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Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, Inc. of Ledgedale v. John P. Glatfelter and Regina L. Glatfelter

September 29, 2011

INDIAN ROCKS PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC. OF LEDGEDALE, APPELLANT
v.
JOHN P. GLATFELTER AND REGINA L. GLATFELTER, HIS WIFE, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of Commonwealth Court dated 06-09-2008 at No. 1429 CD 2007 which Reversed the Court of Common Pleas Wayne County order dated 06-26-2007 at No. 2004-60009.

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

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

ARGUED: May 13, 2009

RE-SUBMITTED: November 22, 2010

OPINION ANNOUNCING THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT

Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, Inc. of Ledgedale originated in 1955 as the governing body of a development located in Salem Township, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. The development consists of 546 acres, and its purpose is "'to develop adjacent lakeside land into a miniature community for vacation, recreation and retirement.'" Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, Inc. of Ledgedale v. Glatfelter, 950 A.2d 1093, 1095 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008) (quoting Association's Official Handbook). The Association developed rules and regulations, which are recorded as protective covenants running with the land. Article VIII, § 1 of the Covenants provides all "'building, excavation, exterior remodeling or altering of any structure, wall or fence shall [not] be commenced without obtaining written approval of the Developer . as to the location, elevation, set back from property lines, construction materials, quality of workm[a]nship and harmony of external design with existing structures.'" Id.

In 1980, John P. Glatfelter and his wife, Regina L. Glatfelter, purchased a lot within the community; John Glatfelter died in 1990, leaving Regina Glatfelter the sole owner. The lot sat vacant until the fall of 2003 when son David Glatfelter began constructing a foundation. The Association initially inspected and approved the excavation, but in December, 2003 informed the Glatfelters the work was substandard and inadequate pursuant to the Covenants. The Glatfelters were ordered to cease construction until a new construction plan was approved.

In April, 2004, the Association filed an equity action alleging the Glatfelters violated the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act, 35 P.S. § 7210.101 et seq., which the Association incorporated into the Covenants by resolution on April 24, 2004. The Association sought an order directing the Glatfelters to comply with the Covenants and to cease work until approval was obtained from the architectural committee. On April 30, 2004, the Glatfelters agreed to stop work until they submitted a new application for construction in conformance with the Covenants, but they failed to comply with the agreement; trial on the equity action was scheduled for July 26, 2005. At trial, the parties entered a stipulation; the Glatfelters agreed to file an application for construction within 60 days, prepare an outline to comply with the Covenants and Construction Code, and hire an engineer to monitor construction. In exchange, the Association waived all past fees and fines. The trial court approved the stipulation and entered it as an order. The Glatfelters again failed to fulfill their obligations pursuant to the stipulation, and the Association filed a petition for civil contempt.

Between the commencement of the equity action in April, 2004 and the July, 2005 trial, Act 92 of 2004 amended the Construction Code to exempt "recreational cabins" from its requirements so long as:

(i) the cabin is equipped with at least one smoke detector, one fire extinguisher and one carbon monoxide detector in both the kitchen and sleeping quarters; [and]

(ii) the owner of the cabin files with the municipality either:

(A) an affidavit on a form prescribed by the department attesting to the fact that the cabin meets the definition of a "recreational cabin" in section 103; or

(B) a valid proof of insurance for the recreational cabin, written and issued by an insurer authorized to do business in this Commonwealth, stating that the structure meets the definition of a "recreational cabin" as defined in section 103.

35 P.S. § 7210.104(b)(7). A "recreational cabin" is defined as a structure:

(1) utilized principally for recreational activity;

(2) not utilized as a domicile or residence for any individual for any time period;

(3) not utilized for commercial purposes;

(4) not greater than two stories in height, excluding basement;

(5) not utilized by the owner or any other person as a place of employment;

(6) not a mailing address for bills and correspondence; and

(7) not listed as an individual's place of residence on a tax return, driver's license, car registration or voter registration.

Id., § 7210.103. Despite adopting the Construction Code the prior year, the Association passed a resolution in April, 2005 refusing to recognize the recreational cabin exemption.

The Glatfelters relied upon the recreational cabin exemption when they responded to the Association's petition for contempt and argued they were exempt from the Construction Code and the Covenants. On December 26, 2005, the Glatfelters submitted a building permit issued by Salem Township for construction of a "'two-story vacation home, slab on grade: stick built (recreational cabin exempt).'" Indian Rocks, at 1097 (quoting Salem Township Permit). Attached to the permit was a "Recreational Cabin Affidavit"*fn1 in which the Glatfelters stated the proposed structure met the requirements of the Construction Code's recreational cabin exemption.

The trial court heard argument on the Association's civil contempt petition on April 12, 2006. At that time, the parties stipulated the issue for determination was "'[w]hether or not the provisions of a recreational cabin exclusion [are] applicable in this case and/or whether or not a recreational cabin as defined by the Uniform [Construction] Code creates an exemption which is binding upon the Townships as well as Property Owners Associations.'" Id. (quoting Stipulation, at ¶ 23). While the trial court agreed the Glatfelters met the recreational cabin exemption, it held the exemption did not apply because the Glatfelters agreed to comply with the Association's requirements as they existed at the time of the April 30, 2004 agreement. Regarding contempt, the trial court found the Glatfelters did not willfully violate the court's order and permitted an additional 90 days to comply. After the Glatfelters failed to do so, the Association filed another contempt petition, which the trial court granted.

The Glatfelters timely appealed the contempt order to the Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court's order, holding the Glatfelters did not waive their ability to raise the recreational cabin exemption by virtue of the April, 2004 and July, 2005 agreements. Id., at 1100. The court noted the Construction Code unambiguously preempts the field of construction regulation. Therefore, since neither of the agreements specifically referred to the "recreational cabin" exemption, the Glatfelters did not waive the ability to invoke the exemption. The Commonwealth Court did not address whether the purported use satisfied the definition of "recreational activity," as the only issues before it were "whether the recreational cabin exclusion applies . and whether the Township and the Association are bound by the exclusion." Id., at 1100 n.4.

The Association appealed, and we granted allocatur limited to the following issue: "[w]hether the term 'recreational activity,' as contained in the Construction Code, 35 P.S. § 7210.103, is ambiguous, necessitating that this Court apply the rules of statutory construction to ascertain the intent of the Legislature?" Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, Inc. of Ledgedale v. Glatfelter, 963 A.2d 902, 902-03 (Pa. 2008). We later expanded our scope of review and requested supplemental briefing from the parties on the following issues:

Are appellees entitled to build a "recreational cabin," as defined in 35 P.S. § 7210.103, in the secondary home planned community of Indian Rocks, which had adopted the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act, 35 P.S. § 7210.101 et seq.?

Are appellees estopped by the agreement with appellant in July of 2005 from building a "recreational cabin" in the secondary home planned community of Indian Rocks?

Per Curiam Order, 12/30/10. As our disposition of the third issue will determine whether the other issues need to be addressed, we will discuss it first.

The Association argues the Glatfelters are estopped from building a recreational cabin under the doctrines of equitable estoppel, promissory estoppel, and estoppel by judicial admission or stipulation. It notes in the July, 2005 Stipulation, the Glatfelters agreed to submit an application with the Association describing the intended construction, to conform with the Association's rules and regulations then in effect, and to hire an engineer to monitor construction. The Association contends, based upon these assurances, it agreed to end the proceedings and not seek the fines and penalties it levied against the Glatfelters. The Association also suggests the Glatfelters have impliedly waived the recreational cabin exemption by agreeing to abide by the Association's rules and regulations, which at the time of the agreement specifically refused to adopt the recreational cabin exemption. Pursuant to these various legal doctrines, the Association concludes it would be unfair for the Glatfelters to circumvent its rules and regulations by claiming a recreational cabin exemption when they agreed to abide by the rules and regulations.

The Glatfelters argue the Association's resolution refusing to recognize the recreational cabin exemption is unenforceable because the Construction Code specifically preempts homeowners' association rules and regulations. They cite § 7210.104(d)(2)(i) of the Construction Code, which provides "a homeowners' association or community association shall be preempted from imposing building construction standards or building codes for buildings to be constructed, renovated, altered or modified." 35 P.S. § 7210.104(d)(2)(i).*fn2 Thus, they contend, they cannot be estopped from building a recreational cabin because the Association's rules and regulations are in direct contravention of state law.

Resolution of this issue requires us to interpret the breadth of the Construction Code's preemption clause; specifically, we must determine the meaning of the phrase "building construction standards or building codes." Because statutory interpretation is a question of law, our standard of review is de novo, and our scope of review is plenary. See In re Milton Hershey School, 911 A.2d 1258, 1261 (Pa. 2006) (citation omitted). "The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly." 1 Pa.C.S. ยง 1921. When interpreting statutes, "[w]ords and phrases shall be construed according to the rules of grammar and according to their common and ...


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