Case Bulletin – Attorney’s Fees Permitted Even Where Plaintiff Elected $25,000 Limit Under Pa.R.C.P. 1311.1
On March 1, 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in a matter of first impression that a plaintiff who elects to limit damages to $25,000 pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1311.1 may still recover attorney’s fees in excess of that limit. Grimm v. Universal Med. Servs., Inc., ___ A.3d ___, 2017 Pa. Super. 53 (Mar. 1, 2017).
Grimm filed suit for a breach of contract and breach of the Wage Payment and Collection Law (“WPCL”) for his employer’s failure to reimburse travel business expenses. He appealed the arbitration award for the defendant and pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1311.1 elected a limit of $25,000.00 as the maximum amount of damages recoverable in order to relax the requirements on admission of certain documentary evidence. The jury found in favor of plaintiff and awarded a total of $14,604.90. Plaintiff then sought attorney’s fees pursuant to the WPCL in an amount of $28,475.76.
The trial court granted Plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees – even though it exceeded the $25,000 limit – because the court believed it was compelled to do so under the WPCL. Defendant appealed.
Plaintiff argued on appeal that attorney’s fees did not fall under the meaning of “damages recoverable” for purposes of the $25,000 cap in Pa.R.C.P. 1131.1. The court held that the term “damages recoverable” was ambiguous. The court analogized this issue to the case of LaRue v. McGuire, 885 A.2d 549, 553 (Pa. Super. 2005), where delay damages were permitted despite the monetary limit in Pa.R.C.P. 1311.1. Additionally, the court explained that the purpose of the WPCL is to provide a vehicle for employees to enforce payment of their wages and remove some of the obstacles generally presented by litigation. Thus, the award of attorney’s fees is mandatory pursuant to the WPCL statute. The court then stated that from this review of Pa.R.C.P. 1311.1 and the WPCL, both “aim to make litigation more accessible and affordable to aggrieved litigants.” Thus, the court affirmed plaintiff’s award of attorney’s fees.