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In Re: Condemnation of Lands Situate and Being In the City of v. Mario Piccolino and Giuseppina Piccolino Also Known As Josephine

February 7, 2012

IN RE: CONDEMNATION OF LANDS SITUATE AND BEING IN THE CITY OF SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA FOR THE ELIMINATION OF BLIGHTED AREAS AND THE REPLANNING AND REDEVELOPMENT OF SUCH AREA REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF SCRANTON, APPELLANT
v.
MARIO PICCOLINO AND GIUSEPPINA PICCOLINO ALSO KNOWN AS JOSEPHINE PICCOLINO IN RE: CONDEMNATION OF LANDS SITUATE AND BEING IN THE CITY OF SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA FOR THE ELIMINATION OF BLIGHTED AREAS AND THE REPLANNING AND REDEVELOPMENT OF SUCH AREA REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF SCRANTON
v.
STANLEY STADOLNY AND SUSAN STADOLNY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge

Argued: October 20, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge (P.) HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

OPINION

BY JUDGE LEAVITT

The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Scranton (Redevelopment Authority) appeals two orders of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas (trial court). It appeals an order of January 20, 2011, sustaining the preliminary objections of Mario and Guiseppina Piccolino and Stanley and Susan Stadolny (Landowners) to the Redevelopment Authority's condemnation of their properties. It also appeals an order of March 31, 2008, denying the Redevelopment Authority's petition to disqualify Landowners' counsel. We affirm the trial court's order on Landowners' preliminary objections, which decision moots the Redevelopment Authority's appeal of the March 31, 2008, order.

Background

In 1997, the City Council of Scranton approved a redevelopment plan (Redevelopment Plan) for the Lackawanna East Redevelopment Area (Area) in Scranton, which runs along the north and south side of Lackawanna Avenue. City Council approved the plan after the Scranton Planning Commission determined the Area was a blighted area in need of redevelopment. Landowners own properties within the Area on the south side of Lackawanna Avenue.

On or about August 8, 2006, the Redevelopment Authority filed two declarations of taking against the properties of Landowners. The declarations stated that Landowners' properties were being condemned in accordance with an approved redevelopment plan for a blighted area.*fn1

Landowners filed timely preliminary objections. They asserted that their respective properties were not blighted and had been expressly exempted from the Redevelopment Plan for the Area because they had been identified as properties not to be acquired.*fn2 Landowners challenged the Redevelopment Authority's power to condemn; the adequacy of the bond; and the procedures followed by the Redevelopment Authority in its condemnation.

In response to the preliminary objections, the Redevelopment Authority petitioned to disqualify Landowners' counsel, W. Boyd Hughes, Esq., and the law firm of Hughes, Nicholls and O'Hara. The Redevelopment Authority argued that Hughes' prior work for the Redevelopment Authority as its solicitor disqualified him from representing Landowners. In support, the Redevelopment Authority contended that Hughes had reviewed the Redevelopment Plan at the time it was developed in 1997; advised the Redevelopment Authority on the procedures for implementing the plan; and had filed condemnations to implement the Redevelopment Plan. In light of those actions, the Redevelopment Authority argued that Hughes could not represent Landowners in a matter adverse to his former client.

Hughes testified that he had not served as the Redevelopment Authority's solicitor for many years. He described his prior work as advising the Redevelopment Authority on the procedural requirements for implementation of the Redevelopment Plan but insisted that he had not been personally involved in the plan's development. He acknowledged that he attended Redevelopment Authority meetings; defended challenges to the Redevelopment Plan; and handled appeals for the Redevelopment Authority. Hughes' version of his work for the Redevelopment Authority was corroborated by Donald King, City Planner for Scranton, and Marvin Brotter, the urban development specialist who created the Redevelopment Plan.

The trial court denied the disqualification, holding that Hughes' work for the Redevelopment Authority did not lead to the acquisition of confidential information that could be used in his representation of Landowners. The trial court then scheduled two days of hearings on the merits of Landowners' preliminary objections.

At the hearing, Landowners presented several documents. The map attached to the Redevelopment Plan placed Landowners' properties within the boundary lines of the Area. However, the properties were each designated as properties "NOT TO BE ACQUIRED." Reproduced Record (R.R.__) at 519a. The Redevelopment Plan also stated that the Redevelopment Authority could revise the designation of "NOT TO BE ACQUIRED PROPERTIES" if done within three yearsafter approval of the Redevelopment Plan.*fn3

The trial court held that because the Redevelopment Authority sought to condemn Landowners' properties more than seven years after the plan was approved, the time had long passed for its ability to act. Accordingly, the condemnations were not lawful. Further, the Redevelopment Plan was never amended to change the status of ...


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