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ROBERT B. WICKS ET AL. v. MONROE TOWNSHIP (05/04/84)

decided: May 4, 1984.

ROBERT B. WICKS ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
MONROE TOWNSHIP, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County in cases of Robert B. Wicks and Lucy J. Wicks, Individually and as Parents and Natural Guardians of Jill, Geoffrey and Audrey Wicks, Minors, and Charles J. Bauer and Ruth M. Bauer, Individually and as Parents and Natural Guardians of Ruth, Charles, John, Linda and Michelle Bauer, Minors, and Donald L. Sheriff and Pamela K. Sheriff, Individually and as Parents and Natural Guardians of Michael Sheriff, a Minor, and William E. Lello and Linda J. Lello v. Monroe Township, Nos. 802 September Term, 1974, 803 September Term, 1974, 804 September Term, 1974 and 805 September Term, 1974.

COUNSEL

David Lutz, with him, Joseph M. Melillo, Angino & Rovner, P.C., for appellants.

Marlin R. McCaleb, with him, Richard C. Snelbaker, Snelbaker, McCaleb & Elicker, for appellee.

Judges Williams, Jr., Doyle and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr.

Author: Williams

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 230]

Before us in this appeal is an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, denying the appellants leave to amend the complaints they had

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 231]

    filed in lawsuits against Monroe Township, and also granting the defendant's motion to dismiss those actions.

This case began in 1974 when four groups of plaintiffs, the appellants herein, each filed trespass-assumpsit actions against several defendants, including Monroe Township (Township) and its three Supervisors. The suits were for damages the plaintiffs had suffered when inadequate drainage systems, and excessive runoff water and mud from a hill above their properties, caused the plaintiffs' homes to become uninhabitable. The runoff problems were allegedly caused, in part, by the fact that the homes had been constructed on the hillside. It was also alleged that the Township Supervisors allowed the construction to continue after they became aware of the drainage problems, and did not take precautions to prevent or minimize them.

The plaintiffs' actions against the Township's Supervisors were on the theory that the Supervisors, once they learned of the runoff and drainage problems, should have revoked the permits that allowed the builders to continue construction on the hillside. The Township itself was made a defendant under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

The Township and its Supervisors filed several preliminary objections to the suits, including a demurrer asserting immunity from liability. By an order dated January 21, 1975, the trial court sustained that demurrer. The court reasoned that the Supervisors were "high public officials," and as such, were immune from civil liability in the actions brought by the plaintiffs. This same immunity, the court concluded, also shielded the Township itself from liability in the matter. Hence, the trial court dismissed the actions insofar as the Township and its Supervisors were concerned. The plaintiffs appealed that order to the Superior

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 232]

Court of Pennsylvania, which, in turn, transferred the ...


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