Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, No. C.P. 37 of 1974, in case of Wilbur L. Campbell and Clara U. Campbell v. Heilman Homes, Inc.
William C. Robinson, and Henninger & Robinson, for appellant.
Leo M. Stepanian, and Brydon & Stepanian, for appellees.
Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Price, J. Dissenting Opinion by Hoffman, J. Jacobs and Spaeth, JJ., join in this dissenting opinion.
[ 233 Pa. Super. Page 368]
This appeal comes before this court following the denial of a petition to open a default judgment entered by the lower court. Appellant contends that it has complied with the requirements for setting aside the default judgment. We agree and, therefore, will reverse.
The lower court conducted a hearing on the petition to open the judgment, at which time Thomas C. Heilman, president of appellant corporation, testified. His testimony established that appellant is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal office in Ford City, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Appellant also operated branch offices in Blairsville, Butler, and Zelienople. Appellees, Wilbur and Clara Campbell, purchased a mobile home from appellant at its Zelienople sales lot on February 28, 1973. Delbert Marvin, appellant's lot manager, handled the sale. Appellees later alleged that there were substantial defects in the mobile home. On December 12, 1973, appellees served appellant, through Marvin, with a complaint in assumpsit, duly endorsed with a notice to plead. The complaint was served at the Zelienople sales location, and alleged damages in the amount of $3,479.89.
Heilman's testimony indicated that the standard procedure established by the company required the lot managers to forward all important papers to the home office. Marvin, however, failed to follow this procedure and never relayed the complaint to the main office. Heilman also testified that during the time the complaint was served at the branch office, Marvin was reporting for work only one or two days a week. This failure to report for work led to Marvin's discharge on approximately December 20, 1973, and a new lot manager replaced him. The new manager, Walt Rubino, was instructed to inspect the files and send all important mail and papers to the
[ 233 Pa. Super. Page 369]
main office. The complaint was thus discovered and forwarded to the Ford City office sometime between January 15 and 18, 1974. Appellant subsequently turned the case over to its attorney on approximately January 24, 1974, and he in turn referred the case to a Butler County lawyer for preparation. Meanwhile, on January 10, 1974, nine days after the last day for filing an answer or other pleading had passed, a default judgment was entered against appellant. Appellant presented its petition to open judgment to the lower court on February 6, 1974.
It is well settled in the Commonwealth that a petition to open a judgment may be granted only when three factors are present: (1) the petition to open is promptly filed; (2) the default is reasonably explained or excused; and (3) a defense to the cause of action is shown to exist on the merits. McCoy v. Public Acceptance Corporation, 451 Pa. 495, 305 A.2d 698 (1973). We have examined the record and agree with the lower court's decision that the petition to open was promptly filed and that a meritorious defense was set forth in the petition.*fn1
We must, therefore, address ourselves to the issue of the default in failing to file a timely answer to the complaint. We are well aware that a petition to open a judgment is within the discretion of the court and will not be overturned in the absence of a clear, manifest abuse of that discretion. Pappas v. Stefan, 451 Pa. 354, 304 A.2d 143 (1973); Kilgallen v. Kutna, 226 Pa. Superior Ct. 323, 310 A.2d 396 (1973). We are, however, ...