Judges Opinions, — December 20, 2017 10:00 — 0 Comments

Sainty Renewable Energy Investment Holding, Inc. v. Energy Systems & Installations, Inc., et al. No. 2015-00869

Civil Action-Law-Breach of Contract-Judgment on the Pleadings-Responsive Pleading-Effect of General Denial-Amendment of Pleadings
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings with regard to its First Amended Complaint filed against Defendant Cory C. Wolff (“Wolff”), as well as a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer filed by Wolff.
1.  Pa.R.C.P. Rule 1034 provides that any party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the relevant pleadings are closed but within such time as not unreasonably to delay trial.
2.  When ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court may consider only the pleadings and any documents properly attached thereto and must accept as true all allegations of the nonmoving party.  Judgment on the pleadings may be granted where the pleadings evidence that there are no material facts in dispute so as to necessitate a jury trial.
3.  Pa.R.C.P. Rule 1029(b) provides that a party responding to a pleading to which a response is required must admit or deny with specificity factual averments in the pleading.  Averments in a pleading to which a response is required are admitted when not denied specifically or by necessary implication.
4.  Pa.R.C.P. Rule 1033 provides that a party may at any time change the form of action, correct the name of a party or amend a pleading either by filed consent of the adverse party or by leave of court.
5.  The trial court has broad discretion in determining whether to allow amendment of a pleading.
6.  An amendment to a pleading should be permitted unless it is against a positive rule of law or where the amendment would surprise or would prejudice the opposing party.
7.  In light of the fact that Wolff filed a Motion for Leave of Court to Amend the Answer to the First Amended Complaint in which he indicates that must add additional information to his answer in order to support the denials of his Answer, entry of judgment on the pleadings would be inappropriate, and Wolff will be afforded leave to file an Amended Answer to the First Amended Complaint.
L.C.C.C.P. No. 2015-00869, Opinion by Charles T. Jones, Jr., Judge, May 22, 2017.

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS
OF LEBANON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL DIVISION No. 2015-00869

Sainty Renewable Energy Investment Holding, Inc., Plaintiff
v.
Energy Systems & Installations, Inc. et al., Defendant      :

ORDER

AND NOW, this 22nd day of May, 2017, after careful consideration of the record, Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is hereby denied.  Defendant Cory C. Wolff’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer is hereby granted.  Defendant Wolff shall file an Amended Answer within sixty (60) days of the date of this order.

BY THE COURT:

CHARLES T. JONES, JR., J.

 
APPEARANCES:
Maurice Mitts, Esquire    For Plaintiff
Kevin Watson, Esquire     For Defendant

OPINION BY JONES, JR., J.:
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Defendant’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY
On May 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Praecipe to Issue Writ of Summons against Defendant and Wolff.  The Praecipe to Issue Writ of Summons was filed as a result of alleged breaches of contract, conversion and misrepresentations committed by Defendant.  On May 22, 2015, Plaintiff served the Writ of Summons on Defendant.
On May 22, 2015, Plaintiff served Wolff with Plaintiff’s first set of Interrogatories.  After filing the initial Writ of Summons, Plaintiff received information regarding Defendant selling its assets to Beneficial Holdings, Inc. (hereinafter “Beneficial” and BFHJ Energy Solutions, LLC, d/b/a Beneficial Energy Solutions, LLC (hereinafter “BFHJ”).  On June 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed an additional Writ of Summons against Beneficial and BFHJ.  As a result of the additional Writ of Summons, Plaintiff served Wolff a second set of Interrogatories on June 8, 2015.   Additionally, Plaintiff served Wolff with Plaintiff’s first set of Requests for Production of Documents on May 22, 2015 and the second set of Requests for Production of Documents on June 8, 2015.
Plaintiff filed its Complaint on June 7, 2016 and subsequently filed its First Amended Complaint on July 5, 2016.  On June 22, 2016, Wolff’s counsel indicated that he would no longer be representing Wolff.  Wolff filed his pro se answer to Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint on August 16, 2016.  On March 29, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Corey C. Wolff’s Responses to Interrogations and gave Defendant sixty (60) days to respond.
The Court is aware of multiple issues pending before the Court in this matter, including Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, filed by Plaintiff on December 21, 2016 for Argument Court on February 24, 2017, and Defendant’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer, filed by Defendant on February 6, 2017 for Argument Court on March 31, 2017.  Because these two matters are interconnected, the Court will address both issues at this time.  The matters are now ripe for disposition, and will be addressed separately.
DISCUSSION
A. Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgement on the Pleadings
Plaintiff states that a party may move for judgment on the pleadings “after the relevant pleadings are closed, but within such time as not to unreasonably delay the trial [.]” Pa.R.C.P. 1034(a).  Plaintiff further states that when ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court may only consider the pleadings and any documents properly attached and must accept as true all allegations of the non-moving party.  Pfister v. City of Phila., 963 A.2d 593 (Pa.Cmwlth.2009).  Additionally, Plaintiff avers that judgment on the pleadings should be granted “where the pleadings evidence that there are no material facts in dispute such that a trial jury would be necessary.” Maryland Cas. Co. v. Odyssey Contracting Corp., 894 A.2d 750 (Pa. Super. 2006).
Plaintiff argues that under Pennsylvania law, a party responding to a pleading to which a responsive pleading is required must admit or deny with specificity the pleading’s factual averments.  Pa.R.Civ.P. 1029(b).  Further, Plaintiff argues that pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1029(b), “Averments in a pleading to which a response is required are admitted when not denied specifically or by necessary implication.  Id.  Plaintiff states that Pennsylvania courts have held that responding to an allegation with the word “denied” is “an insufficient responsive pleading, tantamount to an admission” that “fails to demonstrate even the most rudimentary good faith compliance with [the] rules.” Bogley, Harting & Reese, Inc. v. Stuart, 11 Pa. D. & C.3d 303, 307 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1979).
Plaintiff argues that Defendant Wolff has failed to comply with the pleading requirements set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.  Plaintiff claims that Defendant Wolff has only asserted general denials to the material allegations in the First Amended Complaint.  Plaintiff argues that for the reasons mentioned above, Defendant Wolff’s general denials should be treated as admissions, and therefore, the Court should grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings because no dispute of material facts remain.
Further, Plaintiff argues that it is well-settled Pennsylvania law that Defendant Wolff’s pro se status does not excuse him from following the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. Dunyan v. Pennsylvania Police, 2015 WL 5167017 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Feb. 2, 2015).  For the reasons mentioned above, Plaintiff argues that the Court should grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
Defendant Wolff argues that a Motion for Leave of the Court to Amend the Answer to the First Amended Complaint is currently pending with the Court.  Defendant Wolff acknowledges that more information is needed in the Answer to sufficiently support his denials, and that as it stands right now, his Answer is not in compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court finds that a Judgment on the Pleadings is inappropriate at this time.  Defendant shall file an Amended Answer to the First Amended Complaint within sixty (60) days of this Order.  If Defendant Wolff still fails to comply with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiff can petition the Court to revisit the issue.
B. Defendant’s Motion for Leave to Amend Answer to First Amended Complaint
Defendant Wolff argues that pursuant to Pa. R.Civ.P. 1033, “[a] party, either by filed consent of the adverse party or by leave of the court, may at any time change the form of action, correct the name of a party or amend his pleading.  Pa.R.Civ.P. 1033.  Further, Defendant Wolff states that the court has broad discretion in determining whether to allow an amendment. Capobianchi v. BIC Corp., 666 A.2d 344 (Pa. Super. 1995).  Defendant Wolff also argues that amendments should be permitted unless they are against a positive rule of law or where the amendment will surprise or prejudice the opposing party. Horowitz v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., 580 A.2d 395 (Pa. Super. 1990).  For the reasons mentioned above, Defendant Wolff argues that the Court should grant his Motion for Leave to Amend his Answer to the First Amended Complaint.
Plaintiff argues that Defendant Wolff’s claim that his Answer was filed pro se is false.  Plaintiff states that the docket shows that Defendant Wolff was represented at the time he filed his Answer.  Further, even if he was not represented, Defendant Wolff’s pro se status is not an excuse for his failure to comply with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.  Groch v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Of Review, 472 A.2d 286 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).
Plaintiff additionally argues that Plaintiff would be significantly prejudiced if Defendant Wolff is permitted to file the proposed Amended Answer.  Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Wolff is seeking to change some of his admissions into denials, add new information and add affirmative defenses.  Plaintiff argues that pursuant to Pa. R. Civ. P. 1030, Defendant Wolff is no longer permitted to assert new affirmative defenses.  For the reasons mentioned above, Plaintiff argues that the Court should deny Defendant Wolff’s Motion for Leave to Amend his Answer to the First Amended Complaint.
This Court finds that pursuant to Pa. R. Civ. P. 1033, Defendant Wolff shall have the opportunity to amend this original answer to the first Amended Complaint.   Defendant Wolff’s Motion for Leave to Amend his Answer to First Amended Complaint is hereby granted.  As stated above, Defendant Wolff has sixty (60) days from the date of this order to file an Amended Answer to the First Amended Complaint.
CONCLUSION
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is hereby denied.   Defendant, Cory C. Wolff’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer is hereby granted.

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