A lot of the work we do here at Starks Law involves cases dealing with the Magistrate court in one way or another. Excluding the time-frame involving COVID-19 and the resulting court closures, we appear at a Magistrate court on an almost daily basis. We understand the seriousness of receiving a certified letter from this court and what it means. Unfortunately, many PA residents do not take being served by this court seriously. Most would assume that if you were being sued by someone, it would be announced to you in a more direct fashion than by a simple letter. These letters are often ignored which results in a default judgment. No matter how a judgment is entered though, they are all the same in the end and give the plaintiff the same broad toolset to collect on that judgment, including a levy on your bank account. If you let the court date slip by, don't panic just yet. You have a narrow window of time to seize an important opportunity. That opportunity is in the form of an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.
You Have 30 Days to Appeal a Magistrate Judgment
The time window you have to appeal a Magistrate judgment is 30 days. This close starts from the "date of disposition" that is found on the judgment the court has mailed to you. IT DOES NOT start from when you received it or when it was mailed. If you miss this 30 day window, you may have completely missed your one and only opportunity to do something about the lawsuit brought against you and the subsequent judgment placed against you. You might have other options, explained below, but the availability of these options are often rare and hard to come by.
Filing a timely appeal should be your absolute priority If you want your chance to get out from under this judgment and have an opportunity to defend yourself against the underlying lawsuit. Understanding how this 30 days is calculated is a critical piece of information. The computation of time can referenced in 231 Pa. Code § 106. Under this rule, the time window is computed to exclude the the first and include the last day. Additionally, whenever the final day falls on a weekend or a legal holiday recognized by the laws of the Commonwealth or the United States, that day is ommitted and the final day is, effectively, moved to the next non-holiday weekday.
Missed The 30 Day Window? You Might Have Other Options
If you missed the 30 day appeal window, you might be able to file an appeal anyway. This type of appeal is referred to as a Nunc Pro Tunc appeal. Nunc Pro Tunc is a latin phrase that means "Now for then". In non-legalese, it means you are asking a court to accept your appeal even though it is late. This type of appeal is not an easy task. The only time these appeals are approved is when one of only three circumstances apply. 1) A breakdown of the court, 2) Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and 3) non-negligent conduct of the attorney or appellant that prevented the timely filing of the appeal. The latter is the most common grounds for a Nunc Pro Tunc appeal. Non-negligent conduct, however, is not simply forgetting or miscalculating the time. This grounds for an appeal Nunc Pro Tunc includes occurences such as hospitilization of the appellent rendering an inability to file, your car breaking down or being involved in a motor vehicle accident on the way to the court house to file. Basically, if you have to demonstrate to the court that something prevented you from filing that was not a result of your own negligent conduct. If you are looking to file one of these types of appeals, it might be a good idea to consult an attorney who has experience in them. At Starks Law, we have successfully filed these types of appeals before for our clients.
An Attorney Might Be Your Best Bet
Time calculations and Nunc Pro Tunc appeals can get very confusing for someone who has never had to deal with them before. Even for those who are the DIY types and grasp most legal concepts well, we would strongly encourage consulting an attorney. Nunc Pro Tunc appeals are generally your absolute last opportunity. If you make a mistake, a strong possibility exists that you will not have an opportunity to remedy that mistake. An appeal window is often just the same. If you make a mistake and miss it, it will probably be considered negligent conduct and a court will not be willing to allow a Nunc Pro Tunc appeal.
We have successfully handled numerous appeals, both timely and through the Nunc Pro Tunc process. We know the gravity of the situation and we know how to handle these. If you have any questions, a great start might be to just give us a call. We can be reached Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Alternatively, you can use our contact form to request a call back from us.