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FATHER JAMES MAMALIS v. ATLAS VAN LINES (06/28/89)

decided: June 28, 1989.

FATHER JAMES MAMALIS, APPELLANT,
v.
ATLAS VAN LINES, INC., AND MCCLAIN MOVING COMPANY, APPELLEES



Appeal from the order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania entered June 24, 1987 at No. 00596 PHL 1986, vacating and reversing the judgment order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, entered February 7, 1986 at August Term, 1978, No. 4441. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Papadakos, J., and Stout, Former Justice, did not participate in the decision of this case. Larsen, J., dissents.

Author: Zappala

[ 522 Pa. Page 216]

OPINION

The issue of first impression presented in this appeal is whether an agent and its principal are joint tortfeasors under the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA), Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 586, No. 142, effective June 27, 1978, 42 Pa.C.S.A. ยงยง 8321 et seq. We hold that an agent and its principal are not joint tortfeasors under UCATA when the liability of the principal is vicarious liability and is not based upon the principal's independent actionable fault.

The Appellant, Father James Mamalis, brought actions against McClain Moving Company and Atlas Van Lines to recover damages for the loss of his personal property in a fire. Mamalis filed an action initially against McClain, then filed a second action against Atlas. The lawsuits were later consolidated.

Mamalis contracted with McClain to ship his personal belongings from Philadelphia to Fairview, New Jersey. His property was loaded onto a van by McClain and was taken to McClain's place of business for delivery on the next day. The van caught fire that evening, destroying most of Mamalis' property.

Mamalis' complaint against Atlas alleged that it was responsible for the property damage through the conduct of its agent, McClain. The parties disputed whether McClain was acting under the apparent authority of Atlas while transporting the property, having agreed that McClain was not acting under Atlas' actual authority. That issue was decided against Atlas in a subsequent jury trial.

McClain filed bankruptcy proceedings. Mamalis then settled his claim against McClain for $25,000 prior to trial and executed a release. The release purported to preserve Mamalis' claim against Atlas and stated that,

3. Because the parties intend that Fireman's [McClain's insurer] and McClain shall be relieved of any liability for contribution to any other tortfeasor against whom Mamalis

[ 522 Pa. Page 217]

    might recover, this release is being given before the right of any other tortfeasor has accrued to secure a money judgment for contribution, and the amount of damages which Mamalis may recover from the other tortfeasors shall be reduced by the pro rata share of the consideration paid under this release.

(R. 35a-36a) The release provided that it would be governed by UCATA.

Atlas moved for summary judgment on the basis that the release of the agent extinguished Mamalis' claim and discharged its liability as a principal. The summary judgment motion was denied. Atlas raised the issue again at trial and on a motion for a directed verdict. The trial court submitted the case to the jury and a verdict was returned in favor of Mamalis for $84,402.70.

Atlas' post-trial motions seeking judgment n.o.v. and/or a new trial were denied. The trial judge concluded that Atlas and McClain were joint tortfeasors under UCATA and that as such, a release of one would not discharge the liability of the other unless the release so provided. The trial judge cited Bausewine v. Norristown Herald, Inc., 351 Pa. 634, 41 A.2d 736 (1945) as support for his conclusion, reasoning ...


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