Appeal from the Judgment Entered November 12, 1996. In the Court of Common Pleas of Clinton County Civil Division, No. 759-89. Before BROWN, J.
Before: Tamilia, J., Hudock, J., Cercone, P.j.e. Opinion BY Cercone, P.j.e.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cercone
OPINION BY CERCONE, P.J.E.:
These are appeals from the judgment entered following a bench trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Clinton County. We vacate that judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings.
In 1989, Ronald A. Miller, Sr. (Miller), as Administrator of the Estate of Ronald A. Miller, Jr. (decedent), commenced this action against the Brass Rail Tavern, Inc. and its sole shareholder, Thomas E. McMaster. Miller alleged that the Brass Rail wrongfully had served alcoholic beverages to decedent who visibly was intoxicated. After leaving the Brass Rail, decedent was killed in a one-vehicle accident.
In 1992, at the original trial in this matter, the court determined that the Brass Rail had served decedent while he visibly was intoxicated. Nevertheless, the court found that Miller failed to prove that this negligence was a substantial factor in bringing about decedent's death because Miller had not established that the accident occurred close enough in time after the Brass Rail had served the visibly intoxicated decedent. On appeal, a panel of this Court affirmed the trial court's determination. See Miller v. Brass Rail Tavern. Inc., 434 Pa. Super. 383, 643 A.2d 694 (1994) (with one Judge, Wieand, J., Dissenting). However, our Supreme Court granted allocatur and reversed this Court's decision; the matter was remanded for a new trial. See Miller v. Brass Rail Tavern, Inc., 541 Pa. 474, 664 A.2d 525 (1995).
On remand, the parties agreed that trial would be limited to when the accident and decedent's death occurred, and the court incorporated the evidence and findings from the previous trial, except for evidence relating to the time of death. Following a non-jury trial, the court rendered a verdict in favor of Miller and against the Brass Rail in the amount of $210,000. Also, with respect to Miller's claim against McMaster as sole stockholder of the Brass Rail, the court refused to pierce the corporate veil, finding in favor of McMaster.
Miller filed a motion for delay damages and a motion for post-trial relief. The Brass Rail also filed a motion for post-trial relief. By order dated September 11, 1996, the court awarded Miller approximately $100,000.00 in delay damages. In separate orders dated November 5, 1996, the court denied the post-trial motions filed by Miller and the Brass Rail. On November 12, 1996, judgment was entered reflecting the court's initial damage award against the Brass Rail as well as its award of delay damages.
On November 18, 1996, Miller filed a notice of appeal. The Brass Rail later filed a cross-appeal. We will treat these appeals separately, addressing Miller's appeal first. Initially, however, we note that
the role of an appellate court reviewing the trial court's final judgment is to determine whether the findings of the trial court are supported by competent evidence and whether the trial court committed error in the application of law. The findings of the trial Judge in a non-jury case must be given the same weight and effect on appeal as a verdict of a jury and will not be disturbed on appeal absent error of law or abuse of discretion. When this court reviews the findings of the trial Judge, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the victorious party below and all the evidence and proper inferences favorable to that party must be taken as true and all unfavorable inferences rejected.
Guttman Oil Co. v. Pennsylvania Insurance Guaranty Association, 429 Pa. Super. 523, 526, 632 A.2d 1345, 1346 (1993), appeal denied, 537 Pa. 663, 644 A.2d 1200 (1994) (citations omitted).
Miller's Appeal Docketed at No. 903 Harrisburg, 1996
Miller presents this Court with the following three questions, which we have renumbered for review purposes:
1. Did the trial court abuse its discretion by finding the [Brass Rail] was adequately capitalized [?]
2. Is gross undercapitalization of a corporation owned by one stockholder sufficient reason to pierce the corporate veil[?]
3. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in failing to find the [Brass Rail] and [Mr. McMaster] intermingled their interests[?]
Brief for Appellant Miller, at 5.
Each of these claims relates to Miller's attempt to pierce the corporate veil of the Brass Rail and hold McMaster liable for the Brass Rail's negligence. In Pennsylvania, there is a strong presumption against piercing the corporate veil. Lumax Industries, Inc. v. Aultman, 543 Pa. 38, 41, 669 A.2d 893, 895 (1995). The Lumax Court recognized that the following factors should be considered when determining whether to disregard the corporate form: undercapitalization; failure to adhere to corporate formalities; substantial ...