There are lots of attorneys in Pennsylvania who would like to slay the Dragonetti Act, and Thomas Schneider is one of them. He almost did it, too.
How all the Dragonetti haters would have praised him for getting rid of this menace to the unchallenged practice of their profession.
But Schneider failed. Though he succeeded in county court, the savor of victory turned sour when the state Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision.
Passed by the state legislature in 1980, the Dragonetti Act allows defendants who prevail in civil actions to sue their opponents, and their opponents' attorneys, if they believe the litigation filed against them lacked probable cause or was grossly negligent.
In pursuance of a land ownership dispute, Schneider filed suit in county court on behalf of his client, Jean Louise Villani, against Mary Seibert and Frederic Seibert Jr., but ultimately lost the case.
The Seiberts then filed suit against Villani and Schneider, arguing that Villani's suit was a “wrongful use of civil proceeding” and thus a violation of the Dragonetti Act.
It was then that Schneider triumphed, if only briefly, when Chester County Court Judge Edward Griffith declared the Dragonetti Act unconstitutional. “The Legislature's attempt to regulate attorney conduct amounts to an encroachment on the exclusive power of the judiciary to regulate the practice of law,” Judge Griffith asserted.
The state Supreme Court didn't see it that way.
“[W]e decline to recognize generalized attorney immunity from the substantive principles of tort law embodied in the Dragonetti Act,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote in the majority opinion, noting that Schneider had “failed to establish that the Dragonetti Act clearly and palpably violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, or that this Court should per se immunize attorneys, as attorneys, from the application of the substantive tort principles promulgated by the political branch in the Dragonetti Act.”
Perhaps now critics of the law will have more respect for this formidable legislation.