Mariano v. Rhodes

The Pennsylvania Superior Court aptly described the question presented as “whether the prothonotary’s rejection of a spouse’s imperfect pleadings constitutes a fatal defect apparent upon the face of the record, thereby obligating a court to vacate a divorce decree under 23 Pa.C.S. § 3332.” Husband served Wife with a complaint seeking a divorce. Through counsel, Wife filed the necessary responsive pleadings. But the prothonotary rejected those responsive pleadings because Wife’s counsel needed to pay a $50 entry of appearance fee. Wife’s counsel paid that fee in person the day after the deadline to file responsive pleadings. Counsel and Wife believed any defect was cured. In the meantime, Husband filed the praecipe to transmit the record, the trial court issued the divorce decree, and Wife’s economic claims were forfeited. Only then did Wife and her counsel realize that the earlier responsive pleadings were never officially docketed because of the error with the $50 fee. Wife appealed. She argued that the prothonotary’s rejection of her pleadings constituted a fatal defect under Section 3332, and the trial court abused its discretion for not finding the same. The Superior Court agreed, holding that the prothonotary’s office had no authority to reject Wife’s documents, either for counsel’s failure to enter his appearance or for his failure to pay the filing fee.

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