PHILADELPHIA – A seven-year-long legal battle between a North Wales senior medical care provider and the estate of a long-serving northwest Philadelphia rabbi is on its way back to common pleas court after a higher court ruling earlier in August.
The trial judge in the case abused his discretion in his June 10, 2015, order that required the estate's personal representatives to obtain counsel and sanctioned them when they didn't do so, Superior Court Judge Paula Francisco Ott, writing for the three-judge panel, said in a decision handed down Aug. 4.
The Superior Court reversed and remanded a Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas order that granted a motion for discovery sanctions filed by the Madelyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life.
"Therefore, because the personal representatives complied, at least minimally, with the trial court’s order to compel, and Abramson Center failed to establish it made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute before filing the motion for sanctions, we are compelled to conclude the trial court abused its discretion in granting Abramson Center’s motion for sanctions," Ott wrote.
The Abramson Center is a nonsectarian senior medical care provider that serves Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, according to its website.
Mitchell Novitsky and Deena Spindler, son and daughter of the late Rabbi Abraham Novitsky and personal representatives of his estate, appealed the common pleas court order that granted a motion for discovery sanctions filed by the Abramson Center.
Abraham Novitsky's wife, Florence Novitsky, was a resident at the Abramson Center prior to her death. The Abramson Center filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Abraham Novitsky in 2010 claiming he had failed to pay an outstanding balance for Florence Novitsky's care and had diverted more than $700,000 from joint bank accounts to keep those funds from being available, according to the superior court's ruling.
Abraham Novitsky, who led the Orthodox Aitz Chaim Synagogue Center in northeast Philadelphia for more than 40 years, died March 10, 2011, at the age of 80 and the center continued to pursue the case against his estate.
On Aug. 4, 2016, the common pleas court directed the estate's personal representatives to pay the center a daily fine of $25 until they comply with a May 16, 2014, court order to provide full and complete answers to interrogatories. The court also directed the personal representatives to pay counsel fees of $250 within 20 days.
In December 2012, an arbitration panel found in favor of the Abramson Center, awarding it $50,000 from Abraham Novitsky's estate. The personal representatives tried to appeal the arbitration award "but did so improperly" and judgment was entered on the arbitration award, a final judgment that remains unchallenged, according to the superior court's ruling.
The following July, the center filed a motion to compel the personal representatives to participate in interrogatories in the case. The personal representatives filed their response on Aug. 5, 2013, asserting the common pleas court had no jurisdiction over the matter and that the Abramson Center already asked all of its questions during arbitration.
After the personal representatives didn't show for a hearing on the Abramson Center's motion, the trial court judge entered an order in the center's favor on May 16, 2014, and the common pleas court's order to pay fines and fees followed.
In their appeal, the personal representatives claimed the trial court abused its discretion when it imposed sanctions after the estate was closed, that the information requested in interrogatories had already been provided and that the center failed to comply with the local rules of civil procedure.
Ott noted the personal representatives did file answers to the interrogatories. "Although Abramson Center may (justifiably) believe those answers were incomplete, contrary to the implication in the motion, the personal representatives did not ignore the court’s order to compel," Ott wrote in the Superior Court's decision.
The Abramson Center also failed to establish it made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute before filing its motion for sanctions and the trial court abused its discretion, the decision said.