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Pennsbury Village Associates, LLC v. Aaron Mcintyre

January 19, 2011


Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered 5-30-2008 at No. 1452 CD 2007 which reversed the Order of Chester County Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, entered 7-: 6-2007 at No. 06-06055.

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



ARGUED: December 1, 2009


Appellant owns two parcels of land in Pennsbury Township, Chester County, bordering the east and west sides of a seven-acre parcel owned by the Township, on which the Township building is situated. To the south of these parcels is land the Township acquired in 1996 with funds from the Chester County Heritage Park and Open Space Municipal Grant Program; deed restrictions limit the Grant Program land's use to "open space/park land/recreational purposes."*fn1

In 2004, appellant applied to the Township Board of Supervisors for conditional use approval to use the east, west, and Township parcels for a mixed-use, high-density residential development. The Township awarded conditional use subject to 55 restrictions. Appellant appealed the conditional use restrictions, and appellees*fn2 appealed the approval. All parties commenced negotiations; discussions primarily concerned an access road to the east parcel and sewage treatment. The parties considered an August 15, 2002 letter from the County indicating the Township Board of Supervisors had the right to use Grant Program land for wastewater treatment if the County was reimbursed $11,786.33 per acre.*fn3 County Solicitor Letter, 8/15/02, at 1.

The parties, including appellee McIntyre, eventually entered a "Stipulation of Settlement," setting forth in relevant part, "The Township Board of Supervisors shall ... have the right to determine the exact configuration of the access drives[.]" Stipulation of Settlement, 3/9/06, at 4. The stipulation specifically stated:

There shall never be a direct road connection to the east parcel in front (north) of the Township Building. As shown on the Sketch Plan, there shall remain three points of access from the eastern parcel to the new road traversing the Township's land to the west and south of the Township Building and thence along the south border of the east parcel.

Id. The stipulation also included provisions regarding wastewater treatment, id., at 5-9, and further provided, "The terms of this Stipulation are intended to be legally binding on all parties. No Party, nor the successors, heirs, executors or assigns of any party, shall ever challenge the validity of this Stipulation." Id., at 15. The trial court approved it by order. Trial Court Order, 3/8/06.

The Township eventually decided the south border road would be situated on Grant Program land. See Stipulation of Settlement, 3/9/06, at 10 ("The access way will be located on substantially as shown on the Sketch Plan on the Township's adjacent parkland immediately contiguous to the southern border of the east parcel, including the grading necessary for construction of the road that will occur on Township parkland.").

Appellee McIntyre thereafter communicated with the County Commissioners at a public meeting and via e-mail, asking them to uphold the deed restrictions and oppose an access drive on Grant Program land. In a June 15, 2006 letter to the Township solicitor, the County stated it would oppose using Grant Program land for an access road, and wastewater treatment facilities would be contrary to the deed restrictions. County Solicitor Letter, 6/15/06. Appellant sued appellees for breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations between the County and appellant, and conspiracy to induce the County not to honor its August 15, 2002 letter.

Appellee filed preliminary objections claiming, in relevant part, he was entitled to immunity pursuant to the Environmental Immunity Act, 27 Pa.C.S. §§ 8301-8305. The Act provides, in relevant part:

Except as provided in subsection (b), a person that, pursuant to Federal or State law, files an action in the courts of this Commonwealth to enforce an environmental law or regulation or that makes an oral or written communication to a government agency relating to enforcement or implementation of an environmental law or regulation shall be immune from civil liability in any resulting legal proceeding for damages where the action or communication is aimed at procuring favorable governmental action.

27 Pa.C.S. § 8302(a). When the trial court did not rule on the preliminary objections, appellee moved for immunity pursuant to 27 Pa.C.S. § 8303 of the Act, which provides:

A person who wishes to raise the defense of immunity from civil liability under this chapter may file a motion with the court requesting the court to conduct a hearing to determine the preliminary issue of immunity. If a motion is filed, the court shall then conduct a hearing and if the motion is denied, the moving party shall have an interlocutory ...

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