Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Greene County, Sept. T., 1966, No. 3, in matter of condemnation and taking of certain real estate of Lawrence F. McClelland situate in Township of Jefferson.
W. Robert Thompson, with him Thompson and Baily, for appellant.
George R. Specter, Assistant Attorney General, with him Robert W. Cunliffe, Assistant Attorney General, John R. Rezzolla, Deputy Attorney General, and William C. Sennett, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice O'Brien. Mr. Justice Cohen and Mr. Justice Eagen concur in the result. Mr. Chief Justice Bell took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
The appellant is the owner of a parcel of 1.239 acres located in Jefferson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania,
upon which his home is located. On February 21, 1961, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways filed a construction plan for the improvement of L.R. 112, Section I, which is a two-lane highway running east and west, commonly designated as State Traffic Route 21. The appellant's property is located on the north side of the highway and the southern boundary thereof is a line paralleling the northern right-of-way line of the construction plan, about forty to sixty feet distant therefrom to the north. The right-of-way line takes none of appellant's property, and, in fact, there is an intervening property between their line and the right-of-way line of the construction plan, so that it does not abut the right-of-way line. The actual construction of the improvement began on May 26, 1965, and was completed some months later, on October 26, 1965.
In the course of construction, appellant's well went dry, and the Commonwealth and its agencies paid appellant $2,042.37, the cost of digging a deeper well. Appellant signed a release "from all suits, damages claims and demands whatsoever, in law or equity, against it or them or any of them, for or on account of taking, injury or destruction of property known as Route 112 Para., Section 1, R/W R.D. No.2, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, through or by reason of the improvement of Route 112 Para., Section 1, R/W including the change of any streams, water courses, loss of wells and drainage structures or facilities, or through or by reason of the subsequent maintenance thereof, according to the standards of the Department of Highways."
Prior to construction, the access road to the appellant's house was by way of a township road that intersected Route 21 directly to the south of appellant's property, but at that point, the road improvement
included a large cut of nearly eighty to a hundred feet, leaving the old access road to dead end on the top of a high embankment, approximately fifty feet beyond appellant's house with a fence across it for safety purposes. There is now an entry to Route 21 some one hundred or more yards to the west, coming up to the property from the other direction. However, there is some dispute as to whether that road is public or private, and it appears that the road may well be so steep and in such poor condition as to be virtually impassible in winter.
Appellant asked for the appointment of viewers on June 20, 1966, which appointment was made. An amendment to the petition was allowed on September 14, 1966, whereupon appellant served his amended complaint. For some reason not disclosed by the record, the viewers did not proceed immediately but set a date for a view on April 18, 1967, and a date for taking of testimony on April 19, 1967. The Commonwealth, on April 17, 1967 petitioned the court for a rule directed to appellant to show cause why the suit should not be dismissed and the viewers' proceedings stayed. In that petition, the Commonwealth contended that appellant had suffered no compensable damages and further, that the release quoted above was a bar to further proceedings. The court ordered that the viewers' proceedings continue for the purpose of viewing the premises, but that the taking of testimony and further proceedings before the viewers be stayed pending disposition of the matters of law raised by the Commonwealth. The court set April 29, 1967 for hearing and argument on the Commonwealth's ...