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Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority v. Gladstone

June 23, 2010

PITTSBURGH WATER AND SEWER AUTHORITY
v.
RICHARD W. GLADSTONE, II AND DIANA L. HUNKELE, APPELLANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: President Judge Leadbetter

Argued: April 20, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Appellants, Richard W. Gladstone,*fn1 II and Diana L. Hunkele, proceeding pro se, appeal from the order of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (common pleas) granting a new trial. This matter arises from a statutory appeal filed by Appellants from a determination of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (Authority) following a hearing held before that agency's Water Exoneration Hearing Board (Board).

Appellants and one other individual reside at 5807 Walnut Street, Pittsburgh, PA (the Residence). On May 29, 2007, the Authority sent an invoice to Appellants for water service at the Residence for the thirty-four day period dating from April 18, 2007, through May 21, 2007. The May 29, 2007 invoice totaled $12,627.18 based upon a purported consumption of 1,204,000 gallons of water. The meter reading history for water usage at the Residence for the twenty-three months prior to May 2007 indicated usage had not exceeded 10,000 gallons per month and often had not exceeded 5,000 gallons per month. The average monthly invoice amount, which reflected both actual meter readings and estimates, was less than fifty dollars.

Gladstone challenged the May 29, 2007 invoice. A hearing on the disputed bill was held before the Board on February 20, 2008. By letter dated March 18, 2008, the Authority informed Gladstone that it had reviewed the recommendation of the Board and determined that the Authority had failed to invoice Gladstone in a timely manner. The Authority offered Gladstone the following accommodation:

An exoneration is recommended to reduce the amount in dispute by 50%. Penalty and interest will be removed Gladstone rejected the proposed accommodation, and thereafter, filed an appeal in common pleas.

Common pleas immediately issued a writ of certiorari and directed counsel for the Authority to file the entire record, or certified copies thereof, of the proceedings before the Board. The Authority filed a return consisting of non-certified copies of five documents:

1. The March 18, 2008 decision of the Authority;

2. A January 22, 2008 letter scheduling a February 20, 2008 hearing before the Board;

3. A January 3, 2008 letter from Gladstone challenging the May 29, 2007 invoice;

4. The billing history and meter reading history of the Residence for the period February 18, 2004, through August 18, 2008; and

5. A copy of the Notice of Appeal filed by Gladstone.

Common pleas held a hearing on September 16, 2008. During the hearing, common pleas engaged in a colloquy with Gladstone and the Authority's attorney regarding the appropriate standard of review. The Authority's attorney stated the hearing should be conducted as a "de novo proceeding" in which "the burden is still on the customer to show that the Authority erred." Thereafter, common pleas conducted a de novo hearing. Common pleas rendered a verdict in Gladstone's favor and entered an order, which reduced the invoice to $42.98, but did not make findings of fact or conclusions of law.

The Authority filed a petition for post-trial relief requesting either the entry of a verdict in its favor, or in the alternative, a new trial.*fn2 Common pleas heard oral arguments on the merits ...


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