The Philadelphia Commerce Court Case Management Program ("Commerce Court") is a specialized civil program of the Trial Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Commercial and business-to-business disputes filed after January 2000, that are not subject to the court's Compulsory Arbitration Program, are assigned to the Commerce Court.
The trial judges assigned to the Commerce Court are all experienced jurists. They routinely hear complex disputes involving, but not limited to: corporate shareholders, company members and partners; sales, mergers and dissolutions of businesses; commercial real estate transactions; construction and other business contracts; commercial insurance policies; legal, accounting and other professional (non-medical) malpractice; unfair competition, corporate fraud and theft of trade secrets; and negotiable instruments.
Cases assigned to the Commerce Court are governed by the same state and local rules of procedure that apply to all other civil cases. Each case in the Commerce Court is assigned to a single judge who is then responsible for handling all aspects of the case, including discovery disputes, preliminary objections, summary judgment and other motions, and trial. At present, there are three judges assigned to the Commerce Court: Judge Patricia A. McInerney, who serves as Supervising Judge of the Commerce Court; Judge Gary S. Glazer; and Judge Ramy I. Djerassi.
A dedicated team of five Court Administrative Officers and law clerks assists the Judges and their chambers staff in the management and resolution of cases assigned to the Commerce Court. In addition, more than 120 qualified members of the commercial bar serve as court appointed settlement judges pro tempore, receivers, and discovery masters in Commerce Court cases.
A Commerce Court case is commenced in the same manner as any other civil case by the electronic filing of a Summons and/or Complaint. In order to have a case assigned to the Commerce Court, the filing party should choose "Commerce" as the Program type on the Court's electronic filing system and fill out the electronic form entitled "Commerce Court Program Addendum," which sets forth the types of cases eligible for assignment to the Commerce Court. Not all cases involving businesses are entitled to be filed in the Commerce Court.
If the plaintiff's initial filing does not indicate that the case should be assigned to the Commerce Court, any party who believes the case should be so assigned may file a "Notice of Management Program Dispute" requesting that the case be transferred to the Commerce Court. This Notice should be filed as soon as possible. The Coordinating Judge of the Commerce Court will then decide if the case should be transferred to the Commerce Court. This Notice should also be used if a party thinks a case was mistakenly assigned to the Commerce Court.
A motion for preliminary or special injunction may be filed electronically along with the Complaint or after a Complaint has been filed. If the motion involves an emergency, the filer should so indicate when asked by the electronic system. Once the motion has been accepted for filing, court personnel will assign the motion to a Commerce Court judge, who may issue an order regarding service, responses, and a hearing. In addition, Commerce Court staff may contact the filer to see if service has been made or to schedule a hearing. With respect to emergency motions, there is no need for counsel to appear at the courthouse until requested to do so by the court. However, counsel may contact Commerce Court staff to alert them to the filing of the emergency motion.
Approximately three months after a Commerce Court case is commenced, the case will be scheduled for a Case Management Conference. At that Conference, counsel will meet with a Commerce Court Administrative Officer ("CAO") to discuss assignment and scheduling of the case. If the CAO determines that the case was improperly filed in Commerce, the case may be transferred to the appropriate court program. If it is a proper Commerce case, then the case will be assigned to an appropriate Case Management Track after consultation with counsel.
Counsel should complete beforehand, and bring to the conference, a Commerce Court Case Management Memorandum. In response to Question 8 of that Form, counsel should list five or more Commerce Judges Pro Tempore ("JPTs") for the mandatory settlement conference, which will usually be held after discovery is completed and before the pre-trial conference.
All pleadings, discovery motions, preliminary objections, summary judgment and other motions, and all responses to motions should be filed electronically in Commerce Court cases the same way they are filed in other civil trial programs. Court personnel will assign all Commerce motions to the Commerce judge assigned to the case.
In rare cases, the court may agree to allow the parties to file a motion or pleading, or a portion thereof, under seal. The procedures for sealing portions of the record are set forth below.
Once discovery is complete and dispositive motions are decided, each Commerce Court case will be listed for a settlement conference with one of the Commerce JPTs. If both parties want a settlement conference scheduled earlier, they may send a joint letter to the assigned Commerce judge requesting an earlier settlement conference.
Each party should prepare a Settlement Conference Memorandum, which should be served on all counsel and the JPT at least ten days before the Settlement Conference. The JPT may also request that the parties provide additional information to the JPT only. The parties are expected to appear for the Settlement Conference, unless they are excused by the JPT.
The assigned JPT will provide up to three hours of his/her services to the parties for free. If the parties wish to continue to engage in settlement discussions or to mediate their differences with the JPT's assistance, they shall pay the JPT $300 per hour for each additional hour.
The Commerce Court judges often issue opinions in connection with their rulings on motions, at trial, and on appeal. Those opinions are available below and on commercial legal databases, such as Westlaw and LEXIS.
Additional information regarding Commerce Court practices and procedures may be found in the Commerce Court Case Management Program section of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Civil Practice Manual.