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06/27/97 CHRISTINE SAMARAS AND JOHN SAMARAS v.

June 27, 1997

CHRISTINE SAMARAS AND JOHN SAMARAS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS HUSBAND AND WIFE, APPELLEES
v.
MARTHA A. HARTWICK AND JOHN HARTWICK, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the JUDGMENT entered October 24, 1996, in the Court of Common Pleas of BUCKS County, CIVIL Division, at No. 85-001450-03-1. Before McANDREWS, J.

Before: Cirillo, P.j.e.; Johnson and Olszewski, JJ. Opinion BY Olszewski, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Olszewski

OPINION BY OLSZEWSKI, J.

FILED June 27, 1997

On March 1, 1985, Christine and John Samaras commenced the instant personal injury action against Martha and John Hartwick by filing a writ of summons in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. For the next year, the case proceeded through the usual pre-trial procedures, and, on May 26, 1986, was scheduled for trial. On that date, the Samarases requested a continuance. The Hartwicks were opposed to continuing the case and, therefore, objected. After hearing argument on the matter, the Honorable Judge George Kelton granted the requested continuance.

Due to docket activity generated entirely by the Hartwicks, the docket remained active from the date of the continuance until October 8, 1987. For the next two years, however, the docket was void of activity and, on October 27, 1989, the Bucks County Prothonotary mailed termination notices to the parties. At this juncture, the docket was completely devoid of any activity generated by the Samarases for nearly three years. On July 18, 1990, after receiving no response from the litigants, the case was officially marked terminated.

Over one year thereafter, on August 23, 1991, the Samarases filed a petition to set aside the termination and/or reactivate the action, in which their attorney, Neil E. Jokelson, Esquire, claimed that he had never received the termination notice reflected on the docket. Rather, Attorney Jokelson stated, he only became aware of the case's status on August 21, 1991, after an associate reviewing docket entries for an unrelated case in the Prothonotary's office noticed the termination entry and notified him. Because of this claimed lack of notice, Attorney Jokelson averred that the case had been erroneously terminated in violation of the Samarases' due process rights.

In response, the Hartwicks requested that, because of the lengthy delay between the termination and the filing of the petition, the court deny the petition as being untimely. After hearing argument on the matter, the Honorable Judge John Rufe granted the Samarases' petition to reactivate by Order dated June 17, 1993.

An application for reconsideration was filed and denied, after which the Hartwicks appealed to this Court. Finding the order to be interlocutory, however, this Court quashed the Hartwicks' appeal on February 7, 1994. Samaras v. Hartwick, No. 2362 Philadelphia 1993.

On February 23, 1994, the Hartwicks filed a petition for judgment of non pros and, additionally, requested that the court hear argument. In August of 1994, Judge Rufe denied the non pros petition without the benefit of oral argument. The Hartwicks then filed a motion for reconsideration and, in response thereto, the court agreed to hear argument on October 3, 1994. By order dated November 9, 1994, Judge Rufe again denied the Hartwicks' non pros petition.

A non-jury trial was subsequently held on February 5, 1996. The parties stipulated to damages in the amount of $50,001. After hearing the testimony of Christine Samaras, who was the sole witness at trial, the court found the Hartwicks liable and, accordingly, entered a verdict in favor of the Samarases. Post-trial motions were then filed and denied. This appeal, in which the Hartwicks claim that the trial court erred in granting the Samarases' petition for reactivation and in denying the Hartwicks' subsequent non pros petition, follows.

With respect to the Hartwicks' initial averment, alleging that the trial court erred in granting the Samarases' petition for reactivation, we note that our review is limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion or committed an error of law. See, e.g., Clinger v. Tilley, 423 Pa. Super. 121, , 620 A.2d 529, 531 (1993); Metz Contracting, Inc. v. Riverwood Builders, Inc., 360 Pa. Super. 445, , 520 A.2d 891, 893 (1987). Absent a finding of a manifest abuse of the discretion vested in the trial court, this Court will not disturb the trial Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Judicial Administration 1901, a case that has been inactive for over two years may be terminated. While the Rule provides that each court of common pleas throughout our jurisdiction may develop its own local rule to dispose of such cases, certain minimal procedural protections are mandated. Specifically, the court must notify the parties in person, by mail, or through publication of its intent to terminate a case. Clinger, 423 Pa. Super. at , 620 A.2d at 531.

In accordance with this Rule, the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas adopted Bucks County Administrative Order No. 29 which, in pertinent part, reads as follows:

1. Commencing on the effective date of this Order, and thereafter on the fourth Monday of each month, the Court Administrator shall compile a list of all pending civil matters, exclusive of non-support and custody proceedings, in which there has been no activity reported on the docket for a period of more than two years prior to the ...


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