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ALLEGHENY COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY v. CHARNA L. BERRY (01/25/85)

filed: January 25, 1985.

ALLEGHENY COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY
v.
CHARNA L. BERRY, APRIL COLEMAN BLUE, BENITA CLARK, EVA CLARK, ROSE ELMORE, ROSE HILL, LORRAINE HUGHES, HATTIE MAE LIPSCOMB, JOSEPHINE NICHOLS, TWANDA PIRL, SYLVIA PITTS, CHERYL POINDEXTER, ROSE MARY REED, RONALD AND TONI REID, GWENDOLYN ROWE, MARIE SIMMONS, RUTH HAZEL THOMAS, CHARLENE WALKER, VICTORIA WATTS AND ALICIA WHITE, APPELLANTS



No. 01034 Pittsburgh, 1982, No. 01151 Pittsburgh, 1982, Appeal from the Orders entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, No. GD82-00763

COUNSEL

Harry M. Montgomery, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellants.

Timothy P. O'Brien, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Brosky, Del Sole and Tamilia, JJ.

Author: Tamilia

[ 338 Pa. Super. Page 340]

Appellants appeal from the denial of their motion for certification of their counterclaim as a class action. In their brief, appellants argue the lower court erred in applying an incorrect legal standard requiring appellants/defendants to state a cause of action and to prove the merits of the counterclaim in deciding the motion for class certification.

This case originated when appellee/plaintiff, Allegheny County Housing Authority (ACHA), filed suit against twenty tenants of the Cochrandale Housing Project for rent due and owing under the Pennsylvania Landlord/Tenant Act. The appellants/defendants counterclaimed alleging a class action and claiming they represent all tenants of eighty-three (83) apartments at Cochrandale Project. The basis for the class action was that the apartments were improperly maintained and not fit for habitation.

An earlier class action suit against ACHA was brought in the U.S. District Court on March 14, 1980, alleging civil

[ 338 Pa. Super. Page 341]

    rights violations and failure to maintain Cochrandale in a habitable condition. A court-approved stipulation was entered May 5, 1980, staying any evictions and providing for rents to be placed in an escrow account, 24 of the tenants participating. On September 6, 1981, the stay was lifted by Judge Barron McCune, who allowed eviction action to be taken against tenants who had not paid their rent in escrow pursuant to the stipulation of May 5, 1980. Twenty-three of the twenty-four tenants were behind in their escrow payments and Landlord/Tenant actions were initiated in the Pennsylvania District Magistrate's courts against thirteen tenants on May 26, 1981, resulting in judgments in favor of ACHA for delinquent rent and possession. These tenants and seven additional appealed to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Thereupon the appellants filed their answer alleging a class action counterclaim. These were consolidated for trial at G.D. 82-00763. On January 22, 1982, upon appellee's motion, the Federal case was dismissed without prejudice; all discovery was preserved.

On June 16, 1982, a hearing for class certification was conducted before Judge Silvestri. The court below denied class certification on August 13, 1982 on the basis that common questions of law or fact did not exist. We affirm the findings and Order of the court below.*fn1

It is appellants' contention that once the trial court found there were common questions of fact, the inquiry should have ceased, and secondly, in applying a prima facie test (as to the claim) to the second requirement for class certification (commonality), the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard. Appellants misconstrue the trial court's analysis and application of law and by creating a presumptive standard of commonality and certification would eliminate the

[ 338 Pa. Super. Page 342]

    class action "gate" and open the courts to a torrent of class litigation.

Appellants contend the "common question of fact" was that all representatives of the class had a ...


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