Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County in the case of William J. Richards, Jr. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, No. 85-08820.
William J. Cressler, Assistant Counsel, with him, Scott M. Olin, Assistant Counsel, and John L. Heaton, Chief Counsel, for appellant.
Peter J. Weygandt, for appellee.
Judges Doyle and Colins, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 124 Pa. Commw. Page 433]
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation (DOT) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County dismissing its preliminary objections to the petition of William J. Richards, Jr. for the appointment of a Board of Viewers to assess damages in the alleged de facto taking of property owned by Richards.
The pertinent facts are as follows. Richards owns property abutting the north side of Legislative Route 131 in New Garden Township, Chester County. Route 131 runs east and west. In 1985, DOT repaved and changed the grade of Route 131. Before DOT widened the roadway it spanned twenty feet across. DOT extended the roadway on each side by one foot and added a four foot shoulder on each side as well. A "trough" now forms at the point where the downward slope of the new shoulder meets the foot of Richards' inclining driveway. As a result of the roadwork, it became very difficult, if not impossible, for a westbound car on Route 131 to make a right turn directly into Richards' driveway because, due to the uneven grade of road, the bottom of the car turning into the driveway would scrape against the roadway. Instead of entering his property from the westbound lane, Richards, and everyone else wishing to enter Richards' property, must turn left into oncoming traffic, then make a wide right turn into the driveway (a very dangerous maneuver). Another approach one may take is to make a left-hand turn across the eastbound lane, turn around on property on the south side of Route 131 directly across
[ 124 Pa. Commw. Page 434]
from Richards' driveway, then re-cross Route 131, and finally enter his property (a maneuver resulting in a technical trespass on the property of others). Traveling in an easterly direction, Richards has complete access to his property as well as full access to Route 131 when leaving his property. He alleges only a loss of ingress to his driveway from Route 131 from the east.
Richards filed a Petition for the appointment of a Board of Viewers in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County alleging that DOT deprived him of access to his property when he wished to enter his driveway from the east. DOT timely filed preliminary objections and the common pleas court dismissed the objections. DOT then appealed the dismissal to this Court, and we held that the lower court erred in dismissing DOT's preliminary objections without an evidentiary hearing.*fn1 Upon remand, the trial court held a hearing and again dismissed the preliminary objections. DOT now appeals to this Court a second time.
The primary issue before us is whether Section 612 of the Eminent Domain Code*fn2 (Code) requires a substantial interference with access to property in order to allow a landowner to recover damages against the Commonwealth in an eminent domain proceeding. Before we reach this issue, however, we must first address DOT's motion to suppress a portion of Richards' brief. DOT wishes to suppress that portion of Richards' brief dealing with an extract from the Legislative Journal*fn3 relating to an amendment to Senate Bill 2 (the Eminent Domain Code) on the basis that the extract is not part of the record
[ 124 Pa. Commw. Page 435]
and that it should not be relied upon. We have determined that state legislative debates represent the opinion only of the particular member of the legislature who is speaking and thus are unpersuasive in construing acts of the legislature. Montour School District v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 109 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 1, 6-7, n.1, 530 A.2d 957, 960, n.1 (1987). That is certainly true in this instance. In addition, the debate referenced did not deal directly with Section 612, nor did it deal with the interpretation of the specific language which concerns us here. Thus, we sustain DOT's motion to suppress that part of Richards' brief discussing extracts from the Legislative Journal.
We now turn to the primary issue of whether "substantial" should be read into Section 612 of the Code,*fn4 which reads as follows:
All condemnors, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, shall be liable for damages to property abutting the area of an improvement resulting from change of grade of a road or highway, permanent interference with access thereto, or injury to surface support, whether or not any property is taken. (Emphasis added.)
DOT argues that the trial court committed an error of law in holding that under Section 612 of the Code there is no requirement that the damage be "substantial" in order for the condemnee to recover.*fn5 ...