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SCHUYLKILL TOWNSHIP v. JAMES K. OVERSTREET AND EVELYN OVERSTREET (01/25/83)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: January 25, 1983.

SCHUYLKILL TOWNSHIP, PETITIONER
v.
JAMES K. OVERSTREET AND EVELYN OVERSTREET, RESPONDENTS

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County in the case of James K. Overstreet and Evelyn Overstreet v. Zoning Hearing Board of Schuylkill County, No. 162, July Term, 1970.

COUNSEL

Roger E. Legg, for petitioner.

William C. Massinger, for respondents.

Judges Rogers, Craig and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig. Dissenting Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Craig

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 349]

In this review of an interlocutory order, certified for appeal under 42 Pa. C.S. ยง 702(b)*fn1 by Judge Lawrence E. Wood of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, the petitioner, Schuylkill Township, asks us to decide if a township must join, as indispensable parties, tenants of a mobilehome park, when the grant of an injunction to enforce the township's zoning ordinance against the respondent landowners would have the effect of forcing those tenants to move their homes. In this case of first impression,*fn2 we affirm Judge Wood's order requiring that all affected tenants be joined as indispensable parties.

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 350]

We trace the origin of this dispute to the summer of 1968, when the Overstreets, owners of a parcel of land in Schuylkill Township, filed an application to expand their existing mobilehome park. Adopting a referee's report, the common pleas court denied the Overstreet application in 1979; we affirmed that decision in Overstreet v. Zoning Hearing Board of Schuylkill Township, 49 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 397, 412 A.2d 169 (1980), petition for allowance of appeal denied June 9, 1980.

The township now seeks to enforce our order by an injunction restraining the Overstreets from maintaining and operating their mobilehome park on the eastern portion of their tract. Specifically, in its prayer for relief, the township has asked the trial court to require the Overstreets " to remove from such portion of their said property all mobilehomes, mobilehome pads and associated facilities, roads, water lines, sewers and electrical lines and lights." (Emphasis added.)

In his April 2, 1982 opinion calling for the joinder of the mobilehome space lessees as indispensable parties, Judge Wood correctly noted that, if the township prevails, the affected tenants will have to move; at oral argument, the township conceded that this would be the effect of a ruling in its favor.

Nevertheless, in its brief, the township contends that it only seeks to restrain the Overstreets from using a portion of their property in contravention of a zoning ordinance and that the tenants will not lose any rights should the injunction issue.

The relief which the township seeks, however, belies that contention; hence, we must agree with the trial court that no decree can be fashioned in this equity action without impairing the tenants' rights to possession of mobilehome spaces on the eastern portion of the Overstreet tract.

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 351]

Because an indispensable party is one whose rights are so connected with the claims of the litigants that no decree or order can be made without impairing those rights, Piper Aircraft Corp. v. Insurance Co. of North America, 53 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 209, 417 A.2d 283 (1980), we affirm.

Order

Now, January 25, 1983, the amended order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, No. 135 Equity, 1980, is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.

Dissenting Opinion by Judge MacPhail:

I respectfully dissent. While it may be true that some of the mobilehome park tenants will be affected by enforcement of the injunction sought by the township, that fact in and of itself would not, in my judgment, make them indispensable parties in the circumstances of this case.

As the majority notes, the township has been compelled to seek equitable relief to enforce a zoning decision entered by the court of common pleas and affirmed by this Court. The landowners apparently have refused to comply with that order. The sole purpose of the action in equity is to compel the landowners to comply with a court decision. It seems manifestly unfair to me to require the township to join all of the tenants at the behest of the landowners when the township has no quarrel with the tenants and has not instituted any action against them. The end result of compulsory joinder of these additional parties will be, predictably, litigation between the tenants and landowners inter se. In the meanwhile, the zoning violation will continue until all of those disputes are resolved.

The tenants are not without legal remedies against the landowners if the township is granted the relief it

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 352]

    seeks. The rights of the tenants against the landowner should not be a device employed by the landowners to frustrate the enforcement of a zoning decision. Since I do not believe that the joinder of the tenants is necessary for the granting of equitable relief against the landowners, I would reverse the order of the trial court.


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