In this case out of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Court was asked to apply and interpret § 302(e) of the Eminent Domain Code. The court determined that the requirement of § 302(e) that a declaration of taking be filed within one year of being authorized did not function like a statute of limitations and that condemnation only had to be reauthorized after the one year time limit had lapsed.
In March 2013 the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) submitted a plan to the State Secretary of Transportation requesting authority to condemn 44 properties for a highway improvement project. The plan was authorized by the Secretary and filed with the recorder of deeds but no further action was taken. Approximately one year later, in February 2014, PennDOT submitted a revised plan to the Secretary, which was similarly authorized and recorded. In April 2014 PennDOT filed a declaration of taking condemning the properties. The owner of three of the condemned properties filed preliminary objections to the condemnation asserting it was untimely based on § 302(e) of the Eminent Domain Code. Section 302(e) required a condemnor file a declaration of taking within one year of the action authorizing the condemnation. This, the property owner argued, functioned akin to a statute of limitations, and, once the year had lapsed, no further reauthorization of the condemnation could occur.
The trial court sustained the preliminary objection and PennDOT appealed. On appeal the Commonwealth Court reversed the lower court’s decision. It found that § 302(e) could not be interpreted or enforced as though it were a statute of limitation. Such an interpretation, the court reasoned, would lead to an absurd result by which a condemnor could be forever precluded from condemning a parcel of land for failing to file a declaration of taking within a year of receiving authorization to proceed with the condemnation. Instead, the court found that failure to act within one year of authorization simply meant that the planned condemnation had to be reauthorized. As the Secretary had reauthorized the condemnation plan in February 2014, it had been improper for the court to sustain the property owner’s preliminary objections.
Click here to read: In Re Appeal of PennDOT, 1308 C.D. 2014 (Pa. Cmwlth. Jan. 29, 2016).