City of Harrisburg, from visithersheyharrisburg.org.

The Harrisburg Patriot News/Penn Live reports that a default judgment was entered against the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in a lawsuit arguing that the city’s firearms ordinances violate Pennsylvania’s firearms preemption laws. A Dauphin County prothonotary (the chief clerk of the court) entered the judgment against for $21,400 in attorney fees, “plus additional sums as may be assessed” because of an oversight that omitted the name of plaintiff Howard Bullock from a filing made by Harrisburg’s attorneys requesting removal of the suits against Harrisburg’s ordinances. In other words . . .

they wanted the action to be transferred from Pennsylvania Courts to a federal court. The defendants in this suit requested this because the plaintiffs had asserted a violation of constitutional rights; as a matter of strategy, they probably expected that their chances would be better in federal court. Because of this oversight, the city technically did not file an answer or preliminary objection to Bullock’s complaint within the required 20 days, so Bullock’s attorney, Joshua Prince, sought a default judgment in his client’s favor.

It is also the second strike against Harrisburg’s anti-gun efforts in recent days. Last week, Dauphin County Judge Andrew Dowling delivered a more serious blow when he issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of three of Harrisburg’s gun ordinances, which barred possession of firearms in parks during a state of emergency, and by unaccompanied minors, as regulating “lawful” conduct, therefore violating Pennsylvania’s state preemption law. Judge Dowling did not enjoin two other ordinances at issue: Harrisburg’s lost and stolen firearms ordinance, or another ordinance barring the discharge of firearms within the city limits.

What’s interesting here is that the default judgment entered in Bullock’s case actually covers all five ordinances. Plaintiff’s attorney Prince is making the argument that since Bullock’s case wasn’t removed to federal court, it still remains in state court and as a result, is planning to schedule a hearing for assessment of damages and additional attorney fees” incurred by his client. Harrisburg’s attorneys are going to argue that this is a technical point.

On a lighter note, Harry Truman, being introduced to a protohonotary while on a campaign swing through Pennsylvania in 1948, reportedly asked: “What the hell is a prothonotary?” Truman went on to lose Pennsylvania that year to Thomas E. Dewey by around 4 points. Moral of the story: don’t mess with Pennsylvania prothonotaries.

7 Responses to PA Legal Team Loses Preemption Suit on Technical Grounds

  1. Note: If there is a time limit to file, you must file in time, or lose.

    I learned this the hard way on a minor legal issue some decades ago, which prepared me a few years later to win a much more major case by reminding my attorney then of the time limitation. He later went on to win many more cases on this technicality against government entities who too often respond very slowly.

  2. No idea what the aw is in Pennsylvania, but I have no doubt that this default would be set aside in any and all California courts by “mistake, inadvertence, or neglect.” In fact, entering a default when the plaintiff knows the name of opposing counsel and fails to warn before entering a default is pretty much considered to be unethical (not quite, but close enough.) I would be surprised if Pa. did not have a similar law.

    • Mark N. [q]In fact, entering a default when the plaintiff knows the name of opposing counsel and fails to warn before entering a default is pretty much considered to be unethical[/q]
      Might what to reread that again Mark, the defendant failed to name the plaintiff in their request for transfer [to fed court] thus an incomplete filing and that is the same as not filing thus the default judgement.
      As to being ethical or not, not sure where that line is drawn [when you see the enemy losing do you step in and correct him/her?] If it was a matter of a criminal case I would be inclined to agree with you.
      I had to reread it twice myself [that’s how I caught your error]

  3. We have a Democrat governor, again, so I figure he will try to get rid of the Uniform Firearms Act, or at least bog it down in legalistic crap. He is an accomplished obstructionist from way back and a close friend of Fast Eddie Rendell.

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