No. 1238 Philadelphia, 1983, Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Bradford County, No. 82-11,810.
Daniel J. Barrett, Towanda, for appellant.
James A. Pruyne, Towanda, for appellee.
Wieand, Del Sole and Popovich, JJ.
[ 341 Pa. Super. Page 423]
Thomas Bailey, Administrator of the Estate of Lincoln Bailey, deceased, commenced an action on behalf of his decedent, who had been killed in an automobile accident, to recover work loss benefits from Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company pursuant to the Pennsylvania No-fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, 40 P.S. § 1009.101 et seq. The action was terminated during trial when a judgment in the amount of $1,000.00 was entered by agreement in favor of Bailey and against Harleysville. The judgment was paid and marked "Satisfied." Thereafter, Bailey filed a second action against Harleysville to recover an additional $14,000.00 in work loss benefits. Bailey moved for judgment on the pleadings, which consisted of a complaint, an answer containing new matter, and a reply.
[ 341 Pa. Super. Page 424]
The trial court denied Bailey's motion and, instead, entered summary judgment in favor of Harleysville. The trial court did so because it concluded that a second action between the same parties was barred by principles of res judicata. Bailey appealed. We affirm.
A trial court may properly enter judgment against the party filing a motion for judgment on the pleadings if a review of the pleadings clearly supports the judgment. Boron v. Smith, 380 Pa. 98, 102, 110 A.2d 169, 171 (1955); Volkert v. Swan, 197 Pa. Super. 576, 582-583, 179 A.2d 274, 277 (1962); Knecht v. Medical Service Association of Pennsylvania, 186 Pa. Super. 456, 459, 143 A.2d 820, 822 (1958); Pa.R.C.P. 1034(b). However, a judgment on the pleadings may be entered only in cases which are clear and free from doubt." Engel v. Parkway Co., 439 Pa. 559, 561, 266 A.2d 685, 686 (1970).
"[A] final valid judgment upon the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction bars any future suit between the same parties . . . on the same cause of action." Stevenson v. Silverman, 417 Pa. 187, 190, 208 A.2d 786, 788 (1965), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 833, 86 S.Ct. 76, 15 L.Ed.2d 76. Accord: Schultz v. City of Philadelphia, 314 Pa. Super. 194, 199, 460 A.2d 833, 835 (1983). A future suit is barred because the cause of action has been merged into the judgment. Lance v. Mann, 360 Pa. 26, 28, 60 A.2d 35, 36 (1948). The public policy underlying the doctrine of res judicata is "to minimize the judicial energy devoted to individual cases, establish certainty and respect for court judgments, and protect the party relying on the prior adjudication from vexatious litigation." Lebeau v. Lebeau, 258 Pa. Super. 519, 524, 393 A.2d 480, 482 (1978). The doctrine is to receive a liberal interpretation and should be applied without technical restriction. Haines Industries, Inc. v. City of Allentown, 237 Pa. Super. 188, 191, 355 A.2d 588, 589 (1975). It is applicable where the prior judgment was entered by default. Zimmer v. Zimmer, 457 Pa. 488, 326 A.2d 318 (1974); Devlin v. Piechoski, 374 Pa. 639, 99 A.2d 346 (1953). It is also applicable where the judgment was entered by agreement. "Although a consent decree is not a
[ 341 Pa. Super. Page 425]
legal determination by the court . . . it binds the parties with the same force and effect as if a final decree has been rendered after a full hearing upon the merits . . . . The fact that without the consent of the parties the court might not have rendered the judgment does not affect its effect as res judicata . . . ." Bearoff v. Bearoff Bros., Inc., 458 Pa. 494, 500, 327 A.2d 72, 75 (1974) quoting Zampetti v. Cavanaugh, 406 Pa. 259, 265, 176 A.2d 906, 909 (1962). The doctrine is applicable even though there has been a change or new development in the law following the entry of a final judgment in the first action. Haines Industries, Inc. v. City of Allentown, supra.
Appellant's present action is barred by the judgment entered in the prior action between the same parties on the same cause of action. His argument that the second action asserted a new and different cause of action must fail. The decedent was killed on June 29, 1980. By the time the first action was brought, appellant's claim for work loss benefits had fully accrued; the complaint asserted a right to recover the maximum amount payable, viz. $15,000.00. If appellant had recovered the amount claimed, Harleysville's liability for work loss benefits would have been extinguished. A settlement and judgment in the amount of $1,000.00 was also effective to extinguish appellant's claim for work loss benefits and appellee's liability therefor. The maximum work loss benefit can be recovered only once; and after a cause of action therefor has been extinguished by the entry of judgment, a new cause of action cannot be asserted for wages lost because of the inability of the decedent to work thereafter. A defendant has a right to rely on the ...