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Erie Ins. Exch. A/S/O Bates Collision, Inc. James Myers v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n v. Bates Collision, Inc., 2023 Pa. Super. LEXIS 617, 2023 WL 8817712 (December 21, 2023).

BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., OLSON, J., DUBOW, J., KUNSELMAN, J., NICHOLS, J., MURRAY, J., McLAUGHLIN, J., KING, J., and McCAFFERY, J. OPINION BY DUBOW, J. President Judge Panella, and Judges Nichols, Murray, Mclaughlin, King and McCaffery join this opinion. Judge Olson files a dissenting opinion in which Judge Kunselman joins.


Erie Insurance Exchange (“Appellant”) appeals from the order granting summary judgment to United Services Automobile Association (“Appellee”) in its action seeking damages based on promissory estoppel. We conclude that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Appellee after first erroneously recharacterizing Appellant’s promissory estoppel claim as one based on negligent spoliation of evidence and then dismissing on the grounds that Pennsylvania does not recognize negligent spoliation claims. Accordingly, we reverse the order granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee.

Appellant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Appellee subsequently filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. On November 12, 2021, after converting Appellant’s cause of action from one based on promissory estoppel to one of negligent spoliation of evidence and relying on Pyeritz v. Commonwealth, 613 Pa. 80, 32 A.3d 687 (Pa. 2011), the trial court granted Appellee’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and ordered the Prothonotary of Erie County to “enter judgment in favor of [Appellee] and against [Appellant] thereby concluding this litigation; no award to [Appellee] for damages or counsel fees.”

Our Supreme Court has explained that “the doctrine of promissory estoppel is invoked to avoid injustice by making enforceable a promise made by one party to the other when the promisee relies on the promise and therefore changes his own position to his own detriment.” Crouse v. Cyclops Indus., 560 Pa. 394, 745 A.2d 606, 610 (Pa. 2000) (citing Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 90)). A successful cause of action for promissory estoppel requires that the plaintiff plead and prove that: “(1) the promisor made a promise that he should have reasonably expected to induce an action or forbearance on the part of the promisee; (2) the promisee actually took action or refrained from taking action in reliance on the promise; and (3) injustice can only be avoided by enforcing the promise.”

It is undisputed that Appellant’s Complaint only contains one claim, which Appellant titled “Promissory Estoppel.” Complaint, 11/9/18. Our review of the claim indicates that the underlying facts set forth in the Complaint provide for the possible recovery of damages based upon promissory estoppel.

Since these allegations outline a theory of recovery in promissory estoppel, the trial court erred in characterizing Appellant’s properly pleaded promissory estoppel claim as a negligent spoliation claim. See Lobolito, Inc. v. North Pocono School District, 562 Pa. 380, 755 A.2d 1287, 1292 (Pa. 2000) (where the language used in the complaint was sufficient to make out a promissory estoppel claim for purposes of surviving preliminary objections).

In sum, by ignoring the claim that Appellant actually pleaded in the Complaint, and instead converting Appellant’s claim to one that Appellant did not plead and then dismissing that claim on the basis of Pyeritz, the trial court erred.

In conclusion, the trial court erred in converting Appellant’s promissory estoppel claim to one of negligent spoliation and dismissing the Complaint on the grounds that Pennsylvania does not recognize a cause of action for negligent spoliation of evidence.