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

Tag: breach of contract

Borough did not Breach Contract When it Incorrectly Issued Building Permits to Developer

Cornell applied to the Borough for building permits to construct detached single-family homes on a four-lot subdivision. Before submitting, Cornell met with the Borough Manager and the company that performed building inspections (the “Building Inspector”) to discuss construction. The Borough informed Cornell that local ordinances did not require automatic sprinkler systems in detached single-family residences. Cornell thereafter obtained building permits. The permit applications stated the residences would be constructed with pre-engineered wood roof trusses and would not have automatic sprinklers. The Building Inspector visited the site throughout construction, and performed a final inspection when the first residence was completed.  The Building Inspector told the Borough to issue the certificate of occupancy, but the Borough refused on the basis that automatic sprinklers were required in homes constructed with pre-engineered wood roof trusses. The Building Inspector thereafter refused to perform final inspections of the remaining residences until sprinklers were installed.  Cornell filed suit against the Borough and Building Inspector in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County asserting claims for: (1) breach of contract; (2) promissory estoppel; (3) negligent misrepresentation; (4) violation of the equal protection clause of the US Constitution; and (5) violation of the equal protection clause of the Pennsylvania constitution. The Borough asserted that Cornell’s allegations, while couched as contractual or quasi-contractual claims, were “clearly based upon negligence” and, thus, were barred by the Tort Claims Act. The Building Inspector argued it had acted as the Borough’s employee in its capacity as the appointed building inspector, and was therefore also immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act. The trial court granted the Borough and Building Inspector’s motions for summary judgment, and rejected Cornell’s contract claims.  The trial court reasoned the alleged contractual “promise” was unenforceable because the permits were freely revocable by the Borough. It further concluded the promissory estoppel claim was actually a negligence claim, and it and the negligent misrepresentation claim were barred by the Tort Claims Act. Lastly it rejected the equal protection claims. Cornell appealed.

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Township Can be Held Vicariously Liable for Actions of Board of Supervisors Members

In this breach of contract action out of Montgomery County, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether a municipality could be held vicariously liable for the actions of members of a Township Board of Supervisors. In reversing the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County’s decision, the Commonwealth Court held that, similar to a private corporation, a political subdivision can only carry out its duties through its agents, servants, and employees; including members of its governing body.  As agents of the municipality, the municipality could be held vicariously liable for their actions.

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