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MSZL&M Attorneys Boggs and Berty Published in PBA Civil Litigation Update

Apr 1, 2017 - About the Firm by

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (April, 2017) – Civil trial attorneys Joshua Boggs and Jordan Berty of the civil defense firm Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers, LLP (MSZL&M) have been published in the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Civil Litigation Update.

In the article, Attorneys Boggs and Berty share a cautionary tale regarding the importance of timeliness when responding to a complaint, judgment or any notice of legal action, referencing Guntrum v. Citicorp Trust Bank, No. 1714 WDA 2015, 2016 WL 6122706 (Pa. Super. Oct. 19, 2016).

The case involves a lawsuit filed by Douglas Guntrum against Citicorp Trust Bank in 2009 for unfair trade practices, bad faith and breach of contract, alleging that Citicorp failed to honor a credit disability insurance policy he purchased at the same time he secured a mortgage from Citicorp in 2003.  Under the policy, Guntrum’s mortgage payments would be temporarily waived in the event he became disabled.  After the plaintiff became disabled in 2005, he alleged Citicorp failed to honor the policy, which resulted in the foreclosure and subsequent sale of the plaintiff’s property to Citibank.

Guntrum attempted to complete service of process upon Citibank at a Texas address, which was returned as not found.  Three months later, Guntrum filed an Amended Complaint and obtained personal service of the Amended Complaint at Citicorp’s Wilmington office.  However, Citicorp failed to respond, prompting Guntrum to file two Ten-day Notices of Default Judgment and a Praecipe for Entry of Default Judgment, all served at Citicorp’s Delaware office.

Once again, Citicorp failed to respond and the court entered default judgment in favor of Guntrum.  The plaintiff subsequently served Citibank with a copy of the default judgment and order, yet Citicorp failed to appear at the damages trial.  Eventually, the trial court awarded Guntrum compensatory damages.

After the damages trial, but prior to entry of the final Order, Citicorp’s counsel filed a Praecipe for Entry of Appearance followed by a Petition to Open Default Judgment, acknowledging that a clerical employee accepted service of plaintiff’s Amended Complaint and Ten-Day Notice, yet failed to forward the actions to Citicorp’s legal departments.

The trial court found that Citicorp met the requirements to open the default judgment, and summary judgments were later entered in Citicorp’s favor for all claims.  Guntrum appealed, challenging the merit of the Order opening the default judgment, and the superior court ruled in his favor, asserting that Citicorp’s failure to promptly respond to the plaintiff’s Complaint and Notice was inexcusable, regardless of whether Citicorp acted unintentionally following a clerical error that led to a “breakdown” in communication.

As Attorneys Boggs and Berty noted in the article, the case serves as a lesson to all defendants, especially large corporations, to heed the Rules of Civil Procedure.  Courts will not accept internal miscommunication as a valid argument for delay in responding to a complaint, judgment or notice of legal action, and the consequences of delay can be costly.