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LANGHORNE SPRING WATER COMPANY APPEAL (03/20/70)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: March 20, 1970.

LANGHORNE SPRING WATER COMPANY APPEAL

Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Jan. T., 1967, No. 857, in re condemnation of L.R. 281, Par. 12-A Middletown Township, etc., being property of Langhorne Spring Water Company.

COUNSEL

William H. Rivoir, Jr., for appellant.

Robert L. White, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones.

Author: Jones

[ 437 Pa. Page 299]

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, acting through the Department of Highways, condemned certain parcels of land of the Langhorne Spring Water Company [Water Company], Middletown Township, Bucks County, as of May 14, 1963, revised July 13, 1964. The Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, on January 30, 1967, appointed a board of view, which, after hearing, made an award to the Water Company in the amount of $81,668.00, the report of the board of view being filed on March 5, 1968. On March 28, 1968 -- twenty-three days after the filing of the award of the board of view -- the Commonwealth, acting through the Department of Highways, filed an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County.*fn1

By a letter dated April 4, 1968 -- seven days after filing the appeal -- the Commonwealth gave notice to the Water Company's lawyer of the appeal.*fn2

[ 437 Pa. Page 300]

The Water Company filed preliminary objections in the nature of a petition raising the question of jurisdiction and a motion to quash or strike off the appeal on May 29, 1968.*fn3 The preliminary objections and the motion to quash were based on two reasons: 1. a copy of the appeal was not served on the appellee within five days after the date of filing the appeal, as provided by Article V, § 516(b) of the Eminent Domain Code, supra; 2. no proof of service of a copy of the appeal had been filed.*fn4

Initially, it must be noted that the appeal of the Commonwealth from the board of view to the Court of Common Pleas was filed in strict accordance with Section 515 of the Eminent Domain Code, supra, 26 P.S. § 1-515. See: Miller Estate v. Department of Highways, 424 Pa. 477, 481-82, 227 A.2d 679 (1967).

The court below, by its order, dismissed the Water Company's preliminary objections, holding that the provisions of Section 516(b) of the Eminent Domain Code (26 P.S. § 1-516(b)) were directory as to time and not mandatory.*fn5 Section 516(b), provides: "The appellant shall serve a copy of the appeal on all other parties within five days after filing the same. Proof of service of a copy of the appeal shall be filed by the appellant." From the order dismissing the Water

[ 437 Pa. Page 301]

Company's preliminary objections the instant appeal stems.

The Water Company's first contention is that a copy of the Commonwealth's appeal should have been served within five days after the appeal was filed and that Section 516(b) of the Eminent Domain Code, supra, is mandatory and not directory as to the time of serving the copy of the appeal.

Factually, the record reveals that the Commonwealth's counsel sent a letter, giving notice of the filing of the appeal,*fn6 dated April 4, 1968, postmarked April 5, 1968, and it reached West Chester, the address of the Water Company's counsel, on April 6, 1968, the latter being a Saturday. The record also reveals that this letter was received not earlier than April 6 nor later than Monday, April 8. Although the record indicates that this letter -- sent by certified mail, return receipt requested -- bore the notation on the envelope thereof, "Notified April 6, 1968," the notice was given not less than nine days and not more than eleven days after filing the appeal.

Section 516(b) does not require that a copy of the appeal be filed or that an affidavit of service of such copy be filed within the thirty-day period. See: Miller, supra, 424 Pa. at 482. Our examination of Section 516(b) indicates that it was the legislative intent that a copy of the appeal be served within a reasonable time after filing of the appeal and that the five-day provision is directory and not mandatory in nature.*fn7

[ 437 Pa. Page 302]

Service of notice that an appeal had been taken was timely under Section 516(b). Nothing therein mandates that service should be made other than within a reasonable time. See: Snitzer, Pennsylvania Eminent Domain, p. 229, wherein it is stated that failure to properly notify should result in an extension of the right to demand a trial by jury but "[i]t should not have any effect whatsoever upon the efficacy of the original appeal."

The Water Company's second contention is that the failure to file the affidavit of proof of service for a period of approximately ten months subsequent to the filing of the appeal justifies quashing the appeal. We disagree. While the delay in filing the affidavit of proof of service for such an unreasonable time cannot be condoned, we believe that, under the instant circumstances, the court below was proper in permitting the Commonwealth to file such affidavit nunc pro tunc. In Miller, we said: "In the absence of a time requirement for the filing of proof of service of the copy of the appeal, such filing must be accomplished within a reasonable time subsequent to the filing of the appeal [citing authorities]." (424 Pa. at 482) "[T]he purpose, of the service, as well as the proof of service, is to insure that the opposing party is advised of the appeal, and whether a jury trial had been demanded. § 516(a)(5) gives fifteen days to the opposing party after being served with the notice to demand a jury trial if it has been waived." Snitzer, Pennsylvania Eminent Domain, pp. 228-229.

In the case at bar, it is clear beyond question that service of a copy of the appeal was made within a reasonable

[ 437 Pa. Page 303]

    time after the filing of the appeal; the Water Company knew an appeal had been filed and was not prejudiced in its assertion of any rights whatsoever. The requirement that an affidavit be filed in proof of service is of importance only in the instance of a challenge to service of a copy of such appeal. The Water Company had appropriate notice that the Commonwealth had filed its appeal and did not then nor does it now challenge the fact that it was served with notice of the appeal within a reasonable time after filing. The contention that the untimely filing of the affidavit in proof of the unchallenged service in this case would nullify the appeal is without merit.

Order affirmed.

Disposition

Order affirmed.


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