James A. Esler, Robert X. Medonis, Pittsburgh, D. Dale Claypool, Kittanning, for appellants.
Thomas D. Stauffer, Kittanning, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Eagen, J., concurs in the result.
Appellants brought this action in equity as a class action to compel either specific performance of alleged options to purchase lots which they leased from appellee or renewal of their respective leases. Preliminary objections were filed challenging both the propriety of the class action and the sufficiency of the complaint to plead a cause of action. The trial court concluded that the class action was improper as to one of appellants' two alternate claims and that the individual plaintiffs had failed to state a sufficient claim for relief on either basis. This appeal followed.*fn1 We affirm.
The facts, as they appear in the complaint*fn2 and the stipulation of the parties, are as follows. Appellee is
the owner of a large tract of land (approximately 1028 acres) in Armstrong County. At various times from 1963 through 1971, it entered into 104 annual leases (which were renewed from time to time and still in force on February 1, 1971) of portions of this tract to various tenants. Most of the parcels were leased as sites for trailers or vacation cabins (these being described as "campsites"), although a few parcels were leased with houses on them. Of the 104 leases, 87 of them (covering lots with a total area of roughly 26 acres) provided, "If land be sold in parcels, tenant will have first option for buying lot under lease." Appellants are six of the tenants whose leases of campsites contain this provision.
In the spring of 1971, appellee notified its tenants that their leases would not be renewed and requested them to remove their buildings and other property by the termination date of their respective leases. Appellants then commenced this action on behalf of themselves and all other tenants of appellee similarly situated. They sought relief on two theories.
First, they contended that representatives of appellee had assured tenants that their possession of the leased premises would not be disturbed so long as they paid the agreed annual rental and taxes on any improvements. The tenants allegedly relied on these representations by expending "varying but substantial sums of money in making improvements to their respective leasehold interests." Consequently, appellants argued that appellee is estopped to terminate the leases.*fn3
Second, appellants rely on the "first option" to purchase their respective lots "if land be sold in parcels." They contend that this ...