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ONE HOMEMADE TRAILER v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (02/03/83)

decided: February 3, 1983.

ONE HOMEMADE TRAILER, PA. REGISTRATION NO. TG74484 IN POSS: ROBERT H. WHEELER, JR., APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. One Homemade Trailer, Pa. Registration No. TG74484, No. 80-3614.

COUNSEL

Scott T. Williams, with him Anthony J. Grieco, II, Law Offices of Henry P. Perciballi, for appellant.

Felix Thau, Assistant Counsel, with him J. Leonard Langan, Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

Author: Macphail

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 543]

As a result of an intensive investigation concerning the likelihood of an alleged speakeasy operation, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (Board) enforcement officers in late August, 1980, had under surveillance a property in Gamble Township, Lycoming County, which was not licensed for the sale of malt beverages. One of the enforcement officers observed an aluminum tandem trailer towed by a red International stakebody truck loaded with half barrels of beer and operated by an individual later determined to be Robert H. Wheeler, Jr. (Appellant), leave Appellant's beer distributorship and enter the suspect premises. When the enforcement officer entered the premises, he paid an $8.00 "donation" for a card which entitled him to drink all the beer he wanted. The officer observed Appellant transferring beer barrels from the truck to the trailer and making the necessary connections so that beer could be obtained from taps on the trailer. The officer drew two cups of beer, left the premises, notified the State Police and a raid ensued. Both the truck and the trailer were confiscated by the Board.

Subsequently, a petition was filed by the Board with the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, requesting that the trailer be forfeited pursuant to the provisions of the Liquor Code (Code), Act of April 12, 1951, P.L. 90, as amended, 47 P.S. ยงยง 1-101-744-1003. An answer and an amended answer with new matter were filed by Appellant. The Board filed a reply to the new matter.

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 544]

After a hearing, the trial court directed that the trailer be forfeited. Exceptions were filed to that order which, after argument, were dismissed by the trial court. A timely appeal has been filed from that order.

Two issues have been presented by Appellant's brief: 1) did the trial court err when it failed to file findings of fact or conclusions of law regarding the forfeiture of the trailer and 2) did the trial court abuse its discretion in ordering the forfeiture of the trailer?

With respect to the first issue, we would observe that while formal findings of fact and conclusions of law by a trial judge are always of great aid to us in exercising our appellate review, there is nothing in the Code nor is there anything in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure which would mandate formal findings and conclusions in a case of this nature. In Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Appeal, 46 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 490, 407 A.2d 83 (1979), a forfeiture case, a similar challenge was addressed to the proceedings in the trial court. There we held that where the record convincingly demonstrates the violation charged, such findings would not be required as a condition precedent to appellate review. As will shortly appear, the record in the instant case likewise convincingly demonstrates the violation charged.

Appellant argues that he is substantially prejudiced because he cannot properly present his argument in the absence of such findings and conclusions. At the end of the hearing, the trial judge said:

The distributor cannot be heard to see no evil and hear no evil. He is allowing his trailer to be used by people who are selling vast quantities of beer, people he knew were not licensed and people he had ...


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