Pennsylvania Supreme Court determines appeal rights preserved despite failure to file post-trial motions after certain proceedings

by Saul Ewing LLP
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Summary
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that the failure to file post-trial motions pursuant to Pa. R. Civ. P. 227.1 does not waive the right to an appeal in some circumstances. Specifically, the Court acknowledged that Rule 227.1(c), as written, does not adequately address proceedings common in litigation where no new findings of fact occur. Per the holding in Newman Development Group of Pottstown, LLC v. Genuardi’s Family Markets, Inc., such instances do not constitute a “trial” within the meaning of Rule 227.1(c) and therefore, post-trial motions are unnecessary to preserve issues for appeal.

Discussion:

Genuardi involved commercial real estate litigation that was initially appealed (with post-trial motions having been filed) to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Superior Court remanded that appeal to the trial court for a recalculation of damages. On remand, the trial court relied entirely on facts already of record ― it made no new findings and had no further hearings. Dissatisfied with the recalculated damages, Appellants filed a second appeal, but did not file post-trial motions before doing so. In its second look at the case, the Superior Court held that Appellants had waived their right to appellate review by not filing post-trial motions, which the Superior Court said were mandated by Rule 227.1(c).

Rule 227.1(c) requires post-trial motions to be filed within ten days after a verdict, or in the case of a bench trial, after filing of the decision. The Official Note to Rule 227.1 proscribes filing a motion for post-trial relief in “other proceedings which do not constitute a trial.” Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure do not define “trial.”

Appellants argued that post-trial motions were neither required nor allowed by Rule 227.1(c) because the damages recalculation undertaking by the trial court on remand did not constitute a trial. Appellees argued in response that the damages recalculation was indeed a trial; Appellees additionally noted the inherent importance of post-trial motions in, for example, providing the trial court the opportunity to correct its own errors.

Acknowledging an existing uncertainty surrounding the application of Rule 227.1(c) and the 10-day deadline it imposes, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur. The case was heavily briefed, with the Court considering multiple amicus submissions, all supporting Appellants’ position that there was no waiver.

In ultimately siding with the Appellants, the Supreme Court determined that the language of Rule 227.1, as written, does not make clear whether post-trial motions are required in proceedings similar to the present damages recalculation. The Court noted the array of stages common to a civil case that “fall far short of a ‘trial.’” The Court ultimately declared that a remand proceeding relying on an existing record is not a “trial”— even in instances where the trial court draws different conclusions from the record. Such proceedings, deemed the Court, do not invoke Rule 227.1. Nonetheless, while interpreting the Rule as written, the Court noted that the matter “has revealed, however, that there are circumstances and nuances, involving appellate remands, that the current Rule does not account for.” Therefore, the Court referred the issue to the Civil Procedure Rules Committee for further study and a determination of whether revisions to Rule 227.1 are needed.

Genuardi is valuable to practitioners for the clarity it provides to the scope of Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1. For litigants, the holding will mitigate the risk of having their appellate rights impinged by a procedural failing while also speeding up the process of appellate review in some circumstances. The Genuardi decision is furthermore likely to aid in achieving the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s noted goal of preserving the consistency and predictability of the state’s appellate process.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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