Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 9, 2018

PA Appeals Court Holds Civil-Arbitration Panel’s Judgment Regarding Enforcement of Cited Zoning Violations Did Not Constitute Res Judicata as Dates of Enforcement Were Not the Same

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Willistown Township brought zoning-enforcement actions against property owner, Main Line Gardens, which operated a garden center, for per diem violations of ordinance concerning the dumping, storing, transferring, or processing of tree waste in the form of wood chips. The magisterial district court entered judgment against owner on each complaint. Main Line appealed, and a civil-arbitration panel entered an award in township’s favor in one of the actions and in owner’s favor in the remaining actions. Township appealed the actions that were not decided in its favor. The Court of Common Pleas, entered judgment for township in all of the appealed actions, awarded township attorney fees, and denied owner’s post-trial motions. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded.


The record reflected that the Township initiated these matters through the filing of seven civil complaints in magisterial district court, seeking to recover $12,000 in fines for seven discrete 12–day periods in 2012. After civil arbitrations in the seven cases, an arbitration panel entered an award in favor of the Township in one action in the amount of $21,274.67, and in favor of Main Line in the remaining six actions. The Township appealed the six arbitration awards entered against it and in favor of Main Line to the trial court de novo. Here, the court found Main Line failed to allege that the Township’s proposed amendments to its complaints to reflect that each of the six complaints corresponded to the discrete 12–day periods set forth in the Township’s complaints filed in the magisterial district court violated a positive rule of law, and even conceded it would not suffer prejudice as a result of the amendments. Moreover, the court found that because the Township’s amended complaints each related to a different time period in which Main Line violated the zoning ordinance, the object of each suit was not the same, andres judicata did not apply.


Main Line next contended the trial court’s modification of the arbitrators’ award was improper. Contrary to Main Line’s assertions, however, the court determined that the trial court did not alter the final, unappealed arbitration award entered in favor of the Township. Instead, the trial court merely noted the Township sought the imposition of fines, attorney fees, and costs for seven discrete 12–day periods. Furthermore, the trial court’s determination that the arbitration panel’s award in favor of the Township in one of the seven cases pertained to only one of the seven separate and discrete 12–day violation periods was supported by the record. Accordingly, the orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County were affirmed.


Board of Supervisors of Willistown Township v Main Line Gardens, Inc., 184 A. 3d 615 (PA Cmwlth 5/9/2018)


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