Appeals from the Orders dated January 6, 1976, of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Civil Action, Law, at Nos. 112 October Term, 1974 and 108 January Term, 1974.
Benjamin Novak, State College, with him Novak & Donovan, State College, for appellants.
Charles C. Brown, Jr., appellee, in propria persona.
John W. Blasko, State College, for appellee, Henry F. Gnas.
Watkins, President Judge and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Cercone, J., files a concurring and dissenting opinion. Watkins, President Judge and Jacobs, J., dissent.
[ 252 Pa. Super. Page 542]
Two cases which were consolidated in the lower court are before us on appeal. The appeal in No. 977 is from the order of the lower court dismissing the appellants' petition for declaratory relief. The appeal in No. 978 is from the order of the lower court requiring the appellant to pay $25.30 plus interest to appellee. We affirm the orders of the lower court in No. 977 and in No. 978.
The issue at the heart of these appeals is whether one who removes an illegally parked vehicle from his land has a possessory lien on the vehicle for the costs of towing and storage. The facts underlying the appeals are as follows: Prior to 1973, many owners of private property in State College, Pennsylvania, were seriously hindered in the use of their land by trespassers who illegally parked their motor vehicles on private property. The problem was particularly acute on weekends when the Pennsylvania State University football team played in State College. Owners and tenants of apartment buildings often discovered that unauthorized vehicles occupied spaces in their private parking facilities.*fn1
[ 252 Pa. Super. Page 543]
Furthermore, all attempts to remedy the situation, such as posting warning signs or issuing citations, had been of little or no avail.
In 1973, several of the property owners proposed to Emanuel Natalie that he begin a towing service to remove illegally parked vehicles. Natalie formed appellant Natalie's Towing Service, Inc. [Natalie's]. The corporation purchased two towing trucks, other miscellaneous towing equipment, and a lot near the center of State College to be used as a pound. It then contracted with the owners of private parking lots to patrol their lots and to remove vehicles which were parked without permission. Natalie's also responded to individual calls from property owners to remove specific vehicles.
The procedure employed by Natalie's involved towing the vehicles to its pound, where they could be reclaimed by their owners. At least two attendants were on duty at the pound at all times. However, before Natalie's would release a vehicle to its owner, the owner was required to pay a fee.*fn2
On October 10, 1973, appellee Henry F. Gnas, Jr., travelled from Beaver, Pennsylvania to State College to observe the football game being played that day. After the game, he and his friends repaired to the Tavern Restaurant on College Avenue. Mr. Gnas had been in State College on only one other occasion, and he was not particularly familiar with the area.
En route to the restaurant, Mr. Gnas bypassed opportunities to park in a large metered parking lot and in a four story parking garage. Instead, he parked in an unattended, unmetered, single-level lot which entered from an alley near the restaurant. The lot was enclosed on three sides by wooden logs. Mr. Gnas testified that he saw no signs prohibiting unauthorized parking.
[ 252 Pa. Super. Page 544]
Mr. Gnas and his friends entered the restaurant and began to await an available table. After approximately one hour, he observed a sign inside the restaurant cautioning patrons not to park on private property. Mr. Gnas left the restaurant to check on his vehicle, only to discover that it had already been towed away by Natalie's.
Mr. Gnas dispatched his brother to obtain the car from the pound, which was located four blocks away. His brother paid the $25.30 fee, and the car was released.
On December 11, 1973, Mr. Gnas caused a writ of summons in assumpsit to be served on Natalie's. A complaint requesting judgment in the amount of $25.30 was filed on January 31, 1975. This is the appeal at No. 978.
In January, 1974, at a meeting of the Apartment Owners and Managers Committee of the State College Area Chamber of Commerce, Centre County District Attorney Charles C. Brown opined that one who tows an illegally parked vehicle from private property and refuses to relinquish it until a fee is paid is guilty of theft. He also stated that if any owner of a vehicle that had been towed filed a proper complaint ...