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LABORORERS COMBINED FUNDS v. HUNTAR DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

October 26, 2005.

LABORORERS COMBINED FUNDS OF WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA, Plaintiff,
v.
HUNTAR DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, CINDRA DALE and MARK DALE, Defendants. v. S&T BANK, SKY BANK, NORTHSIDE BANK, YARBOROUGH DEVELOPMENT and JENDOCO CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION, Garnishees.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MAURICE COHILL JR., Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Garnishee Yarborough Development has filed a Petition to Strike/Open the judgment by admission entered against it by the Clerk of Court on February 16, 2005. Plaintiff Laborers Combined Funds of Western Pennsylvania ("Funds") has filed a brief opposing the petition.

Background

  This action grows out of a construction contract for a development in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, known as Monroe Meadows. Yarborough Development ("Yarborough") was the general contractor on the project. Yarborough and Huntar Development Corporation ("Huntar") entered into a contract requiring Huntar to perform site work and earth work, to install storm and sanitary sewers, and to provide inspections and certifications of the sewers.

  Funds sent interrogatories to the garnishees, including Yarborough. Yarborough's answers to interrogatories in this case show that it is holding $38,000.00 as retainage.

  The interrogatories at issue are numbers 1 and 2. Interrogatory 1 is as follows:
1. At the time you were served, or at any subsequent time:
a. did you owe defendant any money?
b. were you liable to defendant pursuant to any note or agreement? c. did defendant claim that you owed him any money or were liable to defendant for any reason?
Ex. A.

  Yarborough denied any liability to the defendant by answering "no" to parts (a), (b) and (c) of Question 1.

  Ex. B.

  Interrogatory 2 states:
2. If the answer to interrogatory No. 1 is "yes", state for each account:
a. Parties to the instrument/agreement;
b. Date of the instrument/agreement;
c. Nature/description of the instrument/agreement;
d. Amount of the payments due thereunder;
e. Frequency of payments;
f. Amount of the payments made to date;
g. Balance due under the instrument/agreement.
Ex. A.
  Although Yarborough answered "no" to interrogatory No. 1, it answered interrogatory No. 2 by stating:
2. (a)-(g) As a result of a construction project known as Monroe Meadows, Yarborough Development is holding $38,000.00 in retainage.
Ex. B.

  Funds filed a Praecipe for Judgment by Admission against Yarborough, pursuant to the answer to interrogatory 2. On February 18, 2005, the Clerk of Court entered judgment by admission in the amount of $15,200.00 in favor of Funds and against Yarborough. Yarborough now petitions to strike or open that judgment. Funds opposes the petition.

  Discussion

  The parties agree that Pennsylvania law governs this action. Pa. R. Civ. P. 3146(b) provides for judgment against a garnishee by admissions contained in answers to interrogatories as follows:
The prothonotary on praecipe of the plaintiff, shall enter judgment against the garnishee for the property of the defendant admitted in the answer to interrogatories to be in the garnishee's possession subject to any right therein claimed by the garnishee, but no money judgment entered against the garnishee shall exceed the amount of the judgment of the plaintiff against the defendant together with interest and costs. . . .
Pa. R. Civ. P. 3146(b).

  Under Pennsylvania law, the admissions of a garnishee, made as answers to a judgment creditor's interrogatories, will support the entry of judgment "only in a clear case, where there is a distinct admission of liability by the garnishee to the defendant." Ruehl v. Maxwell Steel Co., Inc. 474 A.2d 1162 (Pa.Super. 1984), quoting Bartram Building and Loan Association v. Eggleston, 6 A.2d 508, 510 (Pa. 1939). If there is any doubt regarding the garnishee's admission, judgment should not be entered. Ruehl, 474 A.2d at 1164, quoting Goodrich-Amram 2d § 3146(b): 1.1. Indeed, courts and commentators have emphasized that judgment on admission "cannot be entered unless some part of the plaintiff's claim is `unequivocally and unqualifiedly admitted to ...


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