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Young v. S. B. Conrad, Inc.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 25, 2019


          Appeal from the Judgment Entered, September 20, 2018, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division at No(s): 01029 December Term, 2015.

          BEFORE: KUNSELMAN, J., MURRAY, J., and PELLEGRINI [*] , J.


          KUNSELMAN, J.

         I. Introduction

         In this negligence action, Plaintiff Christopher Young appeals from an order dismissing his claim against Defendant S.B. Conrad, Inc. Prior to seating a jury, the trial court determined Mr. Young was a statutory employee of S.B. Conrad under the Pennsylvania Workman's Compensation Act[1] ("the Workers' Comp. Act"), as a matter of law. Thus, it held that S.B. Conrad was immune from Mr. Young's lawsuit and granted summary judgment in favor of S.B. Conrad on August 21, 2017. However, the trial court memorialized its order on a trial worksheet that purported to enter a compulsory non-suit rather than summary judgment.

         Instead of immediately appealing as he could have, Mr. Young relied on the trial court's mischaracterization of its order as an entry of non-suit and filed a post-trial motion to remove it. Because his reliance was reasonable, we have jurisdiction over his appeal, even though it came in nearly a year after the grant of summary judgment. We find, however, that Mr. Young failed to preserve any of his appellate issues. Thus, we affirm.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         The case's facts are largely irrelevant, because our disposition rests on procedural grounds. Briefly, Mr. Young alleges he was an employee of RRR Contractors. He also claims S.B. Conrad, Inc. contracted with RRR Contractors for a building project. RRR Contractors assigned Mr. Young to work on that project. In the course of his duties, Mr. Young fell two stories, suffered severe and permanent injuries, and sued.

         The week before trial, S.B. Conrad filed a motion for non-suit, claiming to be Mr. Young's statutory employer under the Workers' Comp. Act, and it asked the trial court to bifurcate that issue from the rest of the case. On August 21, 2017, the trial court granted its motion, which the trial court said it was treating as a motion for summary judgment. As the court explained without objection from Mr. Young, "I think the preliminary step is to rule on the submission of statutory employment, which I am looking at it as a motion for summary judgement, although I filed it as a pre-trial motion for bifurcation." N.T., 8/21/17, at 3.

         There was a lengthy oral argument, where both sides treated the employment-status question as one of law for the court. See id. at 3-19. Indeed, Mr. Young's attorney conceded that the issue was one of law:

THE COURT: I believe this is a decision, not something that needed to be decided by a jury. That it deals with law.
PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL: I agree with that.

Id. at 21.

         After the trial court ruled that Mr. Young was a statutory employee of S.B. Conrad, plaintiff's counsel tried, for the first, to interpose a procedural issue. His discussion with the trial court went as follows:

PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL: Your Honor, I just, for the record, I need to put this on the record to make sure the Superior Court doesn't say we don't have a record.
S.B. Conrad failed to file a Summary Judgment Motion, which I would have then had 30 days to produce evidence as to why they have not met their burden. On Friday and today, S.B. Conrad renewed the legal argument that they are immune, not in the form of Summary Judgment, but in a motion in limine. I then had the afternoon of Friday to supply the Court with whatever -
THE COURT: And you had all weekend.
PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL: I apologize. I thought you wanted me to respond by the end of the day Friday.
THE COURT: I never directed you to do that. I asked this question in the conference room, I said: Do I have everything in front of me that I need to make a ruling? And you specifically stated that I did.
You said: [All the evidence that I needed was in the documents that you] provided and based on that representation I came in this morning with the understanding that all sides were on the same page. That based on the writing I was given, that I could proceed forward.
[Defense counsel] said at that time, if you come in Court on Monday morning and you think you need more, I will have people from S.B. Conrad to supplement anything that I have if you feel that need to.

Id. at 20 (emphasis in original).

         Plaintiff's counsel did not contest the trial court's recollection of the off-the-record conversation in the conference room, place an objection on the record, or cite any procedural rule during the August 21, 2017 argument.

         The trial court memorialized its decision in a form order, headed "Trial Work Sheet," on which the court placed an "X" next to "Non-Suit entered." August 21, 2017 Order at 1. Six days after receiving the notice of non-suit, Mr. Young moved for post-trial relief, raising two claims of procedural error for the first time. Nearly a year later, the trial court denied his motion.

         Mr. Young appealed from that order twelve months after S.B. Conrad received summary judgment. The prothonotary then entered judgment based on the ...

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