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[U] Tarantino v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 10, 2013

FRANKLIN J. TARANTINO, Appellant
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, Appellee FRANKLIN J. TARANTINO, ET AL., Appellant
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, ET AL., Appellee FRANKLIN J. TARANTINO, Appellant
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, Appellee FRANKLIN J. TARANTINO, ET AL., Appellant
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, ET AL., Appellee

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Order Entered December 27, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Civil Division at No(s): 599-C-2004,

Appeal from the Order Entered May 17, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Civil Division at No(s): 599-C-2001,

Appeal from the Order December 27, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Civil Division at No(s): 5574-C-2001,

Appeal from the Order Entered May 17, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Civil Division at No(s): 5574-C-2001

BEFORE: BOWES, GANTMAN, and OLSON, JJ.

MEMORANDUM

BOWES, J.

Franklin and Margaret Tarantino, husband and wife, and their son, Franklin J. A. Tarantino ("Appellants"), filed the present appeals from four orders entered at two different lower court action numbers. At lower court docket number 5574-C-2001, Appellants filed a lawsuit against Texaco, Inc., BP Products North America, Inc., and Exxon Mobil Corporation ("Mobil") to recover damages allegedly caused by gasoline that leaked onto their property from underground storage tanks located at four different gas stations. The only leak relevant in the present appeals was the one that emanated from underground gasoline storage tanks located beneath a gasoline station owned, at various times, by Michael C. Tranguch, the corporation he later formed, Tranguch Tire Service, Inc., and his son, Michael A. Tranguch (collectively "Tranguch"). Appellants then filed a second action at lower court docket number 599-C-2004 against numerous defendants, including Mobil, to recover for damages caused by the same contamination. Appellants thereafter entered a settlement agreement encompassing both the 2001 and 2004 lawsuits as well as all of the defendants in those cases with the exception of Mobil. Franklin J.A. Tarantino then filed a pro se motion at each proceeding to nullify that settlement as to him and his parents; the motions were denied on December 27, 2011. Mobil subsequently was granted summary judgment at both actions on May 17, 2012.

The appeal assigned docket number 231 MDA 2012 is from the December 27, 2011 order entered at action number 5574-C-2001, and that order denied the pro se motion to nullify the settlement agreement.[1] The appeal assigned docket number 232 MDA 2012 is from the December 27, 2011 order entered at lower court action number 599-C-2004 denying the same motion. The appeal assigned docket number 1052 MDA 2012 was filed from the May 17, 2012 order entered at number 5574-C-2001 granting summary judgment to Mobil, and the appeal assigned docket number 1053 MDA 2012 is from the May 17, 2012 order entered at number 599-C-2004 granting summary judgment to Mobil. Thus, the appeals at 231 MDA 2012 and 232 MDA 2012 relate to the December 27, 2011 order denying Appellants the right to avoid the settlement agreement with the defendants other than Mobil, while the appeals at 1052 MDA 2012 and 1053 MDA 2012 pertain to the May 17, 2012 orders granting Mobil summary judgment. We have consolidated the appeals for purposes of disposition, and we affirm all four orders.

The procedural history of the two cases relevant for purposes of these appeals is as follows. On August 23, 2001, Appellants instituted a lawsuit against Mobil and other defendants alleging that they owned and resided in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, from 1968 to 2001. During that time frame, they were allegedly exposed to benzene and other gasoline components that leaked from four gasoline service station sites onto their property, including tanks at the pertinent location owned by Tranguch. Mr. and Mrs. Tarantino sought damages due to Mr. Tarantino's organic brain syndrome allegedly caused by the gasoline leaks, and their son sought expenses for medical monitoring. On January 16, 2004, Appellants instituted another lawsuit against thirteen defendants, including Mobil. They raised the identical allegations as in the 2001 case. In their two cases, Appellants set forth causes of action in negligence, trespass, nuisance, battery, and violations of the Storage Tank and Spill Prevent Act, 35 P.S. § 6021.101, et seq. (the "Act").

On October 30, 2009, Franklin J. A. Tarantino filed a pro se motion in both the 2001 and 2004 lawsuits entitled, "Motion to Nullify Settlement Agreement in Tranguch Gas Spill Case." After those pro se motions were denied on December 27, 2011, counseled appeals were filed. Mobil moved for summary judgment in both actions on the basis that they were not liable for the gasoline spilled from the underground storage tanks located at Tranguch since Mobil had no association with Tranguch's maintenance of the tanks. It was granted summary judgment on May 17, 2012, and appeals were then filed from those orders.

We first examine the propriety of the appeals at 231 MDA 2012 and 232 MDA 2012 from the orders refusing to negate the settlement agreement encompassing the defendants other than Mobil. Those two appeals were improperly filed from interlocutory rather than final orders since, after the orders were entered, one defendant, Mobil, remained in both actions. See Pa.R.A.P. 341 (b) (final order must resolve all claims as to all parties). Despite the fact that the appeals were interlocutory, we conclude that we do have jurisdiction to entertain the propriety of the December 27, 2011 orders denying Appellants' petition to nullify the settlement agreement. We do so because Appellants also filed appeals from the final orders entered at each case, the May 17, 2012 orders granting summary judgment to Mobil, the sole remaining defendant in the 2001 and 2004 litigation.

Since Appellants filed timely appeals from the May 17, 2012 final orders entered in the two actions, the propriety of the previous, interlocutory orders regarding the settlement agreement can be entertained. Quinn v. Bupp, 955 A.2d 1014, 1020 (Pa.Super. 2008) ("It is established that a notice of appeal filed from the entry of the final order in an action draws into question the propriety of any prior non-final orders."); Basile v. H & R Block, Inc., 926 A.2d 493, 498 (Pa.Super. 2007) ("Interlocutory orders that are not subject to immediate appeal as of right may be reviewed in a subsequent timely appeal of a final appealable order or judgment."). Hence, we dismiss the interlocutory appeals, but we consider the propriety of the interlocutory December 27, 2011 orders in connection with the appeals filed from the final May 17, 2012 orders.

In the brief examining the denial of their motion to nullify the settlement agreement, Appellants raise this issue: "Whether the lower court committed an error of law or abuse of discretion in failing to set aside or nullify the settlement agreement entered into based on the fact that Appellant was forced to sign the agreement or seek other counsel?" Appellants' brief at 231 MDA 2012 at 4.[2] Our standard of review in this context was enunciated in Step Plan Services, Inc. v. Koresko, 12 A.3d 401, 408 (Pa.Super. 2010) (quoting Mastroni–Mucker v. Allstate Insurance Co., 976 A.2d 510, 517–18 (Pa.Super. 2009)):

The enforceability of settlement agreements is determined according to principles of contract law. Because contract interpretation is a question of law, this Court is not bound by the trial court's interpretation. Our standard of review over questions of law is de novo and to the extent necessary, the scope of our review is ...

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