Appeal from the Judgment entered February 18, 1986, in the Court of Common Pleas of Columbia County, Civil Division, at No. 370 of 1982.
Arthur L. Piccone, Wilkes-Barre, for appellant.
Jack C. Younkin, Shamokin, for appellees.
Cavanaugh, Hoffman and Roberts, JJ.
[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 487]
This is an appeal from the judgment of the lower court permanently enjoining appellant from failing to maintain the water and septic system that services appellees' homes. Appellant contends that the lower court erred in permanently enjoining them from failing to maintain appellees' water well and septic system because appellees did not meet their burden of proving all of the elements of equitable estoppel. We hold that the court below properly entered the injunction and, accordingly, affirm.
Appellees are or were owners of homes in Hillside Village, which was developed by David Fahringer. Fahringer obtained loans for the development of Hillside Village from appellant, United Penn Bank. When this action was commenced, five of the seven homes in the development were occupied. The homes are serviced by a common septic system and water well. On July 7, 1977, appellant acquired title to Hillside Village from Fahringer in lieu of foreclosure on his mortgage. Appellant continued to maintain the septic system and water well.
In 1979, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER) informed appellant that the septic system was malfunctioning. After receiving this letter from the DER, appellant redesigned and constructed at its own expense, a sewage system that was supposed to accommodate seven homes. Appellant continued to maintain the new system at its own expense. On February 23, 1982, however,
[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 488]
appellant advised appellees by letter that, "United Penn Bank will no longer operate or maintain the septic tank or water well after March 31, 1982. In addition, you will no longer be able to use the septic tank or water well after that date." Brief and Reproduced Record for Appellant at 12a. Appellant further offered to convey to appellees the parcels of land on which the septic tank and water well are located. Appellees filed a complaint seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent appellant from failing to maintain the water and septic systems, which was granted pending a hearing. Following a non-jury trial, the lower court issued an order making the injunction permanent. The order was reduced to judgment, and this appeal followed.
Appellant contends that appellees did not prove all of the elements of equitable estoppel. "Equitable estoppel arises when a party by acts or representations intentionally or through culpable negligence, induces another to believe that certain facts exist and the other justifiably relies and acts upon such belief, so that the latter will be prejudiced if the former is permitted to deny the existence of such facts." Straup v. Times Herald, 283 Pa. Superior Ct. 58, 71, 423 A.2d 713, 720 (1980) allocatur denied. Under this doctrine, a court may enforce an informal promise when injustice can be prevented only by such enforcement. Funds for Business Growth, Inc. v. Maraldo, 443 Pa. 281, 288, 278 A.2d 922, 926 (1971). "[E]quitable estoppel is a doctrine of fundamental fairness intended to preclude a party from depriving another of a reasonable expectation when the party inducing the expectation knew or should have known that the other would rely to his detriment upon that conduct." Straup v. Times Herald, supra. The doctrine protects the reasonable expectations of one who relies on another's course of conduct and insures fair dealing. Id. Thus, the essential elements of equitable estoppel are inducement and justifiable reliance on that inducement. The inducement may be by words or by conduct and the reliance must be exhibited by a change in condition either by act or
[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 489]
forbearance that causes a disadvantage to the one induced. Novelty Knitting Mills, Inc. v. Siskind, 500 Pa. 432, 436, 457 A.2d 502, 503-04 (1983). The party asserting estoppel has the burden of proving the elements by clear, precise, and unequivocal ...