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MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY CITY MCKEESPORT v. ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP AND ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP SANITARY AUTHORITY (02/19/81)

decided: February 19, 1981.

MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF MCKEESPORT, APPELLANT
v.
ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP AND ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP SANITARY AUTHORITY, APPELLEES. MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF MCKEESPORT, APPELLANT V. TOWNSHIP OF NORTH VERSAILLES, APPELLEE



Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in cases of Elizabeth Township and Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority v. Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport, No. GD 77-12037; Township of North Versailles v. Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport, No. GD 77-15210; and Elizabeth Township and Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority v. Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport, No. GD 77-24338.

COUNSEL

Gary H. McQuone, Stevens, Clark, Laubach & Semple, John J. Myers, Liddle & Adams, for appellant.

John A. Caputo, O'Donnell, Bresnahan, Caputo & Capristo, for appellee, Elizabeth Township and Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority.

G. N. Evashavik, for appellee, North Versailles Township.

Judges Mencer, Rogers and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.

Author: Rogers

[ 57 Pa. Commw. Page 14]

The Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport (Authority) provides sewage treatment service to a number of communities in Allegheny County. The Townships of Elizabeth and North Versailles and the Sanitary Authority of Elizabeth Township, customers of the Authority, brought suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County pursuant to Section 4B(h) of the Municipality Authorities Act of 1945, Act of May 2, 1945, P.L. 382, as amended, 53 P.S. § 306B(h), questioning the reasonableness of the Authority's rates charged during 1977. Over the Authority's repeated objection the court below caused a jury to be impaneled, permitted an accountant called by the complainants to express his opinion that the Authority's rates were unreasonable, sent the indenture

[ 57 Pa. Commw. Page 15]

    under which the Authority had sold $7,000,000 in bonds to the public out with the jury and instructed the jury to find whether the Authority's rates were reasonable or unreasonable. The jury returned verdicts that the rates were unreasonable. The Authority's post-trial motions were refused and the court directed the prothonotary to enter judgment on the verdicts. The Authority has appealed, principally contending that it was error on the part of the court below to submit the case to trial by jury. We agree.

This lawsuit is, as we have noted, a creature of statute. Section 4B(h), 53 P.S. § 306B(h) provides pertinently:

Any person questioning the reasonableness or uniformity of any rate fixed by any Authority or the adequacy, safety and reasonableness of the Authority's service including extensions thereof, may bring suit against the Authority in the court of common pleas of the county wherein the project is located, or if the project is located in more than one county then in the court of common pleas of the county wherein the principal office of the project is located. The court of common pleas shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine all such questions involving rates or service.

[ 57 Pa. Commw. Page 16]

As is apparent, the statute creating the action confers no right on the suitor to trial by jury. The court below concluded that because Section 4B(h) "did not deal one way or another with the question of a complainant's right to a jury trial . . . the right exists unless the General Assembly denies that right in the particular Act of Assembly involved." No authority for this proposition was provided; and, indeed, the law is that no right to jury trial exists when the relevant statute does not provide it. Watson Appeal, 377 Pa. 495, 105 A.2d 576 (1954); Department of Environmental Page 16} Resources v. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation, 22 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 280, 348 A.2d 765 (1975); ...


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