No. 2194 October Term, 1978 Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Civil Division, at No. 76-2663.
Ambrose R. Campana, Williamsport, for appellants.
Maurice A. Nernberg, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Cercone, President Judge, and Watkins and Hoffman, JJ.
[ 277 Pa. Super. Page 576]
Appellants, Penn State Construction, Inc. and John J. Albarano, take this appeal from the lower court's imposition of sanctions against appellants for failing to answer interrogatories sent them by appellee, Jerry Pitell Company, Inc. The lower court ruled that many of the objections raised by appellants to particular interrogatories were not made in good faith, and for this reason the court imposed sanctions, under Pa.R.C.P. 4019(a),*fn1 ruling that appellants are jointly and severally liable for paying the counsel fees and costs incurred by appellee incident to appellee's motion for sanctions.*fn2 Appellants argue, inter alia, that the court abused its discretion in so ruling. We agree with appellants and we reverse.
Appellee initiated this case as a garnishment action against John J. Albarano, appellant, and Rita A. Albarano, his wife. Mrs. Albarano is not a party in this appeal. The judgment debtor in this matter was Penn State Construction,
[ 277 Pa. Super. Page 577]
Inc. of which John Albarano was the president and sole shareholder. Appellee first served interrogatories on August 24, 1976 on John and Rita Albarano, both of whom prepared answers and mailed them to appellee's attorney. Although at a later hearing appellee's attorney admitted receiving these answers, on September 20, 1976, appellee praeciped for default judgment against the Albaranos for failure to file an answer.*fn3 The Albaranos filed a petition to open and/or strike the default judgment, and the lower court signed an order setting up a hearing and staying all proceedings. Despite the stay order, appellee nevertheless praeciped for a writ of execution against the Albaranos. In response, the Albaranos filed a petition to stay the writ and asked the lower court to punish appellee's attorney for contempt of the order of stay. A hearing was held concerning the Albaranos' petition, and this hearing ended with an order by the trial court directing appellee to file "written interrogatories upon the garnishees with respect to the garnishees' petition to open and/or strike judgment." Thereupon, appellee filed interrogatories directed to both the Albaranos, garnishees, and Penn State Construction, debtor. These interrogatories consisted of fifty-four legal size pages containing eighty-four main questions and one hundred and ninety-four sub-questions.*fn4 Only interrogatory number one, sub-parts "a" through "d" were addressed to garnishee; all of the remaining questions were directed to the debtor Penn State Construction. The Albaranos objected to the interrogatories on the grounds that they were not in keeping with the lower court's order directing that interrogatories be served "upon the garnishees," since no mention was made of the debtor in the order. The court struck the judgment as to Rita Albarano, but directed John Albarano [hereinafter Albarano] to answer the interrogatories applicable
[ 277 Pa. Super. Page 578]
to him. Albarano therefore answered only question number one in full and answered the remaining interrogatories with a rubber stamp that said, "This interrogatory does not relate to the garnishee and hence no answer is required."
Appellee thereafter asked the court to impose sanctions on appellants, Albarano and Penn State Construction, for failing to answer, but the court instead entered an order directing Penn State Construction to answer the remaining questions. Thereafter, Penn State Construction entered its appearance and asked that it not be required to answer the interrogatories as they were never served with them, as required by Pa.R.C.P. 4005(a). Although the lower court acknowledged that Penn State Construction was technically correct in its objection, it noted that Albarano was the president of the construction company and the court refused to withdraw its order. In keeping with the court's ruling, Penn State Construction answered the vast majority of appellee's voluminous interrogatories, however, it did make objections to a number of the interrogatories. Specifically, Penn State Construction objected to twenty-eight of the two hundred seventy-two main questions and sub-questions which it was required to answer. Appellee again asked the court to impose sanctions on appellants for failing to answer, whereupon the court considered Penn's objections and ruled that three of the objections were well taken, eighteen of the remaining objections were made in good faith, though not sustained, but that seven of the objections were not made in good faith.*fn5 Consequently, the court imposed sanctions for failure to answer the questions in good faith and this order was reduced to judgment. Appellants now appeal from that judgment.
As a general rule, although sanctions under Rule 4019 lie largely within the discretion of the court, sanctions should not be imposed absent willful disregard or disobedience of an order of court or an obligation expressly ...