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Commonwealth v. Locust Township

April 29, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL BY THOMAS CORBETT, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL, APPELLANT
v.
LOCUST TOWNSHIP AND LOCUST TOWNSHIP BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, APPELLEE
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL BY THOMAS CORBETT, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL, APPELLEE
v.
LOCUST TOWNSHIP AND LOCUST TOWNSHIP BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, CROSS APPELLANT



Appeal from the January 25, 2007 Published Opinion and Order of the Commonwealth Court (Friedman, J., Smith-Ribner, J., Pellegrini, P.J.), at Docket No. 358 M.D. 2006 (915 A.2d 738).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Baer

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, JJ.

ARGUED: December 2, 2008

OPINION

In June of 2006, the Attorney General brought an action in the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court against Locust Township and the Locust Township Board of Supervisors (Township) pursuant to Chapter three of the Agricultural Code (ACRE), 3 Pa.C.S. § 311-318, which, effective July 6, 2005 in accordance with Act 38 of 2005, addresses local regulation of normal agricultural operations. The Attorney General sought to challenge the validity of the Township's Zoning Ordinance No. 4-2001 (Ordinance) on the grounds that it conflicts with and is preempted by a number of state statutes. In response to preliminary objections filed by the Township, the Commonwealth Court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the Attorney General's action, and granted the Township's preliminary objection asserting that there was no justiciable controversy ripe for adjudication. Consequently, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the Attorney General's petition for review with prejudice. Both parties cross-appealed from the Commonwealth Court's order, which we affirm in part and reverse in part. We conclude that the Commonwealth Court properly overruled the Township's preliminary objection to the court's subject matter jurisdiction. However, we find that the Commonwealth Court erred in regard to the justiciability issue, and that the Attorney General's petition for review did, in fact, present a case and controversy ripe for adjudication in accord with the terms of ACRE.

The General Assembly enacted Chapter three of ACRE, 3 Pa.C.S. § 311-318, to ensure that local regulation of normal agricultural operations are consistent with Commonwealth policies and statutes.*fn1 Act 38 of 2005, July 6, P.L. 112, No. 38, preamble, reprinted at 3 Pa.C.S. § 311 (historical and statutory notes). To advance this purpose, Chapter three defines an unauthorized local ordinance as follows:

"Unauthorized local ordinance." An ordinance enacted or enforced by a local government unit which does any of the following:

(1) Prohibits or limits a normal agricultural operation unless the local government unit:

(i) has expressed or implied authority under State law to adopt the ordinance; and

(ii) is not prohibited or preempted under State law from adopting the ordinance.

(2) Restricts or limits the ownership structure of a normal agricultural operation.

3 Pa.C.S. § 312. The statute prohibits local governments from adopting and enforcing unauthorized local ordinances in the following provision:

§ 313. Certain local government unit actions prohibited

(a) Adoption and enforcement of unauthorized local ordinances.--A local government unit shall not adopt nor enforce an unauthorized local ordinance.

(b) Existing local ordinances.--This chapter shall apply to the enforcement of local ordinances existing on the effective date of this section and to the enactment or enforcement of local ordinances enacted on or after the effective date of this section. . .

3 Pa.C.S. § 313. Section 314 of ACRE provides that certain individuals may request the Attorney General to review local ordinances and consider whether to bring legal action to challenge them, and the Attorney General may exercise discretion in deciding whether to bring such an action pursuant to Section 315:

§ 314. Duties of Attorney General

(a) Request for review.--An owner or operator of a normal agricultural operation may request the Attorney General to review a local ordinance believed to be an unauthorized local ordinance and to consider whether to bring legal ...


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