Joseph J. Malizia, Emporium, for appellant.
Frederick N. Egler, Jr., Pittsburgh, for Michael John Lucov, Jr.
Norbert J. Pontzer, Ridgway, for The First Baptist Church and Kenneth D. Shaffer, Jr.
Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. McDermott, J., dissents. Hutchinson, Former J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
This is an appeal from a memorandum opinion and per curiam order of the Superior Court which affirmed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County denying motions for post-trial relief in a wrongful death and survival action brought by the appellant, Judith L. Sweener, 512 A.2d 58. The incident giving rise to this action occurred on November 22, 1981, when appellant's seven year old son, Kyle Jon Sweener, was fatally injured while crossing a highway. Upon exiting from a bus used for transporting children to and from the First Baptist Church of Emporium (hereinafter Church), Kyle Jon Sweener was killed when he was struck by a vehicle operated by Michael John Lucov, Jr.
Following this incident, a joint tortfeasor release was negotiated whereby, in consideration for a payment of $4,500.00, decedent's parents waived claims against both the Church and the unpaid volunteer who had been driving the Church bus at the time of the accident, Kenneth D. Shaffer, Jr. A wrongful death and survival action was then brought against Lucov, and, notwithstanding the existence of the release, against the Church and Shaffer as well. On October 14, 1984, however, a summary judgment was entered in favor of the Church and Shaffer, inasmuch as the release was dispositive as to the liability of those parties. Entry of the summary judgment had been opposed by appellant on grounds the release had allegedly been fraudulently induced, but no appeal was taken. Rather, the case proceeded promptly to trial, as was necessary to resolve questions pertaining to the existence of and apportionment of negligence among all of the defendants so as to determine the liability of Lucov. Accordingly, the Church and Shaffer were found to be 70 per cent negligent, the decedent 30 per cent negligent, and Lucov 0 per cent negligent. Inasmuch as the summary judgment had absolved the Church and Shaffer from liability, and Lucov was found not to have been negligent, no damages were recoverable. Various post-trial motions were filed during the latter part of
October, 1984, and these raised, inter alia, the propriety of the summary judgment. Post-trial motions were denied, however, on April 16, 1985.
An appeal was then taken to the Superior Court, whereupon the issue of the appealability of the summary judgment was examined sua sponte, and it was held that failure to have filed an appeal within 30 days after entry of the summary judgment precluded further consideration of whether, on the merits, the summary judgment was properly entered. We agree.
Under Pa.R.A.P. 903(a), there is a requirement that a notice of appeal be filed within 30 days after entry of an order from which an appeal is to be taken. Appeals can generally be taken only from orders which are final, rather than interlocutory, in nature. Piltzer v. Independence Federal Savings and Loan Assn., 456 Pa. 402, 406, 319 A.2d 677, 678 (1974). The policy of permitting appeals to be taken only from final orders exists "to preclude piecemeal determinations and the consequent protraction of litigation." Sullivan v. Philadelphia, 378 Pa. 648, 649, 107 A.2d 854, 855 (1954). In the present case, the notice of appeal was not filed until after post-trial motions were denied on April 16, 1985, thus more than six months after the summary judgment was entered. Clearly, the 30 day period for taking an appeal from the summary judgment was exceeded, unless, as appellant argues, it can be concluded that the summary judgment did not constitute a final order.
In Bell v. Beneficial Consumer Discount Co., 465 Pa. 225, 228, 348 A.2d 734, 735 (1975), this Court stated, "The finality of an order is a judicial conclusion which can be reached only after an examination of its ramifications." With regard to summary judgments, it is well established that an order denying a motion for summary judgment is interlocutory and therefore not normally appealable. ...