This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of the all of the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.

So it’s time to go to the Court of Common Pleas. Whether you tried other steps first or elected to start here, today we walk through how the parties to a lawsuit lay the groundwork for their claims and defenses.

Complaint, Answer, and Reply

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant in a lawsuit describe their claims and defenses, respectively, in documents called “pleadings.” This is just legalese for a type of court filing that describes in broad strokes what the parties’ positions will be. If all goes smoothly, you can expect this process:

  1. Filing the Complaint – The Plaintiff starts by filing a Complaint. The Complaint needs to outline the basic facts of the dispute and what the Plaintiff wants to get.
  2. Serving the Complaint -The Plaintiff serves the Complaint on the Defendant. In general, this must be done by having someone from the Sheriff’s Office hand deliver a copy of the Complaint.
  3. Checking for a Default – The Defendant must respond to the Complaint within 20 days of having a copy delivered to him or her. If he or she does not, the Plaintiff can send a warning called a “Notice of Default.” If the Defendant still does not respond, 10 days after sending the Notice of Default the Plaintiff can request a Default Judgment.
  4. Answering the Complaint – The Defendant responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in the Complaint in a document called an Answer. So paragraph 1 of the Answer responds to paragraph 1 of the Complaint, and so on.
  5. Raising New Issues – The Answer may also contain two types of statements beyond the responses to the Complaint. The first is called “New Matter,” which are new facts the Defendant thinks are important but that the Plaintiff left out. New Matter can also contain certain types of legal defenses. The second type is “Counterclaims,” which are legal claims back against the Plaintiff. Counterclaims are claims that could have been raised by the Defendant in a Complaint. But instead of having two lawsuits going at the same time, both sides’ claims are handled at once.
  6. Responding to the New Issues – If the Defendant’s Answer has New Matter or Counterclaims, the Plaintiff files his or her own response to those new statements. This responsive document is called a Reply to differentiate it from the Defendant’s

Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part III) – Pleading (Not the 5th)

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

“Thank you.  We have received your automatic payment.”  “Sign up for automatic bill pay to reduce your student loan interest rate.”  “Ensure your payments are never late!  Sign up to automatically pay your bill.”  “Reminder, monthly payment scheduled.”

Those email subject lines are taken directly from my personal email account.  I receive regular inquiries trying to persuade me to switch to automatic payments for all of my monthly bills.  Clearly from some of the subject lines you can see that I do have some bills (the small ones) set for automatic bill pay and flatly refuse to set up others.  Why?  Well in my law school days it was more to prevent an inadvertent overdraft than anything else.  However, now, it is more to prevent a mess in the event of my death.  Horribly morbid.  I know.  But I have a very good reason. Continue Reading Automatic Bill Pay: Blessing or Curse?

On December 5, 2016, the law in Pennsylvania as it relates to the required length of separation in order to establish grounds for divorce reduced from two years to one year.  This reduction was highly contested for many years in our legislature and had been proposed on multiple occasions during the last decade.  While the pros and cons of the reduction in the length of separation were argued multiple times, the legislature finally determined that the reduction was appropriate.

The reduction of the two-year waiting period means that any spouses who physically or legally separate after December 5, 2016 now will only have to wait one year before they have established grounds for divorce unless otherwise established.  In no-fault divorces, there are only two ways to establish grounds for divorce.  The parties consent to the divorce, or complete a separation period which has now been shortened to one year.  Continue Reading Change to One Year Waiting Period for Divorce in PA Useful Now

This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of all the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.

The litigation process often begins before actual litigation.

Wait, what?

I mean that disputes often involve exchanges before we get in front of the court system you see on TV, i.e. the Court of Common Pleas here in Pennsylvania. Today let’s look at the common things that can happen before we get to the courthouse.

The Demand Letter – Kicking it Off

Many lawsuits start with a lawyer demanding action in a letter. Commonly known as a demand letter, this document is often a final effort by a Plaintiff to resolve a dispute out of court. While this letter doesn’t start a court case, it may indicate that the Plaintiff is serious and is ready to sue. Or maybe the Plaintiff is only willing to pay for a letter, not to actually take you to court.

How can you tell? Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer to this question. It depends on what’s at stake, how strong the legal claims are, and the personality of those involved. Sometimes a dispute can be settled at this stage if both parties want to avoid taking the matter before a court, or it may be necessary to proceed to the next step of litigation.  So when you receive a demand letter, it may be time to talk with your own lawyer to plan a strategy (even if that strategy is to wait and see what happens). Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part II) – Let’s Get It Started

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues. For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

Lawyers often get a bad rap for being resistant to change and behind the times with technology. To combat this issue, states are beginning to require technology training as a part of continuing legal education to maintain a law license.

Many more states have already implemented technology-based requirements directly into their ethical rules. For example, Pennsylvania lawyers are required by the Rules of Professional Conduct to “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”

At Russell, Krafft & Gruber, technology is more than just an ethical requirement. We see technology as an essential tool to help us provide our clients with the best legal representation.

Here are just a few ways that our firm uses technology: Continue Reading The Cutting Edge: Keeping up with Technology

As a lawyer, I have a love/hate relationship with television shows and movies that portray the legal profession. On one hand, I enjoy watching a romanticized and dramatized version of the practice of law. If I’m being honest, I thought that’s what being a lawyer would be like before I went to law school. On the other hand, I am often frustrated by the unrealistic portrayals of the legal process and the expectations that creates for clients. Although TV shows like Law and Order make it seem like you can commit a crime, go to trial, and be acquitted in spectacular fashion in less than 10 days, in real life, it takes a whole lot longer and is usually much less dramatic.

So when the Lancaster Bar Association advertised a continuing education class called “Ethics, Trial Practice, Two Yoots and One Cousin Vinny,” I was cautiously intrigued. My husband, also a lawyer (yes, our dinner table conversations are as contentious as you are imagining), and I, along with about 50 other attorneys, including RKG’s own all-star litigator Brandon Harter, showed up one evening last week to the sold out event at the Bar Association to see what it was all about. Continue Reading My Cousin Vinny – Lessons on Attorney Competence and the Correct Pronunciation of “Youths”

Years of effort led by the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law community paid off on June 28, 2018, when Governor Wolf signed into law the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act.  The new law creates a uniform standard of procedure and practice in Pennsylvania for parties opting to proceed with collaborative divorces.  The purpose of the law is to make the legal process of collaborative divorce more uniform across Pennsylvania.

Collaborative Law is a method of dispute resolution which some divorcing parties opt to engage in, requiring both of them to sign a participation agreement to stay out of court.  The process  was created by Stuart Webb, a Minnesota attorney who sought a method that would permit divorcing parties to retain decision-making and control over the complex yet often emotional decisions regarding their divorce, including separation of assets, custody of their children and financial support. Continue Reading Collaborative Law – Another Option for Divorce in Pennsylvania

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog article about Facebook’s New Legacy Contact, wherein you can appoint someone to manage your account posthumously. When you fail to appoint someone, Facebook’s current policy allows your next of kin to only have partial access to the account in order to either turn it into an online memorial page or to delete it entirely.

It seems that the highest court in Germany has taken issue with this limited access for a legacy contact, having recently determined that a minor’s parents have the right to inherit their daughter’s Facebook account.  The parents of a 15 year old girl who passed away in 2012 sought access to her Facebook account in order to determine if her death was suicide.  Facebook refused, citing their Legacy Contact policy and concern for the privacy of the girl’s other contacts.  The Federal Court of Justice in Germany held that the account was similar to a person’s letters or private diary, both of which would pass on to a person’s heirs under German law. Continue Reading Germany Cracks Down on Facebook

In the summer of 2017, property tax assessments and assessment appeals were a big topic of discussion.  That is because 2017 marked the countywide reassessment for all properties.  The County Tax Assessment Appeal Board heard tens of thousands of assessment appeals.  Some of the appeals resulted in substantial savings for the property owners.

This blog article is a reminder that even if you did not appeal your property tax assessment in 2017, you can still appeal that assessment in 2018.  Appeals must be filed on or before August 1, 2018.

            Here are a few of the topics that this blog covered in 2017:

If you did not appeal your assessment in 2017, but you think that your assessment is wrong, you have another chance to reduce your property taxes.  If you wonder whether you should appeal, we would be happy to help.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial and Residential Real Estate, Land Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

Kathleen Krafft Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University and regularly advises homeowners and individuals on legal matters ranging from tax assessment appeals to domestic relations matters and estate planning.

Lancaster County continues to be an attractive marketplace for entrepreneurs in the technology sector. Over the last few weeks, the below articles caught my eye as interesting examples of what Lancaster has to offer to growing companies:

$50,000 Big Idea contest for tech entrepreneurs names 7 finalists

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA have been investing big time in Lancaster, including this contest and the TechCelerator at the Candy Factory. This article highlights the finalists in the Big Idea competition – best of luck to them!

A vision for Lancaster as the Silicon Valley of social enterprise

As co-executive director of Assets (a nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship as a means to combat poverty), Jonathan Coleman shares his ideas for how Lancaster could be a hub for benefit corporations.

NeuroFlow is heading to Lancaster to see if its biz model makes sense

A medical technology startup takes advantage of Lancaster’s Smart Health Innovation Lab, a joint venture between Aspire Ventures, Capital BlueCross, Clio Health and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

Where American Politics Can Still Work: From the Bottom Up

New York Times opinion columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes about the revitalization of Lancaster from a “crime ridden ghost town” 20 years ago to a thriving community that serves as an example for other cities.

These articles are just a few examples of the resources available to businesses and entrepreneurs in Lancaster County. We’ve previously written about other options available here, here and here. Have questions about starting or growing your business in Lancaster County? Feel free to contact us.

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University Commonwealth School of Law and works regularly with business owners and entrepreneurs.