unlawfully conspired to prevent him from exploiting inventions to which he asserts ownership.
In May, 1967, after appellant filed its praecipe to list the case for trial, Sunstein filed a petition to stay all proceedings pending the determination of the federal court action. After argument on the petition, the court below ordered a stay of the proceedings and this appeal followed.
Appellees initially argue that the appeal should be quashed. We disagree. While it is true that we indicated
[ 429 Pa. Page 609]
in Reynolds Metals Company v. Berger, 423 Pa. 360, 223 A.2d 855 (1966), that orders staying proceedings to await the termination of related proceedings in another court are generally interlocutory in nature, our decision in Reynolds should not be viewed as a blanket rule without exception to be applied in all cases involving stay orders.*fn1 Whether or not a stay order should be considered final for appeal purposes depends to a large extent upon the practical effect and impact the stay order might have on the relief requested by the litigants. If the effect of the stay order is tantamount to a dismissal of the cause of action or amounts to a permanent denial of relief requested, the party aggrieved should undoubtedly be afforded the opportunity to appeal on the basis that such stay order is a final disposition of some, if not all, of the rights involved.*fn2
[ 429 Pa. Page 610]
Therefore, a consideration of the practical effects of the stay order on appellant's cause of action is an essential prerequisite in determining whether the order appealed from is interlocutory. Here the practical effect of staying the proceedings in the court below pending the future disposition of another related case in the federal courts is to work a severe hardship on appellant. Since the life of the patents to which appellant claims ownership will expire after seventeen years from the date of their grant, valuable rights are being constantly diminished each and every day this case continues without a final adjudication. See 35 U.S.C. § 154 (1952), as amended, 35 U.S.C. § 154 (Supp. 1965). To the extent valuable rights are being denied as a result of the order staying the proceedings in the court below, the order appealed from must be considered final.
Turning to the merits of the case, appellant argues that the court below abused its discretion by staying the proceedings pending the outcome of the federal
[ 429 Pa. Page 611]
court action. We agree. It is inconceivable that litigation which has been pending in the Commonwealth courts for a period in excess of eight years can be brushed aside merely because one of the parties decides eight years hence to commence an antitrust action in the federal courts, which action may or may not finally dispose of all of the issues raised in the Commonwealth action. If we were to permit the stay order to remain under these facts and circumstances, it would serve only to create another vehicle by which parties could easily delay the adjudication of a case indefinitely. Since appellant's action in the court below is now after eight years ripe for adjudication, and since further delay would substantially impair the value of the rights sought to be determined, we cannot sanction the issuance of the stay order by the court below.
Order reversed and the case remanded to the court below for further action consistent with this opinion.
Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts:
The majority today attempts to establish an exception to Reynolds Metals Co. v. Berger, 423 Pa. 360, 223 A.2d 855 (1966). This Court in Reynolds quashed an appeal from a stay order of a common pleas court pending the disposition of a previously filed case in a United States district court and held such an order interlocutory and therefore unappealable absent specific statutory authorization.
Despite dictum in Reynolds intimating that such an order might have been appealable under the Act of March 5, 1925, P. L. 23, § 1, 12 P.S. § 672, in my opinion neither Reynolds nor the case at bar can reasonably be held governed by that act, which provides in essence: "Wherever . . . the question of jurisdiction over the defendant or of the cause of action . . . is raised in the court of first instance, it shall be preliminarily determined
[ 429 Pa. Page 612]
by the court . . .; and the decision may be appealed . . . as in cases of final judgments." It is apparent that this act is irrelevant to the instant case for the issue of jurisdiction has never been presented to the court below, a precondition necessary under the act. As a matter of fact, there does not appear to be any disagreement on the issue of jurisdiction either by the parties or the court below. Nor can it be inferred from the stay order that the court below believes it had none, for such a conclusion would be directly controverted by the stay order itself which merely suspends proceedings pending disposition of the federal action or "until further order of this court." It certainly cannot be argued that this represents to any degree an abdication of jurisdiction or a finding that none exists.
The majority, however, chooses not to address itself to that issue, instead proposing that this order is appealable because it works a substantial deprivation of the rights of appellant due to a delay in prosecuting its state action. The majority's position is that, since a patent has a limited life, any period during which appellant is deprived of the use of a patent to which it is entitled represents irreparable harm. This is simply not the case. In the first place, the remedy afforded by the provisions governing damages in instances of patent infringement is broad enough to compensate for any damages suffered by appellant stemming from the alleged infringement by appellee.*fn1 Additionally,
[ 429 Pa. Page 613]
even if there is a substantial deprivation as the majority holds, this deprivation is due at least in part to the conduct of appellant, who must share the responsibility for the protracted negotiations and ensuing delay. It is a somewhat compromising position to argue a substantial deprivation due at least in part to the conduct of the party now claiming such deprivation.
Finally, even if we assume that there is the deprivation upon which the majority bases its decision, and that the conduct of appellant does not preclude him from obtaining relief, the decision affording such relief suffers from a noticeable lack of clarity in both the establishment and application of whatever standards seem to be implicit in its decision. In other words, the essence of the majority's decision seems to be that when a substantial deprivation can be established as the result of what would otherwise be an interlocutory order, that order becomes appealable. There is no attempt by the majority to define or suggest exactly what constitutes such "substantial deprivation." I am convinced that there is no merit in the creation by the majority of an area of appealable orders contingent upon "substantial deprivation" which may be produced by a delay in litigation. Heretofore we have wisely adhered to a rule that the action of the court below must constitute a dismissal of the action; to transmute this concept into a "substantial deprivation" is to ignore the very basis of the unappealable interlocutory order doctrine, i.e., the prevention of piecemeal litigation.*fn2 Furthermore, the majority's failure to delineate
[ 429 Pa. Page 614]
the contours of its new rule will result in an unwarranted plethora of litigation both here and below. I would therefore quash this appeal.*fn3