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Knox v. Hill

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 12, 2013

Andre Knox
v.
SEPTA and George Hill and PA Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan Craig Friend
v.
SEPTA and George Hill and PA Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan Fairley Matthews
v.
SEPTA, Matthew Manning and George Hill and PA Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan Lakeah Watson
v.
SEPTA, Matthew Manning and George Hill and PA Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan Appeal of: Andre Knox, Craig Friend, Fairley Matthews and Lakeah Watson

Argued: October 10, 2013

Appeal of: Andre Knox, Craig Friend, Fairley Matthews and Lakeah Watson

BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge (P.), ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION

ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

This appeal arises from eight separate lawsuits filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court). On January 7, 2007, a bus owned by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) was rear-ended by a vehicle driven and owned by George Hill (Hill), who was uninsured. Hill allegedly struck the SEPTA bus while it was stopped to discharge passengers. As a result of the accident, Andre Knox, Fairley Matthews, Craig Friend and Lakeah Watson (collectively "Passengers") asserted they were injured. Passengers each filed two individual complaints (eight total complaints): one complaint each against SEPTA, the bus driver (Matthew Manning), and Hill (collectively "SEPTA actions"); and one each against the Pennsylvania Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan[1] (Plan) ("Plan actions").[2]

The trial court consolidated the eight lawsuits pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 213, on March 28, 2011, for purposes of discovery and trial. The court further directed that the lawsuits be major cases assigned to the trial list under the lead case captioned Andre Knox v. SEPTA, et. al, January Term, 2009, No. 0157. In the four Plan actions, the Plan filed motions for summary judgment on the basis that Passengers were occupants of a vehicle that was both self-insured and immune from liability pursuant to Section 1752(a)(5) of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL).[3] By four separate orders dated April 11, 2011, the trial court granted each of the Plan's motions for summary judgment. No appeals were filed from those four orders.

The four SEPTA actions proceeded in the trial court and, following a non-jury trial, the trial court entered an order on March 13, 2012, ruling in favor of Passengers and against SEPTA. Following motions for post-trial relief, the trial court entered an order finding in favor of SEPTA and Manning and against Passengers. Thus, by order dated July 18, 2012, the trial court entered a directed verdict in favor of SEPTA and Manning, which order was docketed at numbers 00157, 04277, 03607, and 03676. Passengers filed a single notice of appeal in the Pennsylvania Superior Court seeking review of the trial court's July 18, 2012, order. Passengers did not specify any other order in their notice of appeal or include the docket numbers for the four cases filed against the Plan. The Superior Court then transferred the appeal to this court.

In their Concise Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal filed pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b), Passengers alleged that: (1) the trial court erred in granting the Plan's motions for summary judgment; (2) the trial court erred in granting SEPTA's post-trial motion for a directed verdict on the basis that SEPTA is a Commonwealth agency protected by sovereign immunity for first party and uninsured motorist benefits based on a finding that the SEPTA bus was not "in operation" when it was struck by Hill's uninsured vehicle; [4] and (3) the trial court's grant of "Defendants" motions is against public policy, because it leaves no remedy for otherwise uninsured private, fare paying passengers of a public transit vehicle injured as a result of the negligence of an uninsured motorist.

Following the filing of Passengers' principal brief on the merits, the Plan filed a Motion to Dismiss and/or Quash (Motion to Quash) this appeal to the extent it seeks to overturn the trial court's April 11, 2011, orders granting the Plan's motions for summary judgment. Passengers filed an answer to the Motion to Quash and Memorandum of Law in support thereof as directed by this court. This court directed that the Plan's Motion to Quash be decided with the merits of Passengers' appeal from the trial court's July 18, 2012, order. We address first the Plan's Motion to Quash.

MOTION TO QUASH

In support of the Motion to Quash, the Plan argues, inter alia, that the trial court's March 28, 2011, consolidation of the Plan actions with the SEPTA actions for purposes of discovery and trial did not merge the cases into a single action in which a single judgment was rendered. In other words, the cases remained separate for all purposes other than trial and, therefore, separate appeals were required for each final judgment. Thus, the Plan argues that Passengers had 30 days from the entry of the April 11, 2011, orders to file an appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 903(a).

In response, Passengers assert that, given the procedurally difficult landscape and important policy interests, a full merits review of the trial court's orders granting the Plan summary judgment and granting SEPTA post-trial relief is necessary. Passengers argue that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Kincy v. Petro, 606 Pa. 524, 2 A.3d 490 (2010), [5] is not controlling and that the Plan could have objected when the trial court entered its order consolidating these matters but it chose not to do so.

Upon review, we conclude that Passengers' purported appeal from the trial court's April 11, 2011, orders granting the Plan's motions for summary judgment is not properly before this court. Pa. R.C.P. No. 213(a) governs consolidation of actions and provides:

(a) In actions pending in a county which involve a common question of law or fact or which arise from the same transaction or occurrence, the court on its own motion or on the motion of any party may order a joint hearing or trial of any matter in issue in the actions, may order the actions consolidated, and may make orders that avoid unnecessary cost or delay.

In Kincy, 606 Pa. at 529, 2 A.3d at 493, the Supreme Court held that under Pa. R.C.P. No. 213(a):

a trial court has three options where pending actions involve either a common question of law or fact, or which arise from the same transaction: (1) ordering a joint trial or hearing on any matter at issue; (2) ordering the actions "consolidated"; and (3) issuing ...

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