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09/12/97 RICHARD A. COLE v. LINDA LAWRENCE

September 12, 1997

RICHARD A. COLE, M.D., APPELLANT
v.
LINDA LAWRENCE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Erie County, Civil Division, at No. 12180-1996.

Before: Tamilia, Kelly and Brosky, JJ. Opinion BY Brosky, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brosky

OPINION BY BROSKY, J.

Filed September 12, 1997

This is a pro se appeal from the final order of the trial court which granted appellee's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The sole issue presented for our review is whether partial payment on a debt owed pursuant to a contract for the provision of medical services tolls the statute of limitations. We affirm.

Before addressing the merits of appellant's claim, we will briefly recount the pertinent facts of this case. Appellee, Linda Lawrence, was a patient of appellant, Richard Cole, M.D., for several years. Appellee was last treated by appellant on March 23, 1991. Appellant thereafter submitted bills for the services previously rendered to appellee and her health insurer. Appellee's last payment on the debt was made on November 26, 1991. However, appellee's insurer made an additional payment on June 5, 1992.

According to appellant, appellee has refused to pay the remaining balance for these services despite appellant's demands therefor. As a result, appellant filed a complaint with the district Justice on April 30, 1996. The district Justice entered judgment in favor of appellant in the sum of $4,997.93. Appellee timely appealed to the trial court.

Appellant, still proceeding pro se, filed a written complaint. Appellee filed an answer and new matter in which she asserted that appellant's causes of action were barred by the statute of limitations. Appellant filed a responsive pleading in which he contended that the actions were timely by virtue of the payment made by appellee's insurer. Appellee thereafter filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings which was granted by the trial court. Appellant timely appealed.

In reviewing an order granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings, we apply the following principles:

Entry of judgment on the pleadings is permitted under Pa.R.C.P.[, Rule] 1034[, 42 Pa.C.S.A.] which provides for such judgment after the pleadings are closed, but within such time as not to delay trial. A motion for judgment on the pleadings is similar to a demurrer. It may be entered where there are no disputed issues of fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In determining if there is a dispute as to facts, the court must confine its consideration to the pleadings and relevant documents. The scope of review on an appeal from the grant of judgment on the pleadings is plenary. We must determine if the action of the court below was based on a clear error of law or whether there were facts disclosed by the pleadings which should properly go to the jury.

Vetter v. Fun Footwear Co., 447 Pa. Super. 84, 87, 668 A.2d 529, 530-531 (1995) (en banc), allocatur denied, 544 Pa. 658, 676 A.2d 1199 (1996) (citation omitted).

Appellant's complaint sought to impose liability on three distinct theories: breach of an express oral agreement; breach of an implied contract, i.e., quantum meruit; and the quasi-contractual theory of unjust enrichment. Actions founded upon an express contract that is not in writing are subject to a four year statute of limitations. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5525(3). The statute of limitations for a quantum meruit action is also four years. Id., § 5525(4); Kenis v. Perini Corp., 452 Pa. Super. 634, 642, 682 A.2d 845, 849 (1996). Appellant's quasi-contract/unjust enrichment action is likewise subject to a four year limitations period, as it constitutes a contract implied in law. See Salvino Steel & Iron Works, Inc. v. Fletcher & Sons, Inc., 398 Pa. Super. 86, 92, 580 A.2d 853, 856 (1990), appeal dismissed as having been improvidently granted, 529 Pa. 62, 601 A.2d 806 (1992) (a quasi-contract, or contract implied in law, imposes a duty, not as a result of any agreement, but in spite of the absence of an agreement where one party receives unjust enrichment at the expense of another); 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5525(4) (specifying a four year statute of limitations for an action upon a contract implied in law). Consequently, a four year limitations period applies to each of appellant's causes of action.

As observed by this court, the statute of limitations begins to run on a claim from the time the cause of action accrues. Packer Society Hill Travel Agency, Inc. v. Presbyterian University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, 430 Pa. Super. 625, 631, 635 A.2d 649, 652 (1993). In general, an action based on contract accrues at the time of breach. Id. Where the contract is a continuing one, the statute of limitations runs from the time when the breach occurs or when the contract is in some way terminated. Thorpe v. Schoenbrun, 202 Pa. Super. 375, 378, 195 A.2d 870, 872 (1963). In comparison, quantum meruit actions begin to accrue as of the date on which the relationship between the parties is terminated. See Kenis v. Perini Corp., supra (attorney's quantum meruit action against former client accrue as of the date of the attorney's termination of representation); Thorpe v. Shoenbrun, 202 Pa. Super. at 381, 195 A.2d at 874 (there is no essential difference between the claim of an attorney and the claim of a doctor). Consequently, appellant's causes of action accrued either when appellee breached the express or implied agreement to pay or when the parties' severed their relationship.

The pleadings and exhibits appended thereto reflect that the relationship between appellant and appellee was effectively terminated as of March 23, 1991, as appellee received no further services after this date. See Appellant's Complaint, Exhibit A (ledger depicting the services rendered, the charges for these services and credits for payments received for the period running from June 7, 1990 through June 5, 1992). Appellee's last payment for these services was made on November 26, 1991. See id. If we were to assume that the causes of action accrued when the parties' relationship terminated in March of 1991, appellant's claims are clearly barred by the statute of limitations because they were not initiated until April 30, 1996, more than four ...


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