Judge suggests lawsuit be sent to state Superior Court

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A visiting judge suggested Wednesday that a lawsuit in which Altoona developer Greg S. Morris is suing his former attorney, C. Wayne Hippo Jr., be sent to the Pennsylvania Superior Court for clarification of a legal point.

“You could take it to the bank; one way or the other, this case is going to the Superior Court,” said Judge Stewart Kurtz, a senior judge from Huntingdon County, after hearing a hour of legal argument concerning the future of the lawsuit, which Morris said involves millions of dollars in damages.

Hippo, a former Altoona mayor, through his attorney, Mary Lou Maierhofer, is attempting to have the lawsuit dismissed, contending any legal claims Morris has with Hippo were resolved several years ago when Morris agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee, Richard S. Bowen.

Bowen was vice president of development for Morris Management Inc. from 2000-08 and had the task of heading a development team and carrying through on projects for Morris’ firm.

He lost his job when Morris found out Bowen and Hippo were part of two other development groups, Templar Development LLC, which was incorporated in 2006, and Templar Elmerton, which, according to a previous opinion by Kurtz, was in direct competition with Morris Management.

In 2009, Morris filed notice of a lawsuit against Hippo and his Altoona law firm, and in 2015, he filed the lawsuit listing 11 counts, including breach of contract and negligence.

Just prior to filing the lawsuit against Hippo, Bowen filed a lawsuit against Morris for back pay.

Morris answered by filing a countersuit against Bowen.

The Bowen-Morris lawsuit was eventually resolved out of court.

Maierhofer is contending that Morris’ lawsuit against Hippo should be dismissed because the release that accompanied the settlement of the Morris-Bowen lawsuit allegedly released Hippo from the legal claims in the countersuit.

She is contending that Hippo cannot be sued a second time for essentially that same issues that were resolved by the Bowen settlement.

Kurtz, in an opinion filed in Blair County on Nov. 27, refused to dismiss the lawsuit against Hippo, but on Wednesday, Maierhofer argued in a petition for reconsideration that the judge had referred to a line of precedential cases that were out-of-date.

In her motion for reconsideration, Maierhofer argued that Morris’ counterclaim — and thus his claims against both Bowen and Hippo — were dismissed because of the release in the Morris-Bowen lawsuit.

Morris’ Pittsburgh attorney, Timothy G. Wojton, contended the Morris-Bowen lawsuit settlement did not include Hippo and that Morris had no intention of settling his claims against Hippo through legal actions with Bowen.

As the argument was concluding, Kurtz said if the attorneys desired, he would agree to certify the question to the Superior Court for pretrial resolution.

In her request for reconsideration, Maierhofer suggested Kurtz “certify this legal issue on the proper application of law to a release for appeal to the Superior Court.”

Wojton pointed out this would cause a delay in the trial of the case but agreed that sending it to the Superior Court was better than going through months of further legal proceedings without knowing for sure how the Superior Court would eventually rule.