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Gall v. Crawford

September 16, 2009

THEODORE A. GALL, III A/K/A TED GALL AND THEODORE A. GALL IV A/K/A TED GALL, JR. APPELLEES
v.
DAVID A. CRAWFORD AND DIANE J. CRAWFORD, A/K/A DIANE CRAWFORD, HIS WIFE APPELLANTS
THEODORE A. GALL, III A/K/A TED GALL AND THEODORE A. GALL IV A/K/A TED GALL, JR. APPELLANTS
v.
DAVID A. CRAWFORD AND DIANE J. CRAWFORD, A/K/A DIANE CRAWFORD, HIS WIFE APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order dated September 10, 2008 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Civil No. GD07-00804.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kelly, J.

BEFORE: DONOHUE, CLELAND and KELLY, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 David A. Crawford and Diane J. Crawford, Appellants, and Theodore A. Gall, III and Theodore A. Gall, IV, Appellees,*fn1 have filed cross appeals from the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County granting in part and denying in part each party's respective motions for post-trial relief. The appeals were consolidated by per curiam order on December 2, 2008. We affirm, finding that the prothonotary has the authority under Pa.R.C.P. 1037 to enter a default judgment in an equitable action and to set trial for damages.

¶ 2 On July 1, 2005, Appellees entered into a written agreement in which they agreed to purchase from Appellants a parcel of improved real estate located in Allegheny County for $30,000 and unspecified*fn2 personalty for another $30,000. Shortly after the agreement, Appellees paid the full purchase price of $60,000. However, on February 17, 2006, Appellants returned $30,000 to Appellees.*fn3

¶ 3 After entering into the agreement, Appellees prepared a subdivision plan and submitted it to Appellants, who, after reviewing it, approved, accepted, and signed it, and requested that it be approved by the appropriate governing authorities. The plan was recorded in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds of Allegheny County on August 1, 2006.

¶ 4 On December 14, 2006,*fn4 Appellees sent Appellants' counsel a letter setting a closing date of January 26, 2007 and requesting that Appellants perform certain duties required of them under the agreement. Neither party attended the closing. Thereafter, on March 13, 2007, Appellees filed a complaint in which it sought, inter alia, a decree ordering Appellants to deliver the deed to the property to Appellees, lost profits from rental income, expenses for lost use, and attorney's fees. The complaint also requested the court issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Appellants from, inter alia, selling, leasing, or otherwise encumbering title to the property. On March 30, 2007, the trial court entered an order granting a special injunction and scheduled a hearing on Appellees' request for a preliminary injunction. However, before the date of the hearing, the parties consented to a stipulated preliminary injunction prohibiting Appellants from selling, leasing, or otherwise encumbering title to the property for the duration of the litigation.

¶ 5 On April 3, 2007, in accordance with Pa.R.C.P. 237.1, default notices were sent to Appellants and their attorney for failure to file a responsive pleading to Appellees' complaint. When Appellants failed to respond to the notice, Appellees filed a praecipe for default judgment, which was granted on April 20, 2007. The praecipe requested that the prothonotary "enter judgment by default for liability only, damages to be assessed at trial[.]" (Praecipe for Entry of Default Judgment & Certification of Written Notice, 1). Appellants never filed a petition to open or strike the default judgment.

¶ 6 The case proceeded to bench trial on June 2, 2008. At trial, Appellees sought to establish that they were entitled to $28,500 in lost rent, $16,000 in legal fees, and $3,000 for expenses related to the lost use of the property. Appellants, on the other hand, sought to establish that Appellees failed to perform duties under the contract and thus should not be granted any damages, including the deed to the property; in the event the court did grant Appellees' relief, Appellants sought to prove that the building did not generate the amount of rents claimed by Appellees and that Appellees were never prevented from using the building. After considering the evidence, the court returned a verdict ordering Appellants, inter alia, to execute and deliver the deed to the property to Appellees and to pay them $16,000 in attorneys' fees. The court also ordered Appellees to pay Appellants $30,000 as "consideration due for the above described transfer of the real estate[.]" (N.T., 6/2/08, at 102). The court denied Appellees' claim for damages for lost rent and lost use.

¶ 7 On June 12, 2008, Appellants filed a motion for post-trial relief raising mostly "boilerplate" assertions, (see Trial Ct. Op., 9/10/08, at 2), as well as a specific claim that the court erred in awarding attorney's fees to Appellees. (See Appellants' Post Tr[ial] Motion, ¶ 3). The motion was not served on Appellees' counsel and did not contain a certificate of service. Three days later, Appellees filed a motion to strike Appellants' post-trial motion for failure to comply with the applicable Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. Appellees also filed a motion requesting the trial court issue to Appellants a rule to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court for failing to adhere to the previously issued injunctions. Finally, Appellees filed their own post-trial motion in which they alleged the court erred by ordering them to pay $30,000 and by refusing to award damages for lost rent and lost use of the property.

¶ 8 On July 15, 2008, the trial court denied Appellees' motion to strike Appellants' post-trial motion as well as their motion seeking a rule to show cause, finding that Appellants' "infractions are diminumus [sic]." (Order of Court, 7/15/08). On September 10, 2008, the court granted Appellants' post-trial motion in part, setting aside the award of attorneys' fees but denying all other relief. The court also granted Appellees' post-trial motion in part, striking its order that they pay Appellants $30,000 but denying all other relief. Both parties have timely appealed from this order. Neither party was ordered to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal.

¶ 9 On appeal, Appellants argue the prothonotary did not have authority to enter a default judgment. Furthermore, they argue that despite the default judgment against them, Appellees were not entitled to any damages because they failed to plead an essential part of the contract. Appellants do not assign error to the trial court's September 10, 2008 order relieving Appellees of the obligation of paying them $30,000 as consideration for the transfer of the deed. In their cross-appeal, Appellees argue that the trial court erred in denying damages for lost rent and lost use, and by vacating the award of attorneys' fees.

¶ 10 Appellant's first argument is that "the assessment of damages directed by the Prothonotary was not authorized by [Pa.R.Civ.P.] 1037(b) since the complaint did not express a claim for a sum certain or a sum which could be made certain by computation. . . . It is clear from the plain reading of the Rule, that the Default Judgment in Equity is not authorized." (Appellant's Brief, at 12). Appellants misinterpret Rule 1037.

ΒΆ 11 Preliminarily, we note that Appellant's first claim involves a question of law. As with all questions of law, our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. See Mastroni-Mucker v. ...


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