HARRISBURG – The Superior Court of Pennsylvania says a plaintiff in a breach of contract action is in fact entitled to more award proceeds than are usually permitted under Pennsylvania’s established Rules of Civil Procedure.

On March 1, judges John T. Bender, Mary Jane Bowes and Carl A. Solano ruled to affirm judgment in favor of plaintiff Jeffrey P. Grimm, in the sum of $28,475.76 (which includes attorney’s fees and costs, and exceeds the Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure’s 1311.1’s $25,000 limit for recoverable damages).

Bender authored the Court’s opinion in this action.

The instant case is a two-count action brought by plaintiff Jeffrey P. Grimm, against defendants Universal Medical Services, Inc. and its CFO Roderick K. Reeder, for breach of contract and Pennsylvania Wage Collection Payment Law (WCPL) claims. Ultimately, an arbitration panel found in favor of the defendants.

The plaintiff appealed that arbitration award to the Court and filed an election to limit monetary recovery to $25,000, pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 1311.1. A jury trial was held commencing on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, resulting in a reversed verdict in favor of plaintiff and against defendant Universal, with regard to both counts on Jan. 20, 2016.

Later, the plaintiff appealed the arbitration award against him pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 1311.1, which included an election to limit monetary recovery to $25,000. The total claimed for attorney’s fees and costs is $28,475.76 – which brings the total amount claimed between the jury verdict, the addition of liquidated damages and attorney’s fees and costs to $43,080.66 – and of course exceeds the $25,000 monetary cap limit in Pa.R.Civ.P. 1311.1.

“This situation presents the Court with the issue of whether attorney’s fees can be awarded in the amount claimed in excess of the Rule 1311.1 cap. The trial court acknowledged that this is an issue of first impression in Pennsylvania, and the Court could not find any case law or statutory authority addressing this issue under the WPCL. Nevertheless, after carefully considering and comparing relevant case law, the trial court determined that it was compelled to award attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff under the WPCL, even though it caused plaintiff’s total award to surpass the $25,000 monetary limit set forth in Rule 1311.1,” Bender said.

Bender explained Rule 1311.1 states a plaintiff “may elect a limit of $25,000.00 as the maximum amount of damages recoverable upon the trial of an appeal from the award of arbitrators.”

“The core of the parties’ dispute is over the meaning of the term “damages recoverable” in Rule 1311.1(a), and whether it encompasses attorneys’ fees under the WPCL, particularly given how our courts have treated awards of attorneys’ fees under that statute,” Bender said.

Bender noted precedent in LaRue v. McGuire as being applicable in the instant case.

“This Court in LaRue…determined that delay damages may be awarded even if they cause the total award to exceed Rule 1311.1’s cap,” Bender stated.

Bender said attorney fees are also a part of such awards.

“It is clear that the award of attorneys’ fees under the WPCL accomplishes the purpose of making a plaintiff whole, just like the delay damages in…LaRue. We are also not persuaded by defendants’ other attempts to distinguish an award of attorneys’ fees from delay damages. Further, we do not believe Rule 1311.1 and the WPCL are ‘wholly inconsistent,’ as defendants insist,” Bender added.

In conclusion, Bender provided the Court’s decision that the attorney’s fees were properly awarded in this case.

“Given the arguments advanced by counsel here and the facts of this specific case, we hold that attorneys’ fees under the WPCL were properly awarded, even though they caused the total amount recovered by plaintiff to exceed the limit set forth in Rule 1311.1,” Bender said.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania case 591 WDA 2016

Beaver County Court of Common Pleas case 10815-2014

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

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