Appeal from the Order entered on May 18, 1988, in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Civil Division, at No. 87-04977.
Joseph R. D'Annunzio, Conshohocken, for appellant.
Cary L. Flitter, Bala Cynwyd, for appellees.
Cirillo, President Judge, and Beck and Kelly, JJ.
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The novel issue presented is whether a Pennsylvania District Court judgment for the plaintiff has res judicata effect where the defendant appeals the judgment to the trial court, the plaintiff then suffers a judgment of non pros for failing to file a complaint in the trial court, and the plaintiff later institutes a new action in the trial court alleging the same cause of action against the same parties. We find that the judgment of the District Court does not have res judicata effect.
On November 19, 1984, Hatchigian filed a complaint in district court seeking $4,000 for electrical work performed for the Kochs in the period from November 1983 to August 1984. On February 26, 1985, after a hearing on the merits, the district justice entered judgment for Hatchigian in the amount of $786.00, plus costs. Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P.D.J. 1004, the Kochs filed a Notice of Appeal, Praecipe to Enter
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Rule to File Complaint and Rule to File Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County. When Hatchigian failed to file a complaint within the required twenty days, the Kochs praeciped for entry of a judgment of non pros pursuant to Pa.R.C.P.D.J. No. 1004 B. This rule provides that if the appealing party is the defendant before the district court and petitions for the plaintiff to file a complaint in the court of common pleas, and the plaintiff fails to do so, then the plaintiff shall suffer a non pros. The judgment of non pros was entered on July 12, 1985. Hatchigian then moved to have the judgment of non pros set aside. His motion was denied on January 3, 1986.
Fifteen months later, on April 9, 1987, Hatchigian filed a new complaint against the Kochs in the trial court in which he requested $1,171.47 for electrical work. The complaint clearly seeks recovery for the same work that was the subject of the action in district court and Hatchigian does not dispute this fact. Both parties filed Motions for Summary Judgment. The Kochs' motion was granted on May 18, 1988. This timely appeal followed.
The trial court granted the Kochs' motion because it regarded the February 1985 district court judgment as being res judicata of any claim by Hatchigian for monies allegedly due for services that were the subject of the district court action. The trial court cited this court's decision in A.C. Elfman & Sons, Inc. v. Clime, 355 Pa. Super. 394, 513 A.2d 488 (1986), as establishing that although a district court is not a court of record, a final district court judgment will nevertheless have res judicata effect where the doctrine of res judicata is otherwise applicable. We find that there are important procedural differences between this case and Elfman which render it inapplicable to the instant case. In Elfman, the district court had entered a consent judgment against plaintiff. Plaintiff then appealed the judgment by filing a notice of appeal in the Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiff, however, failed to file a complaint as required under Pa.R.C.P.D.J. No. 1004 and the
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trial court struck his appeal pursuant to Pa.R.C.P.D.J. No. 1006. Plaintiff thereafter attempted to file a new action in the trial court alleging the same cause of action against the same parties. The trial court decided that the prior district court judgment was not res judicata. This court reversed, holding that the district court judgment became final upon the ...