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ELEANOR FRETTS AND GEORGE FRETTS v. MARK A. PAVETTI (11/14/80)

filed: November 14, 1980.

ELEANOR FRETTS AND GEORGE FRETTS, HER HUSBAND
v.
MARK A. PAVETTI, T/D/B/A SCOTTDALE STOP N SHOP, A/K/A STOP N SHOP, APPELLANT



No. 1546 April Term, 1978, Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Civil Division at No. 1627 of 1976.

COUNSEL

Louis Anstandig, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

William J. Ober, Greensburg, for appellees.

Price, Hester and Cavanaugh, JJ. Cavanaugh, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Price

[ 282 Pa. Super. Page 169]

Appellees brought suit for injuries incurred by Mrs. Fretts while she was shopping at appellant's store. A jury trial was commenced on February 7, 1978, and resulted in a $10,000 verdict in favor of appellees, $8,000 of which was awarded to Mrs. Fretts and $2,000 of which was awarded to Mr. Fretts for loss of consortium. Appellant challenges this award claiming that appellees' suit was barred by the statute of limitations, that remarks made during the closing argument were so prejudicial as to require the grant of a mistrial, that the jury was improperly permitted to consider damages for future pain and suffering, and that the verdict was excessive. We find that these contentions lack merit, and we affirm the judgment of the court of common pleas.

Our examination of the initial question regarding the statute of limitations requires a brief recitation of the pertinent procedural history of this case. Appellees commenced this action by filing a complaint on May 24, 1976, against "Stop N Shop, a corporation," alleging that on June 1, 1974, due to the negligent operation of a large stock cart by company employees, Mrs. Fretts was struck on the back of the leg and was injured. The answer filed in response to this complaint denied, inter alia, that such a corporation

[ 282 Pa. Super. Page 170]

    existed and stated that the business in question was operated by Mark A. Pavetti, trading and doing business as "Scottdale Stop N Shop."

On July 13, 1976, after the expiration of the applicable two year statute of limitations,*fn1 appellees petitioned the court for leave to amend their complaint to name Mark A. Pavetti as sole proprietor of Scottdale Stop N Shop, a/k/a Stop N Shop. Following argument, the court of common pleas issued an opinion and order denying permission to amend on the ground that the amendment would, in effect, introduce a new party into the action after the statute of limitations had run. Thereafter, appellees petitioned for reargument, which petition was granted by the court. On February 25, 1977, a court en banc ruled without opinion that the petition to amend was granted and issued an order granting the Petition to Amend.

Appellees filed an amended complaint, and appellant in his answer once again asserted the two year statute of limitations. Following denial of his motions for a compulsory non-suit and judgment non obstante veredicto, appellant now raises this issue on appeal.

The question for our determination is "'whether the right party was sued but under a wrong designation, or whether a wrong person was sued and the amendment was designed to substitute another and distinct party.'" Paulish v. Bakaitis, 442 Pa. 434, 440, 275 A.2d 318, 321 (1971), quoting Gozdonovic v. Pleasant Hills Realty Co., 357 Pa. 23, 29, 53 A.2d 73, 76 (1947). In the former situation amendment of the complaint should be permitted, despite the running of the statute of limitations, but permitting amendment in the later circumstance would be improper. Paulish v. Bakaitis, supra; Powell v. Sutliff, 410 Pa. 436, 189 A.2d 864 (1963).

[ 282 Pa. Super. Page 171]

In resolving this sometimes thorny issue of post-statute of limitations amendment, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has found it useful to examine the entities involved before and after the proposed amendment. When the original complaint seeks to impose liability against the assets of a business entity and the amendment is designed merely to correct the description of the business entity already made a party to the proceedings e. g., an amendment to change the party designation from a corporation to a partnership, the amendment is properly permitted. See e. g., Gozdonovic v. Pleasant Hills Realty Co., supra; McGinnis v. Valvoline Oil Works, Ltd., 251 Pa. 407, 96 A. 1038 (1916). Such an amendment to name the partnership, and not involving the individuals trading as a partnership, is not an attempt to impose liability on the individual members of the partnership and enlarge the assets subject to liability to include their individual property. Instead, the action is continued against a business entity and the assets subject to liability remain the same. Paulish v. Bakaitis, supra; Powell v. Sutliff, supra.

The court of common pleas relied extensively on this line of analysis in formulating its initial decision to reject the amendment. It concluded that an amendment directing the suit against an individual rather than the originally designated corporation would add a separate and distinct party. While we agree that the foregoing principles may lead to that result, see Girardi v. Laquin Lumber Co., 232 Pa. 1, 81 A. 63 (1911) (amendment that sought to substitute individuals for a corporation properly refused), we find that the instant case is governed by Waugh v. Steelton Taxicab Co., 371 Pa. 436, 89 A.2d 527 (1952), in which the supreme court carved out circumstances that would make it proper to permit an amendment whose effect is to substitute an individual for a business entity.

In Waugh, plaintiff brought suit against the Steelton Taxicab Company, designating it as a corporation. The complaint was served at the company's business office and upon an employee. After the statute of limitations had run,

[ 282 Pa. Super. Page 172]

    plaintiff discovered that no such corporation existed and that the name was instead employed by an individual in the conduct of his business. The court held that plaintiff was entitled to amend and, in so doing, remarked on its concern that plaintiff's error in pleading might have resulted from deception, whether intended or not, on the part of defendant. The court noted that the word "company" used in the name of a business enterprise reasonably suggests a corporation, absent any indications to the contrary. In the interests of justice, the court felt that an innocent person who has been deprived of his day in court as a result of such deception should be permitted to file the necessary amendment to bring him back into court.

The instant case presents us with an analogous set of facts. The court en banc, ruling on the post-verdict motions, found that Pavetti had registered in compliance with the Fictitious Names Act*fn2 to conduct the business in question under the name "Scottdale Stop N Shop," but that the store was actually operated only under the name "Stop N Shop." Thus, when appellees' counsel searched the fictitious names register and failed to discover any listing for "Stop N Shop," he logically assumed, having no notice to the contrary, that the business was a corporation and brought suit using that designation. In the same manner that the plaintiff in Waugh was deceived by the use of the word "company" in the name of the ...


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