Appeal from the Order Entered December 30, 1987 in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Civil No. 2396-A-1986. Appeal from the Order Entered March 3, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Civil No. 2396-A-1986.
Robert L. Ceisler, Washington, for Reichert, appellants (at 307 and 627).
Richard B. Tucker, III, Pittsburgh, for Falcon Tool, appellee (at 307 and 627).
James S. Ehrman, Pittsburgh, for Adamas Corp., appellee (at 307 and 627).
Cirillo, President Judge, and Brosky and Tamilia, JJ.
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 419]
Appellants, Richard and Jean Reichert, appeal from an order entered on December 30, 1987, by the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, striking the default judgment entered against Adamas Carbide Corporation [hereinafter Adamas]. The Reicherts also appeal from an order entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County on March 3, 1987, granting the petition of appellee Falcon Tool Co., Inc. [hereinafter Falcon] to strike the default judgment entered against it. Pursuant to the agreement of counsel, the Reicherts' appeals from these orders have been consolidated.
The events leading up to this consolidated appeal can be summarized as follows. On June 27, 1986, Richard and Jean Reichert filed a complaint against various defendants, including the appellants Adamas and Falcon, seeking to recover for injuries allegedly suffered by Mr. Reichert as a result of his having been exposed to tungsten, carbide, tungsten carbide, cobalt, and specialty steels which were
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 420]
present in the products sold, manufactured, or distributed by the defendants.*fn1
In October of 1986, the Reicherts filed a praecipe to have their complaint reinstated and instructed the Erie County Sheriff's Office to serve the complaint on both Adamas and Falcon by certified mail. The sheriff's service of process report on Adamas indicates that the Sheriff's Office followed the Reicherts' instructions; the complaint was sent to Adamas by certified mail on October 3, 1986. The address to which the complaint was sent is listed as 666 Boyce Road, Kennilworth, New Jersey. The return receipt accompanying the complaint was signed on October 6, 1986, by a Ray Sachlantz. His signature appears on the line marked "Signature -- Addressee."
The sheriff's service of process report on Falcon also indicates that the Sheriff's Office complied with the Reicherts' request to serve their complaint on Falcon. Again, the report shows that the complaint was sent to Falcon by certified mail on October 3, 1986, and the return receipt reflects that the complaint was received on October 6, 1986. The signature appearing on the receipt is that of an employee of Falcon; his signature appears on the line marked "Signature -- Addressee."
Neither Adamas nor Falcon responded when served with the Reicherts' complaint. The Reicherts, consequently, sent both corporations a notice of default for failure to answer their complaint. The notice was sent to Adamas on January 22, 1987, and to Falcon on March 9, 1987. As with the complaint, neither corporation responded to the notice. The Reicherts, therefore, filed a praecipe for judgment against both corporations and default judgments were entered against them. The default judgment against Adamas was entered on February 5, 1987; the default judgment against Falcon was entered on March 26, 1987.
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 421]
Prior to the dates upon which the default judgments were entered against Adamas and Falcon, one of the defendants not involved in this appeal filed preliminary objections to the Reicherts' complaint, alleging, inter alia, that the complaint was vague and ambiguous and that it failed to inform the defendants of the nature of the claims asserted against them. The trial court agreed and, on February 3, 1987, entered an order directing the Reicherts to file a more specific pleading within seventy-five days. The Reicherts filed their amended complaint on March 19, 1987, seven days before the default judgment was entered against Falcon. The Reicherts did not, however, serve the complaint on Falcon; in addition, they did not endorse the complaint with a notice to plead.
Thereafter, Adamas became aware of the Reicherts' suit. On June 16, 1987, Adamas filed a petition to open and/or strike the default judgment which had been entered against it. The trial court then issued a rule upon the Reicherts to show why Adamas's petition should not be granted. They filed their answer to Adamas's petition and the court's rule, to which Adamas, in turn, filed its reply. Adamas had depositions taken in support of its petition. In addition, the corporation filed an extensive affidavit containing all the names and signatures of its employees as of October 6, 1986, the date on which the complaint was allegedly received and signed for by one of its employees.
A hearing on Adamas's petition was held by the trial court after which the court concluded that rule 424 of the Rules of Civil Procedure requires service on foreign corporations such as Adamas to be made by hand delivery. Based on this determination, the trial court filed an order on December 30, 1987, striking the judgment entered against Adamas. The Reicherts filed an appeal from this order.
Falcon also eventually became aware of the suit commenced by the Reicherts, and, on October 21, 1987, filed a petition to strike and/or open the default judgment entered against it. After a rule to show cause why the judgment should not be stricken or opened was issued upon
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 422]
the Reicherts, they filed a response to Falcon's petition. Falcon then filed an amended petition and an answer raising new matter to which the Reicherts dutifully responded. Depositions were subsequently taken. Thereafter, on March 3, 1988, the court entered an order and opinion granting Falcon's petition to strike the default judgment entered against it. In the opinion, the court explained that its reasons for granting Falcon's petition were twofold: (1) Falcon was not served with the Reicherts' original complaint in conformance with Pa.R.C.P. 424; and (2) Falcon had not been served with the Reicherts' amended complaint as required by Pa.R.C.P. 440. Shortly after the court entered its order granting Falcon's petition, the Reicherts filed an appeal from it. This appeal was then consolidated with the previous appeal filed by the Reicherts contesting the trial court's order striking the default judgment entered against Adamas.*fn2
On appeal, the following issues are raised for our review: (1) did the trial court err in striking the judgments entered against Adamas and Falcon on the basis that rule 424 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure requires service of process on foreign corporations to be made by hand delivery; and, if so, (2) did the trial court also err in striking the judgment entered against Falcon on the additional basis
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 423]
that the Reicherts failed to serve Falcon with a copy of their amended complaint.
Initially, we note that in reviewing a decision of a trial court to strike a judgment, an appellate court will reverse the decision of the trial court only for a manifest abuse of discretion or an error of law. Bittenbender v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 362 Pa. Super. 243, 248, 523 A.2d 1173, 1176 (1987), allocatur denied, 517 Pa. 602, 536 A.2d 1327 (1987). A motion to strike a judgment is in the nature of a demurrer directed to defects in the record. Id.; National Recovery Systems v. Monaghan, 322 Pa. Super. 183, 188, 469 A.2d 244, 246 (1983). Such a motion may be granted only when a fatal defect appears on the face of the record. Parliament Industries v. William H. Vaughan & Co., 501 Pa. 1, 8, 459 A.2d 720, 724 (1983). If the record at the time the judgment was entered was self-sustaining, the judgment cannot be stricken. Monaghan, supra, 322 Pa. Superior Ct. at 188, 469 A.2d at 246. See also 16 Standard Pennsylvania Practice 2d § 91:104, at 555-57 (1983).
Resolution of the first issue which the Reicherts have presented for our review requires that we address an issue of first impression, namely, whether service on foreign corporations may be made by certified mail under the present rules of civil procedure governing service of process. This issue arises because there is an apparent conflict between two of the rules, specifically rule 404 and rule 424. While rule 404 permits service outside the Commonwealth to be made by certified mail, rule 424 appears to require service on corporations, both domestic and foreign, to be made by hand delivery.
Rule 404, entitled "Service Outside the Commonwealth," provides, in pertinent part:
Original process shall be served outside the Commonwealth within ninety days of the issuance of the writ or the filing of the complaint or the reissuance of the reinstatement thereof:
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 424]
(2) by any competent adult by mail in the manner provided by Rule 403 . . . .
Pa.R.C.P. No. 404, 42 Pa.C.S. (1987). Rule 403, to which rule 404 refers, reads:
If a rule of civil procedure authorizes original process to be served by mail, a copy of the process shall be mailed to the defendant or his authorized agent. Service is complete upon delivery of the mail . . . .
Pa.R.C.P. No. 403, 42 Pa.C.S. (1987). Finally, rule 424, which bears the caption "Corporations and ...