Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Civil Procedure - Prothonotary - powers - no power to reject or evaluate documents

Brown v. Levy - Cmwlth. Court - June 27, 2011

The court held that under Pa. R.C.P. 205.2, a prothonotary has a "duty to file documents that substantively comply with the rules of civil procedure."

In this mandamus action by a prisoner, the prothonotary filed a motion to dismiss the action, alleging that it constituted "prison conditions litigation" under the three-strikes provision of the state Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 Pa. C.S. 6601 et seq., which authorized dismissal of such cases after 3 or more by the same prisoner had been dismissed as frivolous.

The court agreed with the plaintiff prisoner that a mandamus action is not "prison conditions litigation". It stated further that "the Prothonotary, while playing an essential role in our court system, lacks authority to interpret statutes, evaluate the merits of a litigant’s pleading, and decline to accept a timely filed document.

It is “well settled” in the intermediate courts of this Commonwealth that the role of the prothonotary of the court of common pleas, while vitally important, is purely ministerial. . . As a purely ministerial office, any authority exercised by the prothonotary must derive from either statute or rule of court. . . Further, as “[t]he prothonotary is merely the clerk of the the court of Common Pleas[,][h]e has no judicial powers, nor does he have power to act as attorney for others by virtue of his office.” . . . Consistent therewith, “[t]he prothonotary is not ‘an administrative officer who has discretion to interpret statutes.’” . . .Thus, while playing an essential role in our court system, the prothonotary’s powers do not include the judicial role of statutory interpretation. . . [I]f documents tendered for filing are proper on their face and in conformity to the rules of court, a prothonotary does not have discretion to refuse to enter them. [citations omitted throughout].