On November 26, 2008 Gaughen submitted a land development plan to the Borough Manager of Mechanicsburg seeking approval for a 5-unit apartment complex under the Borough’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO). On December 10, the Borough Engineer issued a memo stating that the plan did not comply with certain provisions of the Zoning Ordinance, SALDO, and Stormwater Ordinance. Thereafter Gaughen never submitted a revised plan to the Borough and the Borough never notified Gaughen that his application was incomplete or not filed. The 90-day period in which the Borough had to act on Gaughen’s plans, pursuant to the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), expired on February 24, 2009. On February 25th the Borough received an extension from Gaughen’s engineer. On June 2nd the Borough officially denied Gaughen’s plan. Six months later Gaughen instituted a mandamus action seeking a deemed approval based on the Borough’s failure to act on the plan or receive an extension by February 24th.
The Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County dismissed Gaughen’s claims and entered judgment in favor of the Borough. The trial court held that there could be no deemed approval because the 90-day window for action had never began to run. Gaughen’s plan, it determined, had not been properly filed because it did not conform to the substantive requirements of the SALDO. Gaughen appealed.
On appeal the Commonwealth Court reversed. It found that Gaughen was only required to satisfy the SALDO’s formal filing requirements, rather than all substantive SALDO requirements, to trigger the running of the 90-day review window. Further, the court found that even though Gaughen had not satisfied all of the SALDO’s filing requirements, his plan was still considered “filed” because the Borough had treated it as though it were filed. Specifically, the court cited the fact that after reviewing the Borough Engineer’s memo the Borough continued to review the plan despite knowing of the possible deficiencies that could have been grounds for rejecting the plan as incomplete.