Gambols: an act of running or jumping about playfully.

In the days before digital printers, anyone who appealed a trial court ruling needed to find a printing company to print both his appellate brief and the record of the trial on an actual printing press so that it could be bound and hand delivered to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. It was an expensive and cumbersome process inclined to make most trial lawyers refer the matter to lawyers who specialized in appeals.

Today, it’s all electronic and we read a lot of appellate cases that are dismissed for failure to follow the rules of appellate procedure. Then, there are cases that get over that appellate hurdle but make readers wonder what the appellants were thinking. Here are two that offer more amusement than enlightenment.

In Stouffer v. Stouffer, a wife filed a Protection from Abuse case against her husband claiming that he had choked and punched her. The case was set for trial and husband failed to show for the event. He later claimed he had a relative who was ill but he never sought an adjournment of the hearing before the day it was scheduled. Curiously, wife’s petition stated that his punch had caused her to suffer dental injuries requiring “orthodontia.” In fact, $5,545 of orthodontia. No adjournment (commonly called a “continuance”) having been granted the trial proceeded and wife testified to the events and the injuries. The court awarded all the relief she sought including the compensation for the orthodontic treatment.

Husband asked the court to reconsider its order. When it was denied, he appealed to the Superior Court. The gravamen of the appeal was that there was no logical nexus to show his battery required orthodontia to correct.

Moral to the story. Don’t ignore a hearing and expect the court to challenge the petitioner’s claims for relief or damage on your behalf. By failing to appear for a hearing in a case of this magnitude you telegraph disrespect to both your spouse, intimate partner, the court or all of the above. Part of husband’s complaint was that the orthodontic cost was undocumented. Had that objection been offered in the court proceeding, chances are the court would have addressed the concern. But husband’s approach reflects a disrespect for his spouse and the court. All aspects of the award were affirmed.

Stouffer  v. Stouffer 1426 MDA 2023

In Little v. Buck, we learn that Barbara Little had disputes with many of her Blair County neighbors-Patrick Buck in particular. This culminated in an incident on July 5, 2021 where she went about the neighborhood banging a spoon against a kitchen pot to a point where some of the neighbors called police. This not being a crime of the century, the police charged Ms. Little with disorderly conduct and harassment. At the hearing before the local district justice, Mr. Buck played a recording of the sound outside his home on July 5. Ms. Little was found guilty. She appealed for a trial in Common Pleas court and when it reached a similar result, it seems she asked the appellate courts to reverse the findings. That also did not change the result. Com. v. Little, 568-569 WDA 2022.

If “Little” else the Defendant is persistent. In September 2021 she initiated a civil action against neighbor Buck for violating Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Law. 18 Pa.C.S. Section 5725. That section provides that “[A]ny person whose wire, electronic or oral communication is intercepted, disclosed or used in violation of this chapter shall have a civil cause of action against any person who intercepts, discloses or uses or procures any other person to intercept, disclose or use, such communication.” Unfortunately for Ms. Little the term “oral communication” is defined as “[A]ny oral communication uttered by a person possessing an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation.” The problem here for the plaintiff was the only thing intercepted by the Buck recording device was the sound of a metal spoon striking a metal pot. The court ordered mediation hoping this would go away and it seems that some agreement was reached. Alas, when it came time to write it up, Ms. Little demurred to a settlement. Mr. Buck next filed for judgment without trial offering that there was no cause of action. The trial court granted that request and dismissed the case in February 2023.

When lawyers are taught trial practice one of the analogies often employed is to compare a trial to baseball or football. Each side gets part of an inning or a set of downs to score points. Then the opponent is “up” to try to do the same. So, now it was Mr. Buck’s turn at the “plate.” He filed an action under 42 Pa.C.S.  2503 (7) and (9) asserting that he had suffered damage defending a frivolous lawsuit. The trial court agreed and awarded attorney’s fees incurred by Mr. Buck defending the wiretap claim. Ms. Little again appealed, and the Superior Court affirmed the award on April 4.

We have written about the wiretap law in the past noting that your cellphone is actually a device equipped to “intercept” oral communications. Pennsylvania has a very strict law that creates criminal and civil liability for recording “aural” events like conversations without the consent of the person being recorded. We know from this case that you are probably safe recording your neighbors when they are banging pots at 11 at night or discharging fireworks or guns at unseasonable hours. But, the other lesson in this is that while every man or woman has a right to file a lawsuit, you should think before you start the party about whether you may end up paying for both sides of it. If your lawsuit is found to be utterly meritless or initiated to harass your unfriendly neighbor or former spouse, you may have to pay the piper whom you intended to pipe.

Litigation is serious business. Think twice before you ignore it and before you initiate it.