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PARSONS BROTHERS SLATE COMPANY v. COMMONWEALTH (06/30/65)

decided: June 30, 1965.

PARSONS BROTHERS SLATE COMPANY
v.
COMMONWEALTH, APPELLANT



Appeals from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Nov. T., 1961, Nos. 38 and 39, in cases of Parsons Brothers Slate Company v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Highways; and Lyonal G. Parsons, H. Lucas Parsons and Stella P. Hill v. Same.

COUNSEL

George R. Specter, Assistant Attorney General, with him Michael R. Deckman, Principal Right of Way Counsel, Joseph F. Torsella and Joseph A. Klein, Assistant Attorneys General, John R. Rezzolla, Chief Counsel, and Walter E. Alessandroni, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellant.

George F. Coffin, Jr., with him Raymond J. DeRaymond, J. Lawrence Davis, and Coffin, Grifo and DeRaymond, and Davis, Pritchard and Cassebaum, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Mr. Justice Roberts concurs in the result. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Cohen joins in this opinion.

Author: Musmanno

[ 418 Pa. Page 390]

On March 9, 1961, counsel for the plaintiffs in this case, owners of certain lands in Northampton County, notified the Department of Highways, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that they would accept $65,000 in settlement of the taking of segments of those lands in connection with a Commonwealth highway project. The letter specified: "This will advise you that we, owners and lessee of said property, will accept the sum of $65,000, gross, in full settlement of all damages, provided this settlement is processed promptly. This letter is written without prejudice to press for damages in a

[ 418 Pa. Page 391]

    larger amount, in the event settlement is not effected, within a reasonable time, on the above basis."

Within six days after receipt of this letter the Commonwealth delivered to the office of one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs a deed of release and quitclaim which stated that, in consideration of $65,000, the property owners remised, released, quitclaimed and forever discharged the Commonwealth from damages and claims arising out of the taking of their property.

The plaintiffs refused to sign the deed of release and quitclaim and filed in the court of common pleas a petition for viewers' proceedings. The board of view, after hearings and inspection of the property, filed an award of damages in the sum of $168,000. The Commonwealth appealed and, in the ensuing jury trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the property owners in the amount of $200,000.

The Commonwealth moved for a new trial and argued before the court en banc that upon its delivery the release-quitclaim deed, a binding contract came into being and that the plaintiffs had to accept $65,000 in full settlement of all damages incurred through the eminent domain proceedings. The court rejected the contention, stating: "Defendant's presentation to plaintiffs of the unexecuted release for their signature did not constitute a binding acceptance of the offer plaintiffs had made. At most, it was an acceptance contingent upon a future event, i.e., the execution by plaintiffs of the release. 'A contract is not made so long as, in the contemplation of both parties thereto, something remains to be done to establish contract relations': 12 Am. Jur., Contracts, § 23, p. 519. If the view of defendant is correct, there was a contract binding on all parties from the moment the release was presented. This clearly was not the intent of the Commonwealth. Obviously it did not propose to be bound until plaintiffs at least executed the release. There was nothing to

[ 418 Pa. Page 392]

    prevent defendant from withdrawing from the arrangement before the release was executed and, by the same token, there was nothing to prevent plaintiffs from withdrawing ...


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