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WILLIAM R. STENGER v. LEHIGH VALLEY HOSPITAL CENTER (03/01/89)

filed: March 1, 1989.

WILLIAM R. STENGER, DONNA A. STENGER, CRAIG STENGER AND BARRY STENGER, MINORS BY THEIR PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS WILLIAM AND DONNA STENGER
v.
LEHIGH VALLEY HOSPITAL CENTER, SAMUEL HUSTON, THEODORE J. MATULEWICZ, M.D., BARRY J. SLAVEN, M.D., HOSPITAL CENTRAL SERVICES, INC., H.C.S.C. BLOOD CENTER T/A SAMUEL W. MILLER MEMORIAL BLOOD CENTER, LYNDALL MOLTHAN, M.D., AND JOSEPH YELO AND THE MORNING CALL, INC. APPEAL OF THE MORNING CALL, INC.



Appeal from the Order entered on November 6, 1987, in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Civil Division, at No. 87-C-586.

COUNSEL

Malcolm J. Gross, Allentown, for appellant.

Pamela W. Higgins, Philadelphia, for Stenger, appellees.

Edward C. McCardle, Allentown, for Lehigh, appellees.

David L. Haber, Pittsburgh, for H.C.S.C., appellees.

Wieand, McEwen and Melinson, JJ. Wieand, J., dissents.

Author: Melinson

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 78]

This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, denying the petition to intervene filed by appellant, The Morning Call, Inc. (hereinafter "The Morning Call").

In March of 1987, William R. Stenger, Donna A. Stenger, Craig Stenger, and Barry Stenger, the plaintiffs in the underlying action, filed a complaint against Lehigh Valley Hospital Center (hereinafter "LVHC"), Samuel Huston, Theodore J. Matulewicz, M.D., Barry J. Slaven, M.D., Hospital Central Services, Inc., H.C.S.C. Blood Center t/a Samuel W. Miller Memorial Blood Center, Lyndall Molthan, M.D., and Joseph Yelo, the defendants in the underlying action. All of these parties are appellees in the action at bar. The complaint in the underlying action alleged that while receiving treatment at LVHC, Donna A. Stenger was transfused with units of blood which were contaminated with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (hereinafter "AIDS"), and from this transfusion she contracted the AIDS virus. The complaint also alleges that shortly after Donna Stenger was diagnosed as having AIDS, her husband, William Stenger, and son, Craig Stenger, tested positive for exposure to the virus.

Discovery proceedings began with the deposition of William Stenger on April 15, 1987. The deposition was adjourned prior to completion. The Stengers filed a motion for a protective order, contending that such an order was necessary to preserve the confidentiality of future depositions. Following argument and with the agreement of counsel, the trial judge, the Honorable John E. Backenstoe, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, entered a protective order on April 30, 1987, relating to future depositions.*fn1

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 79]

On May 11, 1987, The Morning Call, a Lehigh County newspaper, filed a petition to intervene in this lawsuit in order to file exceptions to the protective order. Thereafter, the trial court ordered the exceptions filed and issued upon all of the appellees a rule to show cause why the newspaper should not be permitted to intervene for the purpose of seeking to vacate the protective order. The appellees filed responses as directed by the trial court, opposing the petition to intervene and addressing the substantive issues raised by the exceptions. Oral argument was heard by President Judge Backenstoe on July 1, 1987, regarding The Morning Call's right to intervene and the merits of the exceptions. On November 6, 1987, the court issued an opinion and order denying intervention and rejecting each of the exceptions filed by The Morning Call. In pertinent part, the order provided:

1. No persons other than parties and their counsel, and experts and/or investigators executing Exhibit "A" hereto, shall attend any of the depositions scheduled or to be scheduled in this case.

2. There shall be no disclosure, copying, summarizing or use of the information discovered in depositions, interrogatories or any other formal discovery process by any party in this case, other than for use in the preparation of pleadings, or for preparation and trial of this case, including review by experts of the parties [sic] choosing and all such documents shall be and remain under seal.

The Morning Call filed a notice of appeal with this court from Judge Backenstoe's order. On April 12, 1988,

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 80]

    we entered an order directing the parties to brief the threshold issue of whether the appeal is from a final order or is interlocutory.

Accordingly, we must first address whether the trial court order denying The Morning Call's petition to intervene is a final, appealable order. In the seminal case on the subject, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that "[a]s a rule, an appeal will not lie from an order refusing leave to intervene, because such order is not a final one, [however] cases may arise where a denial of a petition to intervene would be a practical denial of relief to which the petitioner for intervention is entitled and can obtain in no other way; and in such cases the refusal to permit an intervention is a final order or decree as to the petitioner[.]" Frey's Estate, 237 Pa. 269, 271, 85 A. 147, 148 (1912); see also Scharnitzki v. Bienenfeld, 368 Pa. Super. 610, 534 A.2d 825 (1987). Because a petition to intervene might be the only way a petitioner can obtain judicial relief, the decision whether to quash an appeal from an order denying a petition to intervene is intertwined with a consideration of the merits of the case, for "the finality of an order is a judicial conclusion which can be reached only after examination of its ramifications." Boise Cascade Corp. v. East Stroudsburg Savings Association, 300 Pa. Super. 279, 281, 446 A.2d 614, 615 (1982), quoting Bell v. Beneficial Consumer Discount Company, 465 Pa. 225, 228, 348 A.2d 734, 735 (1975). Therefore, we must examine the merits of The Morning Call's petition in order to determine whether the trial court's order "is a practical denial of relief to which The Morning Call is entitled." See Boise Cascade, 300 Pa. Super. at 282, 446 A.2d 614.

Whether to allow intervention is a matter vested in the discretion of the trial court and that court's decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent a manifest abuse of its discretion. Wilson v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 512 Pa. 486, 517 A.2d 944 (1986); M. London, Inc. v. Fedders Corp., 306 Pa. Super. 103, 452 A.2d 236 (1982). A trial court will not be found to have abused

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 81]

    its discretion unless the record discloses that the judgment exercised was manifestly unreasonable or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will. M. London Inc., 306 Pa. Super. at 106-107, 452 A.2d 236.

Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 2327 sets forth the four categories of persons who may be permitted to intervene in a civil action. The Rule provides as follows:

At any time during the pendency of an action, a person not a party thereto shall be permitted to intervene therein, subject to these rules if

(1) the entry of a judgment in such action or the satisfaction of such judgment will impose any liability upon such person to indemnify in whole or in part the party against whom judgment may be entered; or

(2) such person is so situated as to be adversely affected by a distribution or other disposition of property in the custody of the court or of an officer thereof; or

(3) such person could have joined as an original party in the action or could have been joined therein; or

(4) the determination of such action may affect any legally enforceable interest of such person whether or not he may be ...


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