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In Re: Bridgeport Fire Litigation

August 14, 2012

IN RE: BRIDGEPORT FIRE LITIGATION APPEAL OF: PROFESSIONAL FLOORING CO., INC., LIMERICK CARPET AND FLOORING, INC., ROSE LINE, INC., AND RENU ELECTRONICS, INC.


Appeal from the Order of July 27, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Civil Division at No(s): 05-20924

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

J-A08039-12

BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., ALLEN and OLSON, JJ.

OPINION BY OLSON, J.:

Currently before the Court is the appeal of Appellants, Professional Flooring Co., Inc., Limerick Carpet and Flooring, Inc., Rose Line, Inc., and Renu Electronics, Inc. ("Appellants" or "Certain Class Plaintiffs") of the July 27, 2011 order denying the Motion of Certain Class Plaintiffs for Recusal of the Honorable Steven T. O'Neill from Continuing to Serve as Presiding Judge Over the Bridgeport Fire Litigation. After careful review, we quash the appeal.

The history of this case is long and complex. A prior panel of this Court set forth the factual and procedural history relevant to this appeal as follows:

This matter forms a small part of the class action litigation that arose from the destruction by fire on May 15, 2001 of a large, multi-unit industrial complex known as the Continental Business Center ("CBC") in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania. Appellants, Certain Class Plaintiffs, are businesses that suffered losses in the fire and are [four of] the original plaintiffs, having filed a putative class action suit against the owners and managers of the CBC nine days after the fire occurred. On April 14, 2003, Judge [Steven T.] O'Neill certified the class and appointed Certain Class Plaintiffs [along with Salmon Industries, Inc. and Purdy-Pak, Inc.] as representative plaintiffs of the class. He also appointed the law firms of Kline & Specter, P.C. and High Swartz, LLP as class counsel.

In the following months and years, the parties engaged in extensive discovery. The [trial] court presided over numerous hearings and disposed of over 100 motions and the parties and the [trial] court held lengthy settlement discussions. In the midst of this activity, Donald E. Haviland, Jr., Esquire, an associate with class counsel Kline & Specter, left his employment at Kline & Specter and started his own practice, then known as "The Haviland Firm." As a result of [Attorney] Haviland's departure, a dispute arose over who would act as class counsel. Ultimately, Kline & Specter remained as class counsel, although [Attorney] Haviland was permitted to represent Certain Class Plaintiffs as personal counsel.

A partial settlement was reached on February 19, 2008 for the sum of $30,000,000.[00.] The remaining two defendants subsequently agreed to settlements totaling $5,000,000.[00.]

Thereafter, class counsel distributed a Notice of Settlement and Judge O'Neill held a Fairness Hearing on June 23, 2008. Finally, on July 8, 2008, the court approved the settlement totaling $35,000,000[.00], and appointed Gary S. Silow, Esquire, as [c]laims [a]dministrator.*fn1 The [c]laims [a]dministrator was tasked with scrutinizing the claims of each claimant to determine what amount, if any, each would receive from the gross settlement proceeds. On August 7, 2009, [Mr.] Silow submitted his report to Judge O'Neill. On September 1, 2009, class counsel filed a motion for approval of compensation for [Mr.] Silow, which the [trial] court approved by order docketed on September 10, 2009 . . .

[O]n September 4, 2009[, the trial court] denied a motion for incentive payments filed by Attorney Haviland on behalf of Certain Class Plaintiffs. Judge O'Neill denied that motion based upon his belief that Attorney Haviland lacked standing to file such a motion on behalf of the class representatives, as he is not court-appointed class counsel.

Providing a backdrop to the entry of the [September 10, 2009 order approving compensation for the claims administrator and the September 4, 2009 order denying the motion for incentive payments filed on behalf of Certain Class Plaintiffs] is a motion for recusal filed by Attorney Haviland on behalf of Certain Class Plaintiffs, which alleges bias on the part of Judge O'Neill against Certain Class Plaintiffs. [The motion for recusal was filed on May 14, 2009 - after Judge O'Neill approved the settlement and while the claims administrator was still analyzing the individual claimants' claims.]

In re Bridgeport Fire Litigation, 5 A.3d 1250, 1252-1253 (Pa. Super. 2010) (internal footnotes omitted).

Appellants, through their private counsel Attorney Haviland, appealed Judge O'Neill's September 4, 2009 order denying Certain Class Plaintiffs' motion for incentive payments and September 10, 2009 order approving the claims administrator's compensation. Another panel of this Court considered the appeal, and in a published opinion, this Court vacated Judge O'Neill's orders of September 4, 2009 and September 10, 2009 and remanded the case back to the trial court with specific instructions. Id. This Court concluded that Judge O'Neill erred in ruling on the motion for incentive payments and the motion for the claims administrator's compensation without first ruling on Appellants' motion for ...


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