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 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

With all the uproar about Facebook’s use of our data and businesses bracing to deal with the EU’s GDPR, it is easy to forget there is no general obligation to protect your personal information. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision last week in Enslin v. Coca-Cola, et al. is the latest reminder of that fact.

Shane Enslin is a former employee of Coca-Cola. As part of his employment, he submitted, as we all do, personal information including his social security number. Coca-Cola discovered that one of its IT staffers was stealing company laptops and taking them home for his own use or giving them to others. Among the devices stolen were machines used by human resources employees that contained sensitive personal information, like Enslin’s social security number. After the devices were stolen, Enslin was the victim of identity theft. Continue Reading Third Circuit Avoids Ruling on a Duty to Protect Employees’ Personal Information

With one week left before the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) takes effect, we have been fielding a lot of questions about how, or if, it applies to businesses here in Lancaster. Here are three questions to help you determine if you should worry about the GDPR.

  1. Who does it apply to?

It is easy to think that businesses here in the U.S. need not worry about the EU’s data protection laws unless you have stores or employees in Europe. But the GDPR’s reach is much broader than that. If you have the data of an EU citizen or use a service located in Europe, then the GDPR probably applies to you. Here are a few examples where the GDPR applies:

  • You send email blasts and some recipients are in England (yes, England is still in the EU… for now!).
  • You have a digital list of mailing addresses to send out physical mail and some recipients of that mail are in Italy.
  • You use an online marketing service that processes your clients’ data on servers in Germany.
  1. What data is protected?

Okay, okay. So I have contacts in the EU on my mailing list. But names and addresses aren’t protected, right? Wrong. Unlike many U.S. laws, such as Pennsylvania’s Data Breach Notification Act, the GDPR is very broad in its definition of protected information. For example, under Pennsylvania law you need a name combined with some sensitive piece of data, like a social security number or bank account, before the law applies. But the GDPR applies to any identifying information. This includes names, email addresses, physical addresses, and social media names, plus all the sensitive stuff you would expect like financial and medical information. Continue Reading Three Questions to Determine if You Need to Worry About the GDPR

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure to attend SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon’s 2018 Small Business Awards Luncheon held at Millersville University’s Ware Center. This luncheon is always a great place to hear more of SCORE’s success stories. This year was no different.

SCORE provides our community with many resources for local entrepreneurs. These include providing free business counseling through its mentors, facilitating round-table discussions among local small businesses, and teaching educational workshops on how to start and improve a small business. SCORE’s workshops hold a special place in my heart because I have helped teach one of the workshop sessions for several years now (or perhaps more appropriately, I help translate the legalese of forming a corporation or LLC into an outline of what a small business owner should know). Continue Reading SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon Celebrates 2018 Small Business Awards Luncheon

One of the most important things I do as a Litigation attorney is explain to my clients what has happened, and is likely to happen, in their lawsuit. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to do that using abstract legal jargon as though everyone uses these terms as often as I do. So, rather than leaving you searching Google to find out what your lawyer is talking about, let’s start by going through some common legal terms in Pennsylvania lawsuits:

Who is Involved?

  • Plaintiff – The party or parties who starts a lawsuit against a
  • Defendant – The party or parties being sued by a Plaintiff. Even if both parties have claims against each other, the Plaintiff is the one who files first regardless of the size of their respective claims.
  • Litigation –The process of taking part in a lawsuit. “Litigators” are lawyers who practice Litigation.
  • MDJ – Short for Magisterial District Judge. A MDJ presides over “small claims” court in Pennsylvania for disputes worth less than $12,000 or disputes about issues like landlord/tenant claims.
  • Court of Common Pleas – The Pennsylvania court level where elected judges preside over claims. It is the step above and MDJ and can hear almost any type of claim.

What is Being Claimed?

  • Complaint – The document a Plaintiff files that usually starts a lawsuit. Its numbered paragraphs lay out the facts of the case, legal theories supporting their position, and what they want the Court to give them.
  • Answer – The document a Defendant files in response to a Complaint. It responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in a Complaint either by admitting that what the Plaintiff argues is true or denying it and explaining why it’s denied.
  • Reply – This document is how a Plaintiff responds to any new claims made by a Defendant in an Answer.
  • Default Judgment – If a Plaintiff or Defendant doesn’t respond to a Complaint or Answer in time, the other party can ask the Court to win automatically. The other party has given up by not defending themselves. (NOTE: if you get a “Notice of Default” warning you that a default may be entered, you need to seek legal counsel at once).
  • Motion – A formal request for the Court to do something. It is for tasks more complex and less administrative than those of a Praecipe. Among the most common are requests for the Court to rule in one party’s favor (either dismissing a claim or awarding a Judgment).
  • Praecipe – Pennsylvania’s mini-motion. It is a request for the Court to do something more administrative. For example, notifying the Court you have hired a new lawyer to represent you.
  • Brief – A writing submitted to the court by a lawyer, usually in connection with a Motion, that argues their client’s legal theory. It’s the lawyer version of an essay or paper.

Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part I) – Key Legal Terms

Ever run across an idea so good you cannot imagine why you didn’t come up with it before? I found one of those last Friday when reading Lancaster Newspaper’s article Northwest Regional Police Department sets up safe zone for face-to-face exchanges.

When I read the article’s title, it sounded like a middle school dispute resolution plan for two classmates to meet face-to-face and talk through their differences. The reality is much cooler. The safe zone is a publicly maintained safe space with 24-hour video recording for two (or more) people who may not have complete trust in each other to meet. When would that happen? Well, one situation is if you are dropping off your child to your ex-spouse per a custody arrangement. But how about if you just arranged a deal on craigslist? Now you have a secure space to exchange money for that TV stand (and just in time for the big game!).

Kudos to the Manheim Borough Police Department and the Northwest Regional Police Department for setting up such spaces. It provides another example of the marriage between 21st century technology and practical thinking that makes me love Lancaster County. Now excuse me while I go off to think about the next great idea so obvious I didn’t think of yet…

Brandon Harter is an attorney and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Business LawCivil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and Information Technology & Internet Law.

When you think of a document drafted by an attorney, what do you expect? Crisp, clean prose that conveys its meaning in as few words as possible? Probably not. Large walls of incomprehensible text that no one (maybe not even the lawyer) has read carefully? Sounds more like it.

In the legal profession we refer to these regularly used blocks of text as “boilerplate” language (although boilerplate can also refer to blocks of frequently used computer code). The term boilerplate comes from the similarity between the curved steel used to make boilers and the curved plates that printed newspapers in the early 1900s. Boilerplate legal language often covers repeatedly used topics like the court where disputes will be resolved  or indicating that an agreement may be signed electronically. Continue Reading Boilerplate Language – What is it Good For? (Absolutely somethin’?)

Like brothers who favor rival football teams, my colleague Matt Landis and I often spar over our respective technological preference for Apple vs. Google/Windows/Microsoft. Generally, I think of this as just that, a pair of rival paths.

Imagine my surprise when Matt sent me this article from Daring Fireball reviewing the Google Pixel 2. I assumed he was egging me on to follow his path of annually upgrading to the latest smartphone. While I do have a first-generation Pixel, I am not feeling the need to upgrade to the latest version. But he was after something much more nefarious… convincing me that our paths were not as different as I assumed. Continue Reading Can’t we all get along?

I have served on the Board of Directors of the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum for the past five years and have had the privilege of serving as Board President for the last two years. As you might imagine, I really enjoy this Lancaster County hidden gem, so as we prepare for Lancaster’s Extraordinary Give I thought it might be nice to share a few fun facts you might not know (even if you live down the street): Continue Reading Fun Facts about the Landis Valley Museum