In many cases, clients ask us if we can file a motion against the other party for filing a false or frivolous pleading. In a recent opinion, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania outlined the way in which a party must file a motion for sanctions for a false pleading. In the case of Pane, et al., v. Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, a dispute occurred as to if the Panes were entitled to construct a swimming pool on their property that was in a community association. The Association objected, and the Panes filed a complaint requesting a declaratory judgment against the Association, allowing them to build their proposed swimming pool. The Association answered their complaint, but then filed a separate action seeking a preliminary injunction. In this separate action, the Association stated that it had adopted a rule prohibiting swimming pools on individual lots within the development.

The trial court granted the summary judgment motion filed by the Panes in favor of allowing them to construct their proposed swimming pool, denied the Association’s summary judgment motion to prohibit the swimming pool, and denied the Panes’ motion (which was only made orally during argument on the summary judgment motions) for sanctions against the Association.

In denying the motion for sanctions, the trial court noted that the civil rules require that motions for sanctions be made separately from other motions and that the motion include a description of the specific conduct that allegedly gives rise to the sanctions. The trial court also noted that the request for sanctions was filed under the docket number for the Panes’ case for declaratory judgment when it should have been filed in the action initiated by the Association seeking a preliminary injunction. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny the request for sanctions and also noted that the Panes’ motion for sanctions did not comply with the “safe harbor” requirement of the civil rules (which requires the party moving for sanctions to include a certification with their motion that they served written notice and demand on the party or counsel who verified the pleading at issue and that each false allegation be corrected or withdrawn, and that the moving party then provide the other party 28 days to withdraw the allegations or correct the record before filing the motion for sanctions). The Commonwealth Court noted that the Panes’ motion for sanction was made orally during argument on the summary judgment motions and that the Panes did not file a certification confirming that a demand was served on the Association requesting the withdrawal of the allegations or the correction of the record.

Interestingly, no party seemed to contest the fact that the Association’s pleading included an incorrect allegation as to the fact that the Association had not adopted a rule prohibiting pools on individual lots within the Indian Rocks development. Given the severity of this allegation, and how the Association’s defense was based upon it, it appears that a correctly filed motion for sanctions may have been considered by the court in this case. Although no way to know for sure, as courts normally would only grant such motions in limited circumstances; however, this case does set forth the importance of sending the proper notification to the other party as to the alleged false allegation and allowing such party an opportunity to correct it within the referenced deadline.

If you should need assistance in this area of the law, please feel free to contact Rob Gundlach at (215) 918-3636, or rgundlach@foxrothschild.com.