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HERBERT C. PETTICORD v. JOHN P. JOYCE (10/15/87)

decided: October 15, 1987.

HERBERT C. PETTICORD, JR., APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN P. JOYCE, PROTHONOTARY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court Entered on June 28, 1985, at No. 1433 Pittsburgh 1984, Affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, Entered on October 22, 1984, at No. 2143 of 1984. 346 Pa. Superior Ct. 640, 499 A.2d 404 (1985).

COUNSEL

Michael F. Fives, Ron Thurner, Conway & Fives, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

James R. Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Papadakos

[ 516 Pa. Page 36]

Opinion OF THE COURT

Appellant, Herbert C. Petticord, Jr., appeals by allowance Superior Court's Order*fn1 (Wieand, J., dissenting) affirming the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas' Order sustaining the preliminary objections of Appellee, John P. Joyce, Prothonotary, and dismissing Appellant's complaint. The issues presented for our consideration in this appeal are:

1) whether a Prothonotary is liable for damages resulting from the issuance of an erroneous No-Lien Certificate which was issued by the Prothonotary's duly authorized deputy under the Prothonotary's name and signature; and

2) whether the Prothonotary's authority to issue Certificates of Judgment is limited only to cases involving a change of name pursuant to 54 Pa.C.S. § 701; 54 Pa.C.S. § 101, Note?*fn2 For the reasons set forth herein, we reverse.

[ 516 Pa. Page 37]

There is no factual dispute in this case. During the summer of 1981, Appellant was contemplating the purchase of real estate located in Allegheny County. Prior to entering into an agreement with the vendor of the property, Ms. Helen Hulbert, Appellant sought to determine whether any judgments had been entered against the vendor or her property which would impair his ownership interest in the realty. Appellant went to the Prothonotary's Office and asked the Deputy Prothonotary to make a search of the records of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County for any judgment that may have been on record against Ms. Hulbert or the property. The Deputy Prothonotary made a search, collected a fee of $15.00, and issued a certificate which stated:

I, JOHN P. JOYCE Prothonotary of the Courts of Common Pleas in and for the County and State aforesaid, do certify that, having made examination of the Records in said Courts containing Judgments, I find no judgments entered thereon for the last five years, remaining open and unsatisfied against: Helen M. Hulbert, 1300 1/2 Nobels Lane Pgh., PA. 15210 from January 2, 1976 to July 30, 1981.

WITNESS my hand and the seals of said Courts, at Pittsburgh, the 31st day of July, 1981.

/s/ John P. Joyce Prothonotary

By /s/ Raymond Serroo Deputy

The certificate bears the signature of John P. Joyce, Prothonotary, as affixed by Raymond Serroo, his duly appointed deputy.

Appellant, relying on the certificate as a correct representation that no judgment had been entered against Ms. Hulbert or her property during the preceding five years, which remained open and unsatisfied, entered into a purchase agreement with Ms. Hulbert on August 4, 1981. In January, 1982, after Appellant had purchased the property, he was informed by the United States Department of Housing

[ 516 Pa. Page 38]

    and Urban Development that there was a lien against the property in the amount of $13,415.17. Further, he was advised that he was required to pay off the lien or the property would be subjected to foreclosure proceedings by the holders of the lien. This judgment had been entered against the property in the official records of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on December 18, 1978, which date was within the period covered by the certificate.

On March 16, 1984, Appellant commenced a civil action in negligence against Appellee, as Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Appellee filed preliminary objections alleging that the complaint was not specific and that it failed to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted. On October 2, 1984, the Court of Common Pleas issued an Order sustaining Appellee's preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer and dismissing Appellant's complaint. The basis of this decision was the court's determination that "the Prothonotary is liable for the negligent acts of the servants, agents, and employees of his office only if he ...


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