Nicholas Malfitano Mar. 16, 2016, 8:49am


PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court has dismissed a personal injury action against a preschool learning center for a lack of jurisdiction.

S.B., a minor, was allegedly injured at a daycare center operated by appellee KinderCare Learning Centers (KinderCare) when a fellow child tore a hair braid from her scalp. After this incident, S.B.’s mother, appellant Azania Muwwakkil, secured legal counsel and filed a negligence lawsuit against KinderCare in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

After removal to federal court, Muwwakkil obtained the services of a new attorney, who petitioned for voluntary dismissal of the case without prejudice according to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This counselor felt the lawsuit was prematurely filed because S.B., as a four year-old child, was too young to share details about the alleged incident and how it adversely affected her. KinderCare opposed the dismissal motion.

However, the District Court dismissed the case without prejudice and in doing so, levied two stipulations on the right of S.B. and Muwwakkil to refile the case later: (1) That they pay KinderCare reasonable attorneys’ fees, to be determined by the District Court upon receiving an affidavit of costs; and (2) That they refile their complaint by June 24, 2019, about four years from the date of the order, with an extension of that deadline made possible by a showing of good cause.

But, the appellants instead filed the instant appeal challenging these refiling stipulations before the District Court executed its final order as to costs, rather than enter an objection to KinderCare’s affidavit of costs.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Judge Dolores Sloviter considered the appellant’s course of action, and their objections towards the appellee.

“First, the requirement that S.B. and Muwwakkil pay KinderCare reasonable attorneys’ fees is a commonly-imposed prerequisite to refiling that courts have held does not typically trigger an exception to the rule that we review only final decisions,” Sloviter said.

“Some courts have held that the imposition of costs may constitute legal prejudice when the amount of the costs imposed is so high as to be objectively unreasonable,” Sloviter added. “In this case, however, the amount of costs imposed remains undetermined because S.B. and Muwwakkil filed their notice of appeal without submitting an objection to KinderCare’s affidavit of costs and before the District Court entered a final order specifying the amount to be awarded.”

Sloviter also pointed out the time limit of June 24, 2019 on refiling the lawsuit doesn’t leave uncertainty as to permission for said refiling, therefore, it cannot be framed as legal prejudice towards the appellants. Per Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court is allowed to set statutes of limitations it considers “proper”, provided they protect the defendant and don’t create obstacles to refiling.

“Here, the District Court imposed a deadline on refiling to accommodate KinderCare’s concern that defending against a refiled lawsuit would become increasingly difficult with the passage of time. The Court, however, emphasized that the deadline can be extended for good cause, considering such factors as S.B.’s cognitive ability and readiness to proceed,” Sloviter said.

“For the foregoing reasons, this appeal does not qualify for an exception to the final judgment rule. Accordingly, we will dismiss for lack of jurisdiction,” Sloviter said. “In holding that this appeal is barred by 28 U.S.C. Section 1291, we express no opinion as to the merits (i.e., whether imposing these particular conditions was an abuse of discretion).”

The appellants are represented by Rhonda Hill Wilson in Philadelphia.

The appellee is represented by Edward A. Greenberg and Kristin A. Topolewski of Ward Greenberg Heller & Reidy, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-2729

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-01499

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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