Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 23, 2018

PA Commwth Court Upholds Denial of De Novo Appeal of a Summary Conviction for Storing Unregistered Vehicles

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

The City of Johnstown’s code enforcement officer, LeRoy Palov, observed three uninspected and unregistered vehicles on Lawrence Brandon’s property, each in a state of disrepair and covered with weeds. Palov cited Brandon for a violation of Section 302.8 of the “International Property Maintenance Code” of the City of Johnstown, and filed a private criminal complaint. The magisterial district judge found Brandon guilty after a summary trial. After a de novo hearing, the trial court found Brandon guilty and sentenced him to pay a $100 fine, plus costs.

On appeal, Brandon contended that the proceeding against him should have been commenced by an enforcement proceeding under Section 616.1 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), 53 P.S. § 10616.1, with the zoning hearing board having exclusive jurisdiction. As Brandon did not raise this issue before the trial court, the court found this issue was waived. Even if the arguement was not waived, however, the Johnstown Zoning Code provided that in the event of a “zoning ordinance violation”, the City may only commence  a civil enforcement action. Conversely, a violation of the Property Maintenance Code – as was the case here- was punishable by imprisonment or payment of a fine in a criminal proceeding.

Next, Brandon argumed that the complaint filed against him was defective because the caption read “Brandon Lawrence.” Despite this error, subsequent documents, including the summary appeal docket, correctly identified Lawrence Brandon as the appellant. Additionally,  Brandon did not contest that he owned the property or that the vehicles were on the property at the summary appeal hearing, As such, the court rejected this claim.
Brandon’s final contention was that Section 302.8 of the Property Maintenance Code could not be enforced because it was “deleted.” Again, the court found Brandon failed to raise this issue before the trial court, and the issue was therefore waived.  Notwithstanding this, the court noted that its own research indicated that Section 302.8 of the 2009 edition of the Property Maintenance Code had not been repealed and remained in force. Accordingly, the trial court’s holding was affirmed.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v Brandon, 2018 WL 6164815 (PA Commwlth 11/26/2018)

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