Interlocutory Appeal • Reassessment of Damages • Mortgage Foreclosure

EMC Mortgage LLC v. Robert Biddle, PICS Case No. 13-3382 (C.P. Philadelphia, Nov. 5, 2013) Ceisler, J. (16 pages).

Plaintiff/appellee EMC Mortgage LLC filed a mortgage foreclosure complaint against defendant/appellant Robert Biddle. EMC ultimately entered a default judgment via praecipe. It then later filed a motion to reassess damages, arguing that additional costs and interest had accrued since the entry of judgment. The court granted the motion to reassess and updated the damages.

Biddle appealed the decision, alleging that the court: granted the motion “without authority”; erred in “failing to dismiss the motion as unverified”; erred in granting the motion “without a trial as to damages”; and erred in assessing damages by reference to the mortgage after judgment.

The trial court argued that Biddle’s appeal was premature in nature. It noted that litigants normally could only appeal orders that were final. In the case of mortgage foreclosures, trial courts had the authority to assess and continue to reassess damages, or grant any relief, until the satisfaction of judgment; therefore, the trial court’s order to reassess damages in the present case was not final, but interlocutory, as it could continue modify damages as necessary until Biddle satisfied the judgment. The trial court additionally argued that the matter was not collateral in nature, as Biddle still had the opportunity to contest damages or seek other relief in the trial court.

The trial court also asserted that Biddle’s appeal was also substantively without merit. It noted that the authority of courts to correct a judgment was a matter of well-settled law. It also noted that under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, the court in the present case need not obtain verification of EMC’s motion.

The trial court further argued that it did not have to order a new trial as to damages. It noted that civil procedure rules granted trial courts discretion over how to settle a material factual dispute. Moreover, the trial court asserted that Biddle had failed to raise a material factual dispute in his answer to EMC’s motion, but instead offered erroneous legal conclusions, which the trial court noted did not give rise to a disputed issue of fact.

Finally, the trial court argued that it was correct in using the mortgage as a basis to calculate new damages. It conceded that while Pennsylvania law normally extinguishes mortgage obligations upon judgment, such obligation can survive if the parties contractually agree to it in the mortgage, which the parties had done in the present case. Therefore, EMC was able to refer to the mortgage to recoup additional costs.

Where plaintiff may continue to contest damages before the trial court, court’s order to reassess damages is interlocutory and does not necessitate immediate appellate review, and plaintiff’s appeal of court’s order should not be granted.