Are Appeals Courts Showing More Mercy for Procedural Errors?
The rule at issue, Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1, requires a party to file post-trial motions with the trial judge within 10 days of a verdict, discharge of the jury or notice of nonsuit or judicial finding.
Genuardi's was sued by Newman Development when it backed out of a lease deal. A Chester County Court of Common Pleas judge initially awarded Newman $316,890 in damages. Genuardi's appropriately filed under Rule 227.1 post-trial motions regarding that ruling. The Superior Court kicked the case back to the trial judge for a recalculation of damages and the judge, without hearing any additional evidence, molded the verdict to $18.5 million.
Genuardi's appealed that ruling directly to the Superior Court without filing post-trial motions with the trial judge. The court dismissed the appeal, finding Genuardi's waived its right to appeal for failure to file post-trial motions.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, writing for the court, found the rule, and the small amount of case law interpreting it, did not offer practitioners a clear understanding of when the rule applied.
"To warrant the heavy consequence of waiver, in a rules schemata designed to 'secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination' of disputes, the applicability of the rule should be apparent upon its face or, failing that, in clear decisional law construing the rule," Castille wrote for the unanimous court.