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WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP v. OSWALD (06/03/60)

June 3, 1960

WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP
v.
OSWALD, APPELLANT.



Appeals, Nos. 4 and 5, Jan. T., 1960, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Jan. T., 1959, No. 194, in cases of Township of Whitehall v. Gerald Oswald, and Same v. John Reiss. Judgment vacated.

COUNSEL

Paul A. McGinley, with him W. Hamlin Neely, for appellants.

Thomas J. Calnan, Jr., with him Robert N. St. Mary, for township, appellee.

G. Thomas Miller, and Bailey, Pearson, Miller & Bolton, for amicus curiae.

W. Byron Sorrell, and White, Sorrell & Williamson, of the Washington, D.C., Bar, and G. Thomas Miller, for amicus curiae.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 400 Pa. Page 66]

OPINION BY MR. CHIEF JUSTICE JONES.

The Township of Whitehall, in Lehigh County, a township of the first class, enacted an ordinance, known as "The Trailer and Trailer Park Ordinance", which provides, inter alia, that "No person shall occupy any trailer coach for sleeping or living quarters outside a duly permitted trailer park" and further prescribes penal sanctions for violations.

Following enactment of the ordinance, Gerald Oswald and John Reiss, the appellants herein, purchased and occupied house trailers, as homes, upon

[ 400 Pa. Page 67]

    land situate in the township outside "a duly permitted trailer park." The chief of police of the township, at the direction of the board of commissioners, gave notice to Oswald and Reiss that they were in violation of the ordinance and subject to the fines and penalties provided therein. Without any effort to enforce the ordinance against Oswald and Reiss, the township filed a petition in the court of common pleas of the county praying a declaratory judgment affirming the constitutionality of the ordinance in its application to Oswald and Reiss. The basis for invoking the court's jurisdiction of the township's declaratory judgment petition was, as averred therein, that "there is a conflict of judicial opinion as to the constitutionality of ordinances of the nature and type" of the Whitehall Township Ordinance in question. The court took jurisdiction of the petition and adjudged and decreed that the ordinance is constitutional. From that judgment Oswald and Reiss have appealed.

The present proceeding is unique in at least one particular for which no parallel is to be found in the annals of Pennsylvania's jurisprudence. The plaintiff township, a political subdivision, seeks, by means of a declaratory judgment petition, a judicial pronouncement upon the constitutionality of its own voluntary enactment. It is as unorthodox as it is extraordinary for a municipality to enact an ordinance and then forthwith supplicate a court's determination of its constitutionality. To construe the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act as granting such a right to a governmental body would be to encourage legislative irresponsibility and to constitute the courts the legal advisers of municipalities with respect to their legislative enactments. If a ...


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