J-A28041-17 No. 1704 EDA 2016
NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37
Appeal from the Order April 26, 2016
In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): December Term, 2014 No. 1412-01394 BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., PANELLA, J., and DUBOW, J. MEMORANDUM BY DUBOW, J.:
Appellant, Annette Oakley, Esq., appeals pro se from the Order entered in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas denying her Motion to Set Aside Consent Judgment in the Trial Worksheet and granting the Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement filed by Appellee, Vendor Resources Management, the duly authorized Agent of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. After careful review, we affirm.
The Trial Worksheet memorialized the terms of the settlement agreement.
We set forth the following factual and procedural history gleaned from the certified record, the parties' briefs, and the trial court's Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Opinion. On December 9, 2014, Appellee filed a Complaint against Appellant and any and all tenant occupants seeking their ejectment from residential property located at 2015 S. 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148 (the "Property"). Appellant filed preliminary objections, which the court denied after Appellant filed an Answer with New Matter and a Counterclaim to Appellee's Complaint on March 9, 2015. Following many more months of litigation of preliminary objections, and preliminary objections to preliminary objections, the matter proceeded to a case management conference in April 2015. In October 2015, the court listed the case for a pre-trial conference. Appellant failed to file a settlement memorandum as ordered and the court imposed a monetary sanction. On February 1, 2016, the court scheduled the matter for trial on February 16, 2016.
The property was the subject of a 2010 mortgage foreclosure action in which Appellant was the mortgagor. Appellee acquired the property in January 2014 at a sheriff's sale. The mortgage foreclosure is not part of this Appeal.
On February 16, 2016, pro se Appellant and counsel for Appellee had discussions regarding settlement of the ejectment action. Appellant offered the possibility of a relative purchasing the property; Appellee counter-offered; and the parties reached an agreement. The parties informed the court that they had reached a settlement, which the court directed Appellee's counsel to state on the record. The Agreement provided that Appellant would vacate the property in 45 days, i.e., by April 1, 2016, and that Appellee would pay $2,000 in relocation costs to Appellant upon satisfactory final inspection of the property. Appellant also agreed to "an immediate consent judgment for possession that cannot be executed until after that 45-day period lapses if she remains in the property." N.T., 2/16/16, at 4-5. The parties also agreed to the mutual release for all past, present and future claims. After Appellee relayed the terms of the Settlement Agreement to the court on the record, the court confirmed with Appellant that she agreed to the terms. Id. at 5. The court entered the Trial Worksheet memorializing the agreement immediately after the hearing and provided notice pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. No. 236 that same day.
Appellant subsequently obtained counsel, and on March 24, 2016, she filed a Motion to Set Aside the Trial Worksheet Entering a Consent Judgment, alleging that Appellee made false representations upon which she relied to her detriment. On April 15, 2016, Appellee filed an Answer to the Motion to Set Aside and a Counter-Motion to enforce the Settlement Agreement. On April 26, 2016, the trial court granted Appellee's Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement and denied Appellant's Motion to Set Aside the Settlement Agreement. Appellee filed a Praecipe for a Writ of Possession, which the court clerk entered on May 19, 2016.
Appellant alleged that she relied to her detriment during settlement discussions prior to trial on the following: (1) Appellee had falsely represented that Appellant's Counterclaim had been stricken; and (2) Appellee rejected her offer of a family member to purchase the property based on a misrepresentation.
On May 25, 2016, the day the Sheriff served Appellant with the Writ of Possession, Appellant filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Order granting the Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement. The next day, on May 26, 2016, she filed a Notice of Appeal. The trial court denied the Motion for Reconsideration on June 7, 2016.
On June 16, 2016, Appellant filed a Motion to Stay Writ of Execution. On July 12, 2016, the trial court granted the Motion pending the issuance of a decision by this Court in Appellant's appeal.
Both Appellant and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.
Appellant raises the following issues for our review:
1. Whether the trial court erred in considering [Appellee's] Counter Motion to Enforce Settlement in response to Appellant's Motion to Set Aside the February 16, 2016 Trial Worksheet Entering Consent Judgment when [Appellee's] Counter Motion was filed two days after the Response date without demonstrating good cause or justice requires?Appellant's Brief at 4.
2. Whether the trial court erred in issuing its April 26, 2016 Order granting [Appellee's] Counter Motion to Enforce Settlement before the response period lapsed in which Appellant could oppose?
3. Whether the trial court erred in ruling on disputed issues of facts raised in [Appellee's] Counter Motion to Enforce Settlement without affording the Appellant the opportunity to be heard?
In her first two issues, Appellant does not raise substantive issues. Rather, she asserts that the court should not have acted in light of procedural defects. The applicability of our rules of civil procedure raises a question of law; thus, our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. Oswald v. WB Pub. Square Assocs., LLC , 80 A.3d 790, 793 (Pa. Super. 2013).
Pa.R.C.P. No. 126 provides:
The rules shall be liberally construed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action or proceeding to which they are applicable. The court at every stage of any such action or proceeding may disregard any error or defect of procedure which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties.Pa.R.C.P. 126.
"Under the doctrine of substantial compliance, the trial court may 'overlook any procedural defect that does not prejudice a party's rights.'" Green Acres Rehab. & Nursing Ctr. v. Sullivan , 113 A.3d 1261, 1272-73 (Pa. Super. 2015), quoting Womer v. Hilliker , 908 A.2d 269, 276 (Pa. 2006) "[P]rocedural rules are not ends in themselves, and ... rigid application of [the Rules] does not always serve the interest of fairness and justice." Id.
In her third issue, Appellant contends that the trial court erred in not affording her an opportunity to be heard prior to granting Appellee's Countermotion to Enforce Settlement before the expiration of the twenty-day response period provided by Pa.R.C.P. No. 208.3(b) and the Philadephia County Local Rule 208.3(b).
Appellant cites no case, rule, or statute requiring that a court hold a hearing prior to granting a motion to enforce a settlement agreement. Our research indicates that there is no mandate that a court hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to enforce settlement where, as here, there is no dispute that an offer to settle was tendered, it was accepted, counsel had the authority to act, and the record contains the terms of the settlement and the parties' acquiescence. See Christian v. Allstate Ins. Co., 502 A.2d 192, 194 (Pa. Super. 1985) (noting the need for an evidentiary hearing where an insufficient record exists for appellate review of a settlement agreement).
In her Rule 1925(a) Opinion, the Hon. Abbe F. Fletman concisely addresses and analyzes each of Appellant's issues with citation to the certified record and application of relevant and dispositive case law. Our review of the record, including the notes of testimony from the settlement hearing, supports her well-reasoned analysis. Accordingly, we adopt the trial court's analysis as our own and affirm. See Tr. Ct. Op., dated Dec. 16, 2016, at 3-8 (finding: (1) Appellee's response to Appellant's Motion to Set Aside Consent Judgment filed two days after the end of the response period substantially complied with Pa.R.C.P. No. 208.3, and Appellant suffered no prejudice, id., at 3; (2) the court's action in granting the Motion to Enforce the Agreement prior to the passage of the twenty-day response period, provided in Pa.R.C.P. No. 208.3(b) and Local Rule 208.3, did not prejudice Appellant "in any way" as she "had an opportunity to make all her arguments in her motion for reconsideration, which the court reviewed and rejected," id., at 4; (3) the court was not required to hold a hearing where there was no factual dispute as to the existence of the Settlement Agreement, and a court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to enforce, id., at 5; (4) Appellant's allegations of fraud were insufficient to set aside the Settlement Agreement, and the alleged misrepresentation was immaterial to the Settlement Agreement, id., at 5-6; (5) the record reflects that Appellant, "a barred lawyer [who] is not an unsophisticated party," accepted the settlement agreement "freely and on the record" and she does not dispute its existence, id., at 6; and (6) Appellant's "experience of anxiety and stress does not constitute duress necessary to invalidate the [S]ettlement [A]greement as a matter of law" and "[t]herefore, th[e] court did not err in deciding the motions without a hearing, id. at 7.).
The court also noted that Appellant had filed her Motion to Set Aside the Consent Judgment 17 days late. --------
The parties are instructed to annex a copy of the trial court's December 16, 2016 Opinion to any future filings.
Order affirmed. Judgment Entered. /s/_________
Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.
Prothonotary Date: 10/4/18
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