Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, in case of Schuylkill Township v. James K. Overstreet and Evelyn M. Overstreet, et al., No. 135 Equity, 1980, dated April 10, 1986.
William J. Gallagher, with him, Mary Ann Rossi and Susan J. Craig, MacElree, Harvey, Gallagher, O'Donnell & Featherman, Ltd., for appellant/appellees, Overstreet and Boone.
Robert C. Houpt, with him, Roger E. Legg and Michelle R. Portnoff, Portnoff & Houpt, Ltd., for appellee/appellant, Schuylkill Township.
Judges Craig and Doyle, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.
[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 493]
In Overstreet v. Zoning Hearing Board of Schuylkill Township, 49 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 397, 412 A.2d 169 (1980), this court affirmed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County denying Mr. and
[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 494]
Mrs. Overstreet a zoning variance to expand their mobilehome park into the eastern portion of their property. Despite the order of the court of common pleas, the Overstreets expanded their mobilehome park. Consequently, Schuylkill Township brought this action in equity to enjoin the Overstreets from maintaining a mobilehome park on that section of their land. The Overstreets appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County requiring some of the park residents to vacate the land and the Overstreets to pay a penalty to the township. Certain park residents also appeal from the same order, and the township has appealed from the trial judge's refusal to apply the vacation order to tenants who resided on the eastern portion of the property on or before August 1, 1983.
The Overstreets first contend that the court of common pleas lacked jurisdiction to enter an order enjoining their use of the eastern portion of the property as a mobilehome park because the township did not join all of the residents of the park as co-defendants. The township's initial complaint named only the Overstreets as the defendants in the case. Judge Lawrence E. Wood ordered that the township join the park tenants who would be affected by the injunction sought. This court affirmed Judge Wood's order on interlocutory appeal because the park tenants were indispensable parties whose rights would be adversely affected by the injunction sought by the township. Schuylkill Township v. Overstreet, 71 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 348, 454 A.2d 695 (1983).
The township amended its complaint to join the tenants of lots 52 through 97 and 99 through 121 with the Overstreets as co-defendants. In the Overstreets' answer to the amended complaint, they identified 29 instances
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in which the tenants identified in the amended complaint were not the actual tenants of the lots in question. Our comparison of the lists reveals that, in most instances, the township's complaint had merely failed to identify or delete names of tenant spouses in instances where the marital status of a tenant had changed over the course of the litigation. However, the township's answer also acknowledges that certain tenants were never joined as co-defendants with the Overstreets. The Overstreets contend that the township's failure to join those tenants, as indispensable parties, deprives the court of jurisdiction over the entire proceeding.
A court in equity cannot grant relief without the joinder of indispensable parties. Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation v. Diamond Fuel Co., 464 Pa. 377, 346 A.2d 788 (1975). A party is indispensable when his rights are so connected with the claims of the litigants that no decree can be fashioned between them without impairing those rights. Reifsnyder v. Pittsburgh Outdoor Advertising Co., 396 Pa. 320, 152 A.2d 894 (1959); Hartley v. Lang Kamp & Elder, 243 Pa. 550, 90 A. 402 (1914).
We earlier held that tenants were indispensable parties because the court of common pleas could enter no decree enjoining the use of the land without affecting the rights of at least some of the tenants. Schuylkill Township. In the present case, however, the township joined the majority of the tenants as parties to the action. Thus, it is possible for the court to enter a decree affecting the rights of those tenants joined as parties as long as the rights of those tenants who were omitted as co-defendants are undisturbed. As the township argues, for this court to halt the entire proceeding because the township failed to amend its complaint every time a tenant moved into or out of the eastern portion of the
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mobilehome park would effectively deprive the township of a forum and would cause further expense and delay in a controversy that has already lingered for too many years.
We therefore conclude that the court of common pleas had jurisdiction to enter its decree as to those tenants or tenant spouses named as co-defendants on the township's amended complaint, but we must reverse the order to the extent that it would apply to any tenant who was ...