Stephen A. Sheller, Philadelphia, for appellant.
William E. Schantz, Allentown, for appellee.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Spaeth, J., files a dissenting opinion. Watkins, former President Judge, did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
[ 252 Pa. Super. Page 581]
This appeal has been taken from the order of the lower court, dated December 28, 1977, striking a default judgment entered against appellee. Appellant contends that the motion to strike was improperly granted because no irregularities appeared on the face of the record sufficient to justify the lower court's action. For the reasons that appear below, we affirm.
Appellant filed a complaint in assumpsit on October 31, 1974, alleging that appellee had breached a contract pursuant to which appellant was to render janitorial services for appellee. On November 15, 1974, appellee filed preliminary objections in the nature of a motion to strike the complaint, a motion for a more specific complaint and a demurrer. In response, appellant filed an amended complaint on December 12, 1974.*fn1 Appellee neither filed new preliminary objections to the amended complaint nor set down its original preliminary objections for argument, and on April 8, 1976, appellant took a default judgment in the amount of $70,827.24. On April 15, 1976, appellee filed a petition to open and/or strike the judgment,*fn2 which was granted by Judge Mellenberg.
[ 252 Pa. Super. Page 582]
It is axiomatic that a motion to strike will not be granted unless a fatal defect in the judgment appears on the face of the record. Malakoff v. Zambar, Inc., 446 Pa. 503, 288 A.2d 819 (1972); Cameron v. Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., 439 Pa. 374, 266 A.2d 715 (1970); Hall v. West Chester Publishing Co., 180 Pa. 561, 37 A. 106 (1897). If the record is self-sustaining, the judgment cannot be stricken. Fleck v. McHugh, 241 Pa. Super. 307, 311, 361 A.2d 410, 412 (1976); Policino v. Ehrlich, 236 Pa. Super. 19, 345 A.2d 224 (1975).*fn3
The presence of preliminary objections which have not been disposed of is a fatal defect, readily apparent from the face of the record,*fn4 which is sufficient to permit the striking of a default judgment. Fire Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Warhoftig, 58 D & C 2d (C.P.Phila.1972) aff'd per curiam, 224 Pa. Super. 756, 301 A.2d 888 (1973). This is so because until the preliminary objections have been resolved in some manner, the defendant is not obligated to file an answer. See Reddick v. Puntureri, 242 Pa. Super. 138, 363 A.2d 1198 (1976) Pa.R.C.P. 1028(d). Appellant contends, however, that its amended complaint cured appellee's original preliminary objections and that, therefore, there were no preliminary objections outstanding at the time the default judgment was entered.
This argument begs the question by assuming that the amended complaint adequately cured the defects to which appellee's preliminary objections were addressed. Whether or not this is true is a question which can be resolved only by the trial court. If the amendment in fact removed all errors in the original complaint, the lower court should have dismissed the preliminary objections prior to the prothonotary's entry of a default judgment. 2 Goodrich
[ 252 Pa. Super. Page 583]
Amram 2d § 1028(c):1, at 248. Appellee, defendant below, had the option of ordering its original preliminary objections down for argument if it was not satisfied that the amendment had cured all of the alleged errors.*fn5 Id. That it did not do so may, perhaps, be criticized in light of the desirability of streamlining pleading practices. Be that as it may, appellant was equally capable of expediting matters by setting the preliminary objections down for argument.*fn6 See Brandeis v. Kenny, 31 D & C 2d 347 (C.P.Montg.1963). Since neither party, nor the lower court, had taken any action to dispose of the ...