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Louis Schiavone v. R.J. Aveta

March 20, 2012

LOUIS SCHIAVONE, APPELLANT
v.
R.J. AVETA, INDIVIDUALLY AND T/A CREATIVE POOLS,, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order entered April 19, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County Civil Division at No(s): 2005-CV-920

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

BEFORE: PANELLA, LAZARUS, and STRASSBURGER*fn1 , JJ.

OPINION BY LAZARUS, J.:

Louis Schiavone appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County dismissing his suit for personal injuries against R.J. Aveta for lack of personal jurisdiction.

We reverse.

The trial court stated the relevant facts as follows:

The instant case stems from an automobile accident which occurred on April 11, 2002, between Plaintiff, Louis Schiavone (hereinafter "Schiavone"), and Kenneth Arnoul (hereinafter "Arnoul"). Arnoul, at the time, was an employee of Defendant, R.J. Aveta (hereinafter "Aveta"), which conducted business under the name Creative Pools. The accident occurred on State Route 590 in Lackawaxen Township, Pike County, Pennsylvania.

Aveta is in the business of constructing and maintaining swimming pools. Aveta is incorporated in New Jersey, and at the time of the accident, its corporate headquarters were located in Pequannock, New Jersey. Aveta avers that it does business exclusively in the states of New Jersey and New York. Aveta further avers that it does not conduct any business within Pennsylvania, nor does it have an office in Pennsylvania, nor does it order any products for business use from Pennsylvania. Aveta further avers that, to its knowledge, it has never constructed nor maintained a swimming pool in Pennsylvania.

Both Schiavone and Arnoul are Pennsylvania residents. At the time of the accident, Arnoul was driving home following the completion of his work day as an employee of Aveta in New Jersey. The vehicle which Arnoul was driving was owned and insured by Aveta; Aveta provided the vehicle to Arnoul for use the terms and scope of which are not disclosed by the current record.

Trial Court Opinion, 4/19/11, at 1-2.

On November 22, 2004, Schiavone filed a complaint against Aveta in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, alleging that the accident was the result of the negligence of its agent, Arnoul. Aveta filed preliminary objections on December 1, 2004 as to venue and lack of personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania. The trial court granted Aveta's preliminary objection as to venue, and the case was transferred to the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County.

On August 11, 2010, Aveta again filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court granted the motion on April 19, 2011, dismissing the action because Schiavone did not prove that Aveta had any contacts with Pennsylvania other than allowing Arnoul to use its vehicle to drive to and from work. The court reasoned that mere use by an employee of a company vehicle to drive to and from work in Pennsylvania does not establish the minimum contacts necessary for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the employer here. Schiavone filed a timely appeal raising the following issue for our review:

Did the Court of Common Pleas, Pike County, Pennsylvania wrongfully deny personal jurisdiction when it failed to find substantial minimum contacts existed against an out-of- state defendant, when the accident occurred upon a Pennsylvania roadway in Pike County, Pennsylvania; the vehicle was used from Pike County, Pennsylvania to various jobs on the way to work in New Jersey; the vehicle was driven to and from [Aveta's] agent's Pennsylvania residence as part of his employment arrangement; the personal use of the vehicle, gas, repairs, etc. were often done in Pennsylvania; and the New Jersey corporation's vehicle, as used by [Aveta's] agent, provided substantial economic benefit to the New Jersey corporation?

Brief of Appellant, 1/11/2012, at 4.

Our standard of review of a trial court's order granting preliminary objections challenging personal jurisdiction is as follows:

When preliminary objections, if sustained, would result in the dismissal of an action, such objections should be sustained only in cases which are clear and free from doubt. . . . Moreover, when deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. This Court will reverse the trial court's decision regarding preliminary objections only where there has been an error of law or an abuse of discretion. Once the moving party supports its objections to personal jurisdiction, the burden of proving personal ...


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