Pennsylvania Real Estate, Land Use, Zoning, and Municipal Lawyers

This blog features case law related to real estate, land use, zoning, and municipal law in Pennsylvania

Month: October 2016

Evidence Supporting Exemption Not Necessary Where Request Clearly Falls Within RTKL Exemption

In this appeal from a final determination of the Office of Open Records, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether an agency’s failure to present evidence in support of their claimed exemption from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), amounted to a default determination requiring disclosure. In finding that it did not, the court held that where the plain language of a request falls within an exemption, additional evidence is unnecessary.

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Actively Used Agricultural Land Not Considered Undeveloped Land When Determining Whether Municipality Is “Underdeveloped”

The Commonwealth Court was presented with an appeal from a validity challenge asserting “apartments” were either excluded from the municipality, or the municipality failed to accommodate its fair share of multi-family housing.  In determining that the challenge was appropriately dismissed, the court concluded that the economic infeasibility of a particular variation of a use did not render the entire use infeasible, and that zoned and actively used agricultural land could not be considered “undeveloped” when determining whether a municipality was underdeveloped.

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Qualified Immunity Protects Officials From Retaliation Claims Based On Threats To Third Parties To Withdraw Political Support

Zaloga owned and operated a medical company that provided contracted services to correctional facilities. Upset over the handling of a dispute with a tire company located adjacent to his home, Zolaga launched political attacks against the Borough Council President and Mayor publically opposing their reelections. About a month after launching these attacks, Zaloga was notified that the County would not continue its contractual arrangement with Zolaga’s company after its current contract expired, but that it could compete with other providers for a new contract.  Zolaga’s attorney informed him however, that according to conversations with Lackawanna County Prison Board members the Council President and Mayor were attempting to block his contract renewal due to his persistent opposition to their decisions regarding the tire facility. Ultimately however, the County unanimously voted to award the contract to Zolaga’s company.  Zolaga then filed a complaint against the Borough of Moosic, the Borough Council, the Borough’s planning commission and zoning board, and various Borough officers alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, which the District Court granted for all defendants except the Borough President. His assertion of qualified immunity, the Court concluded, hinged upon fact questions that would need to be settled by a jury. The Council President appealed.

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Public Employees Have Constitutionally Protected Interest In Home Addresses, Exempt From RTKL Disclosure

In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine the scope of the “personal security” exception to disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”). The Court concluded that the home addresses of public employees are exempt from RTKL disclosure pursuant to the personal safety exception.

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Term Of Renewal Period Not Included When Assessing Realty Transfer Tax To Ground Leases

In this appeal from a determination of the Pennsylvania Board of Finance and Revenue (the “Board”), the Commonwealth Court was asked to interpret the Tax Code and decide whether lease renewal periods are to be considered when determining whether a ground lease is subject to the realty transfer tax. In concluding that renewal periods are not to be included, the Court reversed the determination of the Board and ordered a refund of the taxpayers’ money.

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Request For All Emails To And From A Specific Employee Over A Finite Period Found To Be Adequately Specific For RTKL Request

In this appeal of the final determination of the Office of Open Records (OOR), the Commonwealth Court was asked to weigh in on what constitutes a sufficiently specific request under the Right to Know Law (RTKL).  In affirming the OOR’s determination and ordering the disclosure of the subject records, the court found that it was sufficient for the requestor to ask for all emails to and from a specific employee over a finite period of time.

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Township Permitted Declaratory Relief To Clear Cut Sewage Easement

In this dispute out of Adams County, a Property Owner attempted to prevent a Township from clear cutting a portion of his property in accordance with a 10 year old right-of-way agreement (“ROW Agreement”) for a sewage easement. In affirming the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County’s grant of declaratory relief to the Township, the Commonwealth Court emphasized that the trial court had merely been interpreting the ROW agreement, and various factual disputes raised by the Property Owner were not properly before the lower court.

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Buyers At Upset Sales Responsible For Taxes That Accrue Between Sale And Conveyance Of Title

The Commonwealth Court was asked to weigh in on whether a purchaser of real estate at an upset sale for unpaid taxes was responsible for paying taxes that accrue between the date of purchase at upset sale and the date the deed was conveyed.  In affirming the lower court’s determination, the court held that the purchaser was responsible for such taxes.

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Chicken Processing Facility Encompassed By Ordinance’s Definition Of “Agriculture”

If chickens are raised on the farm, is a plant for processing those chickens considered part of that agricultural use? That was the question presented to the Commonwealth Court in this case.  After analyzing the specific language of the municipal zoning ordinance, the court concluded such a facility was part of an agricultural use and therefore was permitted in a district that only allowed agriculture uses.

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