In a case out of Greene County, the Commonwealth Court was asked to weigh in on a citation appeal related to a property owner covering a sidewalk on his property with a flower bed.  The court determined that the municipality had to actually prove the sidewalk was public for the citation to be valid.

Jannini covered a sidewalk on his property with a flower bed.  The mayor of Greensboro Borough issued him a citation for violating an 1885 ordinance prohibiting the accumulation of material such as filth and debris on sidewalks in the Borough. A magisterial district justice found Jannini guilty and Jannini appealed to the trial court.

In a de novo hearing before the Court of Common Pleas of Greene County Jannini argued the sidewalk at issue was actually a private walkway and that the public sidewalk was located on the opposite side of the street. Therefore he was permitted to remove it whenever he pleased. He also contended that the citation was void because the applicable ordinance had been passed in 1879 rather than 1885, and that the Borough mayor lacked the authority to issue such a citation. The trial court affirmed the conviction for failure to maintain a public sidewalk. It based its finding on a photograph submitted by the Borough that depicted the sidewalk in the 1980s. The picture demonstrated that the sidewalk had been installed in compliance with the dimensional requirements in a 1920s sidewalk ordinance and thus was a public sidewalk.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court overturned the lower court’s decision.  It found that the photograph did not establish that the Borough had required the sidewalk at issue be installed or that it had been dedicated and accepted by the Borough.  Absent proof of this, the sidewalk was a private walkway and could be removed.  The court also found that the date discrepancy on the citation was an excusable error because it did not involve a basic element of the offense charged. Finally, the court determined that the mayor did have the authority to issue citations for violations of Borough ordinances.

Click here to read: Commonwealth v. Jannini, 88 CD 2014 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Oct. 15, 2015).