Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether: (1) the repeal of an ordinance mooted any challenges to that ordinance; (2) whether the Commonwealth Court may issue an opinion on the merits of certain issues where it subsequently remands the case for a determination of mootness on another issue; and (3) whether parties to a hearing can continue a challenge to a zoning ordinance once the original challenger has withdrawn. Because “parties to a hearing” are distinct from “party appellants,” unless the former have taken steps to become party appellants, the Supreme Court found they cannot continue the challenge. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court’s decision permitting parties to the hearing to continue the challenge brought by the original party appellant was reversed, and the attempted challenge was dismissed. View "Stuckley v. ZHB of Newtown Twp." on Justia Law

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Appellees owned a 166-acre farm in Lower Makefield Township. On December 6, 1996, Lower Maker Township condemned the property in order to build a public golf course. Appellees filed preliminary objections challenging the validity of using eminent domain for such a purpose. That issue was eventually appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which found the taking was for a legitimate public use. As the parties were unable to agree on damages, the matter proceeded to a jury trial for a calculation of the property's value. The trial lasted six days, and a total of 11 witnesses were called, one of whom was appellee Chester Dalgewicz. Mr. Dalgewicz testified regarding the farm's history and the interest shown by several developers in purchasing the property, and described some of the offers received both before and after the property was condemned, including a 1995 agreement of sale with Ryland Homes for $5.1 million, and a 1998 sales agreement with Toll Brothers for $7 million, contingent upon the condemnation being overturned. During Mr. Dalgewicz's testimony, he described a December, 1998 written offer from Pulte Homes, Inc., including a $8 million offer price; the offer letter was also introduced into evidence. The Township objected arguing the offer was inadmissible as it did not result in a sales agreement and any testimony concerning the offer price would be irrelevant and prejudicial. The Township appealed the Commonwealth Court's order affirming the trial court's ruling that testimony regarding a bona fide offer and the underlying offer letter itself could be introduced into evidence in a condemnation valuation trial. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions. View "Lower Maker Township v. Lands of Chester Dalgewicz" on Justia Law

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Appellants Charles and Agnes Messina, and Lehigh Asphalt Paving and Construction Company appealed the Commonwealth Court's affirmation of the order of the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas, which held appellants' challenge to East Penn Township Zoning Ordinance No. 1996-94 was time-barred. Charles and Agnes Messina own 114.4 acres in East Penn Township where they reside in a single-family residence. Lehigh Asphalt Paving and Construction Company is the equitable owner of the property pursuant to an option contract, and it uses a portion of the property as a quarry. In 2008, appellants filed a lawsuit in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas asserting the Ordinance was void ab initio because East Penn Township failed to strictly adhere to procedural requirements for adopting a zoning ordinance as required by section10610(b) of the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). Appellants specifically argued East Penn Township made changes to the zoning map on the night of the Ordinance's adoption and failed to provide notice to the public of these changes before enacting them. The trial court was unable to determine what changes had been made to the Ordinance on the night of its adoption, due to the record's vagueness, and offered to hold an evidentiary hearing on what changes had been made, but the parties declined. Consequently, the trial court held appellants failed to show a substantial change made and found the claim was statutorily time-barred. Upon review of the lower courts' records, the Supreme Court affirmed the holdings that appellants' claim was time-barred because they failed to meet their burden of proof that the township did not substantially comply with statutory procedure as required by the applicable statute. View "Messina v. East Penn Twp." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Developer-Appellee 500 James Hance Court, LP entered into a construction management agreement with Contractor Gorman Construction Company, Inc., pertaining to the erection of a building at 500 James Hance Court, situated within the Oaklands Corporate Center in Exton, Chester County. According to the agreement, the contemplated, 68,000-square-foot structure was to be used as an elementary charter school, and the project was denominated "Collegium Charter School." Soon after the lease and related contracts were executed, the Bureau of Labor Law Compliance notified the School that it was investigating the project to determine whether prevailing wages were required. In this regard, the Bureau explained that charter school construction was treated the same as a traditional school project (re: public works project) for prevailing wage purposes. If the project's phases could be bifurcated, both the school and Appellee would be responsible. The issue between the parties centered on who was ultimately responsible for compliance with the prevailing wage law: the contractor or the school. The Commonwealth Court had found no evidence that the charter school had any role in determining space and performance goals for the project, and therefore the school was responsible for compliance. But upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Board’s determination that the lease was a disguised construction contract for the building as a whole, was based on legal error and essential findings which lacked substantial evidentiary support. Facially, the project was rationally divisible according to major phases of shell and fit-out construction. As to the shell, Appellees established the private character of the funding. Furthermore, in terms of economic reality, Appellees presented a prima facie case that Developer's only relationship with the School was per a bona fide pre-development lease. The Bureau failed to go forward with sufficient evidence to the contrary to overcome this prima facie case, and as such, affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "500 James Hance Ct. v. Pa. Prevailing Wage Appeals Bd." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court pertained to the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act and whether it preempted a provision in a local zoning ordinance that established a setback for mining activities from all residential structures. The zoning ordinance at issue, which was enacted by Adams Township in Cambria County after the effective date of the Surface Mining Act, permits mining activities in a district known as the Conservancy (S) District only by special exception. Hoffman Mining Company, Inc. (Hoffman Mining) sought to mine for coal on a 182.1-acre tract of land within the Adams Township Conservancy (S) District adjacent to the Village of Mine 42. Hoffman Mining requested a special exception mine which was denied by the Zoning Board. Hoffman Mining appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the Zoning Board's denial. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that with enactment of the Surface Mining Act, the General Assembly did not expressly or impliedly preempt a local zoning ordinance that imposes a residential setback from mining activities. The Court did "not discern an intent of the General Assembly to completely deprive local zoning authorities of their MPC-enabled authority and responsibility for land use management and planning as applied to the location and siting of surface mining in their municipalities." Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Hoffman Mining Co., v. Zoning Hearing Board of Adams Twp." on Justia Law

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Appellants the Piper Group filed a constitutional challenge to a 1996 zoning ordinance enacted by Bedminster Township. In support of this challenge, Piper relied on an opinion from the Supreme Court that had been announced six days earlier pertaining to the same ordinance, "C&M Developers, Inc. v. Bedminster Twp. Hearing Bd." In "C&M," the Court invalidated the Township’s ordinance because it contained certain requirements that unconstitutionally restricted a landowner’s development rights. Relying heavily on C&M, Piper identified those same constitutional defects and sought permission to develop its land at a significantly higher density than would have been permissible under the invalidated ordinance. The Board of Supervisors, the trial court, and the Commonwealth Court all rejected Piper’s proposed cure to the unconstitutionality and held that Piper could develop its land in accordance with the Township’s alternative amended ordinance which cured the constitutional defects in the 1996 ordinance as identified in C&M and allowed increased development, but not to the extent requested by Piper. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Piper argued that the lower courts improperly denied Piper the full relief it requested. Specifically, Piper argued that the decisions violated the Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”) and the “pending ordinance doctrine” as set forth in "Casey v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Warwick Twp.," (328 A.2d 464 (Pa. 1974)) and its progeny. The Court disagreed and therefore affirmed the lower courts' decisions.

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Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, Inc. developed rules and regulations that were recorded as protective covenants running with the land in a development in Salem Township, Wayne County. Appellees John and Regina Glatfelter purchased a lot within the Indian Rocks community. John died in 1990 leaving Regina as the sole owner of the lot. The lot sat vacant until 2003 when the Glatfelters' son David began constructing a foundation. The Association initially inspected and approved the excavation, but late that year informed the Glatfelters that the work was substandard and inadequate pursuant to the covenants. The Glatfelters were ordered to cease construction until a new plan was approved. The Glatfelters agreed to stop work until they submitted a new application for construction in conformance with the covenants, but they failed to comply with the agreement. The Association brought suit to enforce the covenants, which the trial court approved and entered into its order. Since that suit, the Commonwealth amended the Construction Code to exempt "recreational cabins" from its requirements. Adopting the Construction Code, the Association passed a resolution refusing to recognize the recreational cabin exemption. When the Glatfelters sought to use the changed Construction Code to their advantage, the Association argued that its refusal to recognize the Code's changed cabin exemption did not apply to the Glatfelters' construction project. The trial court granted the Association's contempt petition against the Glatfelters. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the Glatfelters stipulated that they would comply with the Association's rules prior to the change in the Code. As such, they were bound to the terms of the stipulation when completing their construction project: "the Glatfelters cannot use the recreational cabin exemption as a trump card to bypass the rules and regulations to which they agreed. … Our holding is premised entirely on the Glatfelters' failure to obtain the Association's approval regarding the intended structure." The Court did not address the validity of the Association's resolution refusing the adopt the recreational cabin exemption.