PATRICIA BRITTAIN A.K.A., PATRICIA MAINES, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF BARBARA ANN MAINES Appellant
HOPE ENTERPRISES FOUNDATION INCORPORATED, AND/OR HOPE ENTERPRISE INC., AND/OR WILLIAM BIRT, AND/OR HEATHER PETERS AND/OR SELECTIVE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA Appellees PATRICIA BRITTAIN A.K.A., PATRICIA MAINES, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF BARBARA ANN MAINES Appellant
HOPE ENTERPRISES FOUNDATION INCORPORATED, AND/OR HOPE ENTERPRISE INC., AND/OR WILLIAM BIRT, AND/OR HEATHER PETERS AND/OR SELECTIVE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA Appellees
from the Order April 21, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of
Luzerne County Civil Division at No: 10467-CV-2010
from the Judgment Entered April 30, 2015 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Luzerne County Civil Division at No:
BEFORE: PANELLA, J., STABILE, J., and FITZGERALD, J.
these consolidated appeals, Patricia Brittain, a.k.a.
Patricia Maines ("Brittain" or
"Appellant"), as Administrator of the Estate of
Barbara Ann Maines, appeals from the order of the Court of
Common Pleas of Luzerne County entered April 21, 2015,
finding that Brittain was not entitled to a new trial limited
to a determination of punitive damages,  and from the
judgment entered on April 30, 2015. Brittain argues that the
trial court erred in failing to hold a new trial limited to
the award of punitive damages assessed against Appellee, Hope
Enterprises Incorporated ("Hope"), and in failing
to calculate and include post-judgment interest for
compensatory damages from the date of the jury's verdict.
Appellees, Hope and William Birt ("Birt"), did not
file cross-appeals. However, on July 27, 2015, they filed an
"Emergency Application to Remand to the Trial Court for
Hearing on Newly-Discovered Evidence Regarding Possible Fraud
on the Court with Regard to Plaintiff's Wrongful Death
Claim" ("Emergency Application"). After
careful review, we remand for the trial court to decide the
issues raised in the Emergency Application.
of background, on October 15, 2012, a jury returned a verdict
in this wrongful death and survival action stemming from the
death of 31-year old Barbara Ann Maines
("Barbara"), a resident of a Hope group home who
suffered from cerebral palsy and was unable to speak or walk.
Barbara was a passenger in a van operated by Hope employee
Birt that collided with a vehicle operated by Appellee,
Heather Peters ("Peters"). Barbara subsequently died
from a lacerated liver that was not timely reported. The jury
found Hope and Birt negligent and awarded Appellant, in her
capacity as administrator of the Barbara's estate, a
total of $3, 018, 628.86 in damages. The award consisted of
$2, 018, 628.86 in wrongful death damages for medical bills,
funeral expenses, and loss of services, to benefit Sharon
Moyer-represented to be Barbara's mother, and $1, 000,
000 for survival damages to Barbara's estate. The jury
also awarded $100, 000 in punitive damages against Hope only.
After appeal to and remand from this Court, we directed the
trial court to conduct proceedings to determine the amount of
delay damages to which Appellant was entitled.
April 21, 2015, a hearing was held before the trial court at
which time the court anticipated wrapping up pending matters
to calculate delay damages in accord with our directive.
N.T., Hearing, 4/21/15, at 2. Instead, Appellant's
counsel argued that Appellant still was entitled to a new
trial limited to the issue of punitive damages. The trial
court disagreed, did not proceed to calculate delay damages,
and certified for appeal the issue of whether Appellant was
entitled to a new trial on delay damages as a controlling
issue of law.
after that hearing, Appellant's counsel apparently hand
wrote a praecipe directing the prothonotary to enter judgment
in favor of Brittain and Barbara in their individual
capacities, despite the fact that the verdict was entered
only in favor of the estate and Brittain as administrator of
the estate. Id. at 64. Appellant's praecipe also
requested that judgment be entered against two nonparties to
this suit, Selective Insurance Company of America
("Selective") and the Hope Foundation, Inc.
("Hope Foundation"). N.T., Hearing, 4/28/15, at
posted the appeal bond from the judgment entered in this
case. Id. at 10-11. In accordance with Pa.R.A.P.
1734(c), liability against a surety may be enforced on
application in the lower court. The record does not reflect
that Appellant made any such application before entering
judgment against Selective. It is not clear on what basis
Appellant filed judgment against the Hope Foundation.
Appellees' counsel filed motions to strike these
April 28, 2015, the trial court reconvened the hearing to
entertain Appellees' motion to strike the judgments and
to consider the assessment of delay damages. Id. at
2. At the hearing, Appellees represented that they were
prepared to make payment on the judgment once it was properly
entered. Id. at 17. Appellees asked to pay the
judgment into court and requested a hearing regarding
distribution to establish the proper parties to the case, in
an effort to avoid future issues claiming they made payment
to the wrong entities. Id. at 17-18. Appellant's
counsel strenuously objected, pointing out to the court that
only he and his clients would be payees on the check.
Id. at 21-22. He explained he would put the money
into his trust account and file appropriate paperwork in the
county where the estate was raised and where a judge would
decide distribution. Id. In response, the trial
court explained it was obligated to determine the amount of
delay damages under this Court's remand order. The court
would then decide what to do with counsel's information.
Id. at 25.
discussing delay damages, the trial court asked
Appellees' counsel if there was a legitimate concern as
to whether the money would be paid out wrongfully.
Id. at 30. In response, counsel for Appellees
presented the petition for probate and grant of letters filed
in Columbia County, reflecting that Brittain was
Barbara's sister, despite acknowledgement by
Appellant's counsel during trial in Luzerne County that
Brittain was Barbara's aunt. Id. at 30, Exhibit
2. Appellees' counsel then explained that Barbara's
mother, Sharon Moyer, had renounced her right to administer
Barbara's estate because she was not competent.
Id. at 31. Barbara's siblings likewise
renounced. Id. Counsel explained that although
Sharon Moyer was not competent, there was no evidence that a
legal guardian had been appointed for her. Id.
Therefore, it was not clear how money from Barbara's
estate would be distributed. Id. Counsel further
explained that during trial Sharon Moyer was identified as
Barbara's biological mother, yet was identified in the
application for letters of administration as Barbara's
sister. Id. at 34. Additionally, Marcella Rheppard
and Leslie Gross were identified as Barbara's sisters in
the application for letters of administration, yet they were
her aunts. Id. Edward Maines, apparently
Barbara's uncle, likewise was represented as her brother
in the application for letters of administration.
Id. The trial court found these revelations to be
response, Appellant's counsel admitted there was an error
in the application for letters of administration, but
regardless, represented to the court that he would not
distribute any money without an order from the Columbia
County Court where Barbara's estate was opened.
Id. at 35-36. It was counsel's opinion that the
trial court had no jurisdiction to decide where the money
went, and he would seek an order from the Columbia County
Court directing distribution of Barbara's estate.
Id. at 36.
trial court stated that no court in this Commonwealth would
allow issuance of a check under circumstances where letters
may have been fraudulently or improvidently granted.
Id. at 37. It was the trial court's opinion that
the Columbia County Court was the tribunal to review the
propriety of Brittain's appointment as administrator and
to direct disposition of the verdict proceeds. However, the
court noted it would be careless for the trial court to
simply have the money paid over to the administrator.
Id. at 37, 40-41. Appellant's counsel
strenuously objected once again to the trial court not
ordering that the money be paid and represented that not a
single cent of the money would be paid until there was a
further order of court. Id. at 41-42. The trial
court reiterated its concern with the estate, and noted that
if Sharon Moyer is the only biological heir as mother of the
decedent, she would be entitled to the entire wrongful death
award. Id. at 44 (emphasis added). Nonetheless, the
court indicated that with respect to an estate, a personal
representative must act on its behalf and any judgment would
have to be payable to the personal representative and not to
the estate itself. Id. at 44-45.
a recess, there were extensive discussions and arguments on
delay damages and post-judgment interest. Id. at
45-60. The trial court then announced what it would order by
way of judgment. First, the trial court struck the judgments
entered against Selective and the Hope Foundation as having
been inappropriately entered and having been entered while a
motion for delay damages was outstanding. Id. at 63.
The court likewise struck the individual judgments.
Id. at 64. It then ordered that "judgment be
entered in favor of Patricia Brittain, a.k.a. Patricia
Maines, administrator of the estate of Barbara Ann Maines,
plaintiff, and against Hope Enterprises, Inc. and William
Birt, defendants, in the initial amount of $3, 018,
628.87." Id. at 65. The court added delay
damages calculated at $157, 463.04, for a total judgment in
favor of plaintiff and against the defendants in the amount
of $3, 176, 091.90, plus interest and costs. Id.
Further, the trial court ordered that "judgment be
entered in favor of Patricia Brittain, a.k.a. Patricia
Maines, administrator of the estate of Barbara Ann Maines,
plaintiff, and against Hope Enterprises, Inc. in the amount
of $100, 000 constituting the punitive damages award plus
interest and costs as permitted by law." Id. at
66. The court then indicated it knew of no authority that
would allow the judgment to be paid into court, as this was
not an interpleader action. Id. The court deferred
to the jurisdiction of the Columbia County Court to review
the matters that had been raised, and indicated there was
nothing to prevent a judgment debtor from seeking emergency
consideration of matters of great concern before the proper
tribunal. Id. at 66-67.
counsel once again voiced his concern about making payment
directly to plaintiffs after which the court encouraged
counsel to include a stipulation with regard to payment of
the judgment monies. Id. at 70. Ultimately,
Appellant's counsel indicated that he would not agree to
any stipulation and would file that day a writ of execution
and would take proper appeals. Id. at 74. In
response, Appellees' counsel requested, based upon the
comments by Appellant's counsel, a brief stay of
execution to resolve the matter. Id. at 75.
Appellant's counsel reconfirmed that he would execute on
the judgments as soon as he left court that day. Id.
At that point, the trial court indicated it would enter its
order that afternoon and would decide whether counsel had to
come in for an emergency motion for stay. Id. at 76.
The trial court explained it had tried to create a framework
as an accommodation on how monies would be paid. However, if
the parties were not able ...