Pennsylvania Record

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Superior Court upholds change of venue in slip-and-fall case against Montgomery County landlords

State Court

By Takesha Thomas | Jul 9, 2019


HARRISBURG – The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has upheld a lower court ruling that moved a slip-and-fall lawsuit to a different county.

Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled June 4 that the move of a negligence claim filed by Joseph Kinee against property owners Thomas and Irina Vassalotti and Frederick, Thomas and Richard Betz was properly transferred. Kinee filed suit in Philadelphia County after he slipped and fell at a property owned by the Vassalottis and Betzes in Montgomery County. 

However, a judge in October 2018 moved the case to Montgomery County after it was found that none of the defendants resided in Philadelphia County. 

Kinee filed an appeal alleging that Philadelphia County courts should have jurisdiction over the case since at least one of the defendants resided in that county. According to the court filing, attorneys for Kinee argued that Frederick Betz owned and operated an apartment building in Philadelphia County under the fictitious name “Pine Road Court.”

However, the three-judge panel in Superior Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it moved the case to Montgomery County court. 

"It cannot be inferred that an unincorporated association called Pine Road Court exists just because Frederick Betz owned and operated a business under that fictitious name," Pellegrini wrote. "Pennsylvania law permits individuals to operate a business under a fictitious name without creating an unincorporated association or any other form of business entity."

Attorneys for Kinee also argued that because Frederick Betz used a fictitious name but was the principal owner and operator of the Philadelphia County apartment complex and conducted business regularly in that county, the matter should be heard in Philadelphia County. The panel found the argument did not hold enough legal basis to allow for the case to be heard in Philadelphia County.

"Because Kinee’s causes of action did not arise in Philadelphia County, and Frederick Betz was not served there, venue does not lay in that forum. Moreover, Rule 2156(a) does not apply because an individual does not become an unincorporated association merely by using a fictitious name to own or manage property."

Under Rule 2156(a), "An action against an individual may be brought in and only in a magisterial district where a transaction or occurrence took place out of which the cause of action arose."

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