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Williams v. Kusnair's Bar and Tavern

July 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Caiazza


Having conducted a bench trial in the above-captioned case, the court now enters these findings of fact and conclusions of law. In its resolution, the court will utilize the narrative voice, rather than numbered findings and conclusions. Where any doubt may arise, the undersigned will specify whether the determination is made by the court sitting as finder of fact or as a matter of law.

The arduous factual background in this case is intimately familiar to the parties and the court therefore will restrict its discussions to those facts most germane to its conclusions.

I. Factual Background

Having found himself homeless, Donte Williams ("Williams" or "the Plaintiff") sought assistance from the Fayette County Community Action Agency ("the FCCAA"). He was assigned a caseworker, Jan Brogdan ("Brogdan"), and given a list of landlords who had leased to FCCAA participants in the past. On this list was Kusnair's Bar and Tavern ("the Bar"), owned by Randall Kusnair ("Kusnair" or "the Defendant").

Williams, along with Brogdan, contacted Kusnair concerning the availability of one of the six rental rooms situated above the Bar. Kusnair agreed to rent a room to Williams and the Plaintiff received his key on July 2, 2001. This same day, Williams and Kusnair entered into an oral lease agreement, independent from the FCCAA arrangement, whereby monthly rent was set at $150. Williams paid Kusnair $125 of July's rent and received a receipt.*fn1

Three days later, on July 5, 2001, Kusnair met with Brogdan to complete paperwork required by the FCCAA. At that time, Kusnair signed a rental verification form ("the FCCAA agreement") requiring a monthly rental payment of $150 and a $150 security deposit. See Pl.'s Trial Ex. 1. He also agreed not to evict Williams until at least thirty days after the FCCAA had issued its check. See id.

Soon thereafter, the relationship between Kusnair and Williams began to deteriorate. Kusnair received daily complaints from four other tenants concerning excessive noise levels, partying, and Williams' aggressive behavior. Kusnair attempted to address these complaints, but Williams ignored him. Kusnair then informed Williams that if his conduct continued unabated he would be evicted.

Unfortunately, nothing changed. Most disturbingly, Williams regularly made threats of bodily harm and even directed death threats towards Kusnair and the other tenants. On July 14, 2001 Kusnair approached Williams as he was returning to his room with a case of beer. He inquired about the balance of July's rent, and Williams disregarded him.

The situation worsened on July 25, 2001, when the Plaintiff became upset because his soap was missing from the community bathroom. A confrontation between the Plaintiff and Kusnair ensued and the incident spilled out into the street, requiring police involvement. No charges were filed against either party.

Following these instances and motivated by the litany of tenant complaints, Kusnair terminated Williams' lease on August 3, 2001. Weeks later, the FCCAA issued a $300 check to cover the Plaintiff's security deposit and one month's rent. See Pl. Trial Ex. 3. Despite Williams' eviction, Kusnair cashed the check.*fn2

II. Williams' Contract Claim and the Landlord-Tenant Act*fn3

Because there is sparse state precedent, this court must predict how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would rule if presented with this factual pattern. See Hughes v. Long, 242 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2001). In making such a prediction, a federal court ordinarily must look to cases from the state's highest court. Id. However, when the highest court has been silent on the issue, a federal court applying Pennsylvania state law must examine four areas of law: (1) what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said in related areas; (2) the decisional law of the Pennsylvania intermediate courts; (3) federal appeals and district court cases interpreting Pennsylvania law; and (4) decisions from other jurisdictions that have discussed the issues before the court. Id.

This court has found a dearth of Pennsylvania law addressing the circumstances under which a landlord may evict a tenant who poses an imminent and immediate threat to others. Pennsylvania case law, both state and federal, is silent on this issue and ...

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