In an ideal world there would never be any need to have to be concerned about receiving payments for services rendered or contracts performed. The parties to any such agreements would each do what they agreed to do, and there would be no need for court involvement. Unfortunately, there is no ideal world. Coupled with an economy that is suffering greatly the need for court involvement in contract disputes is increasing. As a result, every business must be prepared to step into the litigation arena from time to time. Once a decision has been made to enter into litigation to recover for services performed or goods delivered, it is extremely important to do so effectively, efficiently, and as easily as possible.
The first step in the litigation process is to properly assert your Breach of Contract, or Breach of Services claim. Pennsylvania is a fact pleading state. This means that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, unlike sister states such as Ohio, requires that a Complaint specifically set forth in detail all of the facts which support a claim. This requirement stems from Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1019(a) which requires a party to set forth all material facts upon which the cause of action is based. Pennsylvania courts in discussing the information which must be provided in a complaint have stated: “[u]nder the Pennsylvania system of fact pleading, the pleader must define the issues; every act or performance essential to that end must be set forth in the complaint”.¹ Further, when a claim is based upon a contract, purchase order or invoice, Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1019(i) requires that: “when any claim or defense is based upon a writing, the pleader shall attach a copy of the writing or material part thereof…”. Failure to attach either the writing or the material portions of the writing to a complaint has been found to be material grounds for sustaining preliminary objections² and the failure to attach to the complaint the writings which allegedly establish the plaintiff’s right to judgment against the defendant has been found to be “fatal to the claims set forth in [the plaintiff’s] complaint.³
In practical terms what does this mean then? Simply put it means that in Pennsylvania it is not sufficient to simply “just show the Court the invoice” and expect that a judgment will be entered. Nor is it sufficient, for example, to consider that proof of delivery of goods can be achieved through a loading dock foreman testimony that he “saw the goods loaded on the truck before they were shipped out.” Documentation confirming when the goods were received and/or were considered to be received is vital in establishing proof of delivery in such instances. Such documentation is often in the form of bills of lading, signed receipts, and other third party shipper documents.
In order to efficiently and effectively present the best possible case and apply the most pressure upon the defendant, certain basic steps must be taken at the outset. It is important to have the purchase order, contract, invoice or other writings that evidence the parties’ agreement. By attaching such documentation to the complaint, it will serve to limit one of the commonly used tactics applied to stall or delay litigation, preliminary objections for failure to state a claim. Further, it serves to give the court the parameters of the parties’ agreement at the outset and can streamline the issues done the road. A well drafted and supported complaint will also allow for pointed and more efficient discovery because the
Next it is important to identify witnesses that will be vital to establishing the material facts set forth in your complaint. In the example above, the loading dock foreman would be useless in establishing actually delivery and/or receipt of the goods. However, a record keeper who received notification through the usual course and scope of her duties that delivery of the goods was achieved would be a great witness in order to establish that fact. One or more of your fact witnesses will be required to verify the facts set forth in your complaint prior to filing.
Certainly there is no “perfect” complaint. However, by effectively understanding the requirements to establish a cause of action in order to recover for services performed or goods delivered, a plaintiff can cut down possible delaying actions on the part a defendant. Identifying and producing the material documents necessary to garner a judgment along with understanding what “witnesses” are most valuable can go a long way in effectively navigating the litigation arena.
1 – Miketic v. Baron, 675 A.2d 324, 330 (Pa.Super.1996).
2 – Feigley v. Dept. of Corrections, 872 A.2d 189, 195 (Pa.Cmwlth.2005)
3 – Atlantic Credit and Finance, Inc. v. Giuliana, 829 A.2d 340, 345 (Pa.Super.2003), app.denied 577 Pa. 676, 843 A.2d 1236 (2004).