Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County in case of Condemnation of lands of Ronald Stubbs and Ella Mae Stubbs, his wife, located in Snyder Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, by the Township of Snyder to widen a narrow road, No. 151 of 1975 M.D., in Rem.
Paul J. Quattrone, for appellants.
David G. Matson, for appellees.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Judge Kramer did not participate. Opinion by President Judge Bowman. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Mencer.
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Did the court below err as a matter of law in concluding that the contested action of local government
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officers was not taken arbitrarily or in bad faith? This is the narrow issue posed in this appeal but framed in an unusual factual setting.
Township Road T-644 is a dead end dirt road in Snyder Township, Jefferson County. Appellants, Ronald and Ella Mae Stubbs (Stubbs), are owners of property containing 2.14 acres of land on the north side of this road and fronting along that side of the road for a distance of 623.5 feet. A dispute arose between the Stubbs and the Supervisors of Snyder Township (Supervisors) concerning the exact location of the road vis-a-vis the Stubbs' property, the Stubbs asserting that the traveled portion of the road encroached upon their property,*fn1 notwithstanding that the traveling public had so used it for many years.
The dispute remaining unresolved, the Stubbs initiated an action in ejectment resulting in a jury verdict in their favor, the jury having concluded that the disputed land area was owned by the Stubbs and not within the right-of-way line of the road. The Stubbs then placed stakes, connected by strings, delineating their property line and the northern boundary of the road as found by the jury. Thereafter, the Supervisors, acting pursuant to Section 1120 of The Second Class Township Code, 53 P.S. § 66120, condemned for road purposes the disputed land area which the Stubbs had successfully established as being their property in the ejectment proceedings, the effect of said condemnation
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being to establish the location of the road within its right-of-way lines exactly as existed theretofore. By way of preliminary objections to the Supervisors' declaration of taking, the Stubbs' asserted their action to have been taken in bad faith and arbitrarily. The lower court found to the contrary and dismissed the preliminary objections after a hearing thereon. Hence this appeal.
This is not a case of an attack upon the exercise of the power of eminent domain as one for private purpose or gain, rather than a public purpose, nor do appellants so assert. Nor is it one of want of authority in law to act through the exercise of the power of eminent domain as such power manifestly reposes in second class township supervisors to condemn land for public road purposes. In essence, appellants would have us declare that the court below erred as a matter of law in not concluding that the Supervisors acted in bad faith or arbitrarily in that their motive or intent in condemning the disputed land was solely for retaliatory purposes. Appellants assert that such a conclusion must necessarily be reached because the ejectment proceedings conclusively established that a substantial portion of the width of its right-of-way on the south side of the road was unimproved but available for improvement for road purposes. In response, the court below opined that the inference of bad faith to be taken from such an argument was insufficient to overcome the presumption of good faith attributable to actions of public officials. It further observed that the physical location of the roadbed of a public road is primarily an engineering, maintenance and cost judgment decision to be made by the Supervisors.
We affirm. While the record is devoid of any proof that the Supervisors' action was preceded by an engineering study or ...