Rellick Smith v. Rellick

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took the oft-misunderstood coordinate jurisdiction rule and ensured it would continue to confound attorneys. The Court was unable to cobble together a majority on this critical issue of civil procedure, thus, leaving Justice Todd to author an opinion announcing the Court’s judgment. The case involved a suit over certificates of deposit and claims of breach of fiduciary duty. The defendant timely answered the complaint but did not raise any affirmative defenses. The defendant later filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the plaintiff lacked standing and the statute of limitations had lapsed. The trial court found the defendant waived the statute of limitations claim because it was not raised in response to the complaint. But the court nonetheless granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on standing. The plaintiff appealed and won a remand. The case was then assigned to a different judge. That new judge permitted the defendant to amend its answer to include the affirmative defense of the statute of limitations. After a bench trial, the court granted a defense verdict based on the statute of limitations, and the court never reached the merits of the case. The Supreme Court reversed and held that there was no basis for the new judge to disturb the previous judge’s ruling. But based on the four conflicting opinions rendered in the case and the lack of a majority ruling, the Court created more questions than it answered.

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