By James W. Cushing
Special to the Legal
The Rules of Civil Procedure are designed to facilitate litigation so it can be performed smoothly and predictably. Unfortunately, one simply cannot predict and write a rule for every possible contingency that could happen in the life of a case. There will always be circumstances that seem to fall into the cracks between the rules.
Pa.R.C.P. 1028(a)(1) requires a complaint be dismissed when the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter and/or the parties to a claim. Pa.R.C.P. 1028(5) requires a complaint be dismissed when a plaintiff lacks standing to file one on the issues contained therein. What if a plaintiff sues two defendants in municipal court, wins a judgment for jurisdictional limits against only one defendant but files an appeal to the court of common pleas against both parties despite having won as much as legally permitted against one of the defendants?
Although, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. §5105, a party may file an appeal from a final order, it could be argued that only an aggrieved party may file an appeal, as in Pierro v. Pierro, 434 Pa. 131 (1969). Pennsylvania case law has something to say on this subject: “Standing [to file an appeal] requires an aggrieved party, and one ‘who is not adversely affected in any way by the matter which he seeks to challenge is not ‘aggrieved’ thereby and has no standing to obtain a judicial resolution of his challenge,’” as the court held in Lisa H v. State Board of Education 67 Pa.Cmwlth. 350 (1982), quoting William Penn Parking Garage v. City of Pittsburgh, 464 Pa. 168 (1975).
If our hypothetical plaintiff above won a judgment against one of the defendants for full jurisdictional limits in municipal court, it could be argued, per the above case law, that the plaintiff is not an aggrieved party, as he won his case against the defendant as completely as possible according to his own complaint and the municipal court rules. As he is not aggrieved, it could be argued, he has no standing to file an appeal of that judgment to the court of common pleas against that defendant. If the plaintiff had no standing and, therefore, could not file an appeal of the judgment, the court of common pleas, theoretically, has no jurisdiction over the person or subject matter at issue as it pertains to that one defendant.
The statute and cases seem to point in the direction that only a truly aggrieved party can file an appeal. Unfortunately, there seems to be a conspicuous absence among the relevant cases and statutes as to precisely whether a party that completely wins its case against a party, particularly in municipal court, is actually an aggrieved party with the right to appeal. It would seem that this issue is ripe for testing in the courts as soon as the opportunity arises.