AND NOW, this 10th day of August, 2009, it is ORDERED that the above-captioned opinion filed May 13, 2009 shall be designated OPINION rather than MEMORANDUM OPINION, and it shall be reported.
BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JOSEPH F. McCLOSKEY, Senior Judge.
In this appeal, Joseph Reaves (Plaintiff) asserts error in the denial of his petitions to open judgments of non pros in his medical malpractice action against Julie Knauer, the Medical Department at SCI-Graterford (Medical Department), and Dr. Norman B. Stempler (collectively, Defendants). The Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County (trial court) denied Plaintiff's petition to open judgment of non pros in favor of Knauer and the Medical Department because Plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 1042.3.*fn1 The trial court also dismissed Plaintiff's petition to open judgment of non pros in favor of Dr. Stempler on the basis Plaintiff failed to comply with a local rule of court. On appeal, Plaintiff asserts the trial court erroneously struck the default judgments entered against Defendants which, in turn, cleared the way for entry of the judgments of non pros. We affirm.
The history of this case is punctuated by voluminous filings; we therefore recite only the procedure relevant to the current appeal. Plaintiff is an inmate at SCI-Graterford. Representing himself, Plaintiff filed a November 2005 medical malpractice action against Defendants.*fn2 The complaint identifies Knauer as a correctional health administrator at SCI-Graterford and Dr. Stempler as an orthopedic doctor who contracted with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide medical treatment to the facility's inmates. The Medical Department is in the business of providing medical services to inmates. The complaint alleges Plaintiff sustained injuries during a basketball game, and reconstructive surgery was prescribed to address facial scarring. Due to a change in the DOC's policies, however, the surgery was reclassified as unauthorized cosmetic surgery. Plaintiff alleges the failure to perform the reconstructive surgery resulted in a deterioration of his eye socket, vision problems, headaches, weakness and numbness in the right facial region, emotional distress, and pain and suffering. Plaintiff avers various actions of Defendants fell below the standard of care of medical professionals.*fn3
A. Proceedings against Knauer and the Medical Department
Plaintiff served the complaint on Knauer and the Medical Department in November 2005. Neither defendant responded to the complaint. In May 2006, the Montgomery County Prothonotary (Prothonotary) entered a default judgment against Knauer and the Medical Department upon Plaintiff's praecipe. Once aware of the default judgments, Knauer and the Medical Department filed a petition to strike and/or open the default judgments.*fn4 Notwithstanding Plaintiff's opposition, the trial court summarily granted the motion on February 12, 2007. This Court subsequently quashed Plaintiff's appeal of that order as interlocutory. See Joseph Reaves v. Julie [Knauer], SCIG Med/Dept., (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 481 C.D. 2007, filed March 27, 2007), appeal denied, (Pa., No. 76 MM 2007, filed July 26, 2007).
Prior to Plaintiff's appeal to this Court, Knauer and the Medical Department filed a single praecipe for judgment of non pros on the basis Plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit. Accordingly, the Prothonotary entered judgment in their favor. Plaintiff thereafter unsuccessfully petitioned to open the judgment of non pros, which is the subject of this appeal.
B. Proceedings against Dr. Stempler
Plaintiff did not effectuate service of the complaint on Dr. Stempler within 30 days of the initial filing. Accordingly, Plaintiff twice reinstated his complaint, and finally served Dr. Stempler in March 2006. Dr. Stempler did not file a responsive pleading. On Plaintiff's request, the Prothonotary entered a default judgment against the doctor in September 2006. Dr. Stempler subsequently filed a motion to strike the default judgment, which the trial court summarily granted. On praecipe by Dr. Stempler, the Prothonotary entered judgment of non pros against Plaintiff on the ground he failed to file a certificate of merit. Thereafter, the trial court denied Plaintiff's petition to open the judgment of non pros, which is also the subject on appeal.
In support of its orders denying Plaintiff's petitions to open the judgments of non pros, the trial court first determined Knauer and the Medical Department were entitled to judgment of non pros because Plaintiff failed to file certificates of merit as required by Pa. R.C.P. No. 1042.3, despite two 60-day extensions in which to do so. Consequently, the Prothonotary properly entered a judgment of non pros on behalf of these Defendants upon their praecipe. See Pa. R.C.P. No. 1042.7.*fn5
Regarding Plaintiff's petition to open the judgment of non pros in favor of Dr. Stempler, the trial court concluded Plaintiff failed to comply with Montgomery County Local Rule 206.4(c)(3). This Local Rule permits the dismissal of a petition where the moving party fails to file a supporting brief within 30 days of a praecipe for argument. Here, Dr. Stempler filed a praecipe for argument on Plaintiff's petition to open the judgment of non pros on February 14, 2008. As of the trial court's May 2008 order denying the petition, Plaintiff had yet to file a supporting brief.
The nature of Plaintiff's appeal requires the Court to undertake a two-step analysis. The main issue Plaintiff presents is whether the trial court erred by granting Defendants' motions for non pros where the default judgments were properly entered and should not have been stricken. Defendants acknowledge Plaintiff properly preserved this issue. Accordingly, they address the propriety of the trial court's orders striking the default judgments. Thus, we must first determine whether the trial court properly struck the default judgments. If the trial ...