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City of Reading v. Iezzi

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

October 23, 2013

City of Reading
v.
Mark A. Iezzi, Appellant

Argued: September 13, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge

OPINION

ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge

In this statutory appeal, Mark A. Iezzi (Iezzi) asks whether the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County (trial court) erred by entering judgment in favor of the City of Reading (City) and against Iezzi in the amount of $1, 878.34 for unpaid recycling and trash fees and determining Iezzi failed to preserve any issues for review by not filing a post-trial motion. Iezzi contends post-trial motions are prohibited in statutory appeals such as this. He further asserts the Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA)[1] and the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling, and Waste Reduction Act (Act 101)[2] preempt the City from imposing recycling fees. Upon review, we hold the City lacked statutory authority to impose recycling fees; therefore, we reverse on the merits.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The City is a third-class city organized and operating under a home rule charter (Charter). Pursuant to Act 101 and its powers under the Charter, the City adopted an ordinance regulating the collection, transportation, storage and disposal of solid waste and recycling and imposing separate fees for these services on persons owning property located within its borders.[3] Iezzi owns property located at 660 N. 12th Street (property) in the City.

In December 2010, the City filed a tax claim of $1, 878.34 against Iezzi for delinquent recycling and trash fees due on his property for the years 1999 through 2008. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 189a. In June 2011, the City filed a writ of scire facias[4] against Iezzi's property. Id. at 193a.

In response, Iezzi filed an affidavit of defense. Id. at 196a. In the affidavit, he stated he utilized a private hauler to pick up trash from 1999 to 2005. In March 2007, he formed his own "roll-off service" and received approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to collect and provide his own trash hauling service. Id. at 197a. He then informed the City he would no longer require its services since participation at that time was voluntary. Thus, Iezzi claimed he did not owe any trash or recycling fees to the City and requested dismissal of the City's scire facias writ.

The trial court held a bench trial. At the hearing, Iezzi offered proof that he utilized a private trash hauler for the property for the years in question. In response, the City agreed to remove all charges from Iezzi's account relating to delinquent trash fees. Id. at 3a. However, the City continued to seek the delinquent recycling fees, as well as interest, costs and attorney fees, in the amount of $1, 405.17. Id. at 5a, 203a.

Iezzi defended that he does not owe the recycling fees because neither SWMA nor Act 101 authorize the City to assess recycling fees against property owners or private waste haulers. The trial court rejected Iezzi's defense and entered a judgment in favor of the City and against Iezzi in the amount of $1, 878.34 for both recycling and trash fees.[5] The same day, the Prothonotary entered a notice of entry of judgment pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 236. Iezzi then filed the present appeal with this Court.[6] Iezzi did not file a post-trial motion with the trial court.

The trial court issued an opinion in which it submitted Iezzi did not preserve any issues on appeal having failed to file any post-trial motions. Nevertheless, the trial court determined Iezzi's defense lacked merit. The trial court explained Act 101 only preempts municipal authorities from imposing administrative fees on waste haulers. Although Iezzi is a waste hauler, the City assessed the fee against him because he is a property owner. Therefore, the trial court concluded Act 101 did not preempt the City's ordinance because municipalities are authorized to charge property owners for the collection of recyclable materials. Pursuant to the City's ordinance, recycling fees are mandatory, even if the recycling services are not actually used by the property owner.

II. Issues

In this appeal, Iezzi contends he did not waive all issues on appeal for failure to file a post-trial motion. Iezzi maintains post-trial motions are inapplicable in statutory appeal cases, including scire facias matters, pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1(g). Moreover, post-trial motions are not appropriate where, as here, the trial court issued a final judgment, which the Prothonotary entered pursuant Pa. R.C.P. No. 236, before any post-trial motions could be filed. Thus, Iezzi's appeal to this Court was proper.

Iezzi also argues the trial court erred in determining the City was permitted to assess a recycling fee against him. SWMA and Act 101 govern recycling and set forth a comprehensive plan for funding local recycling programs. These acts, however, do not authorize the City to charge fees not expressly set forth in the statute. Thus, the City is not permitted to charge any fees for its recycling program.

III. Discussion

A. Post-trial Motions

First, Iezzi contends he did not waive all issues on appeal for failure to file a post-trial motion. According to Iezzi, post-trial motions are inapplicable in statutory appeal cases, including scire facias matters, pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1(g). Indeed, the filing of a post-trial motion in a scire facias case is a mere nullity. Furthermore, once the trial court entered a final judgment, the judgment became a final, appealable order. Therefore, Iezzi's appeal to this Court was the proper course of action.

The City counters the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure do not apply to statutory appeals. Rather, the local rules of the courts of common pleas govern. The City maintains, pursuant to the local rule of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, B.R.C.P. No. 227.1, the parties must file a motion for post-trial relief in all cases. The local rule does not incorporate the statutory appeal exception contained in Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1(g) or create any other prohibition against the filing of post-trial motions in statutory appeal cases. Therefore, local rule required Iezzi to raise the issues regarding preemption in a post-trial motion. Having failed to do so, the City claims, Iezzi did not preserve any issues for appeal.

Rule 227.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure governs post-trial motions practice for civil cases. Subdivision (g) provides:

A motion for post-trial relief may not be filed in an appeal from the final adjudication or determination of a local agency or a Commonwealth agency as to which jurisdiction is vested in the courts of common pleas.

Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1(g). In other words, if jurisdiction over an appeal from a final order of a local agency is vested in the trial court, a motion for post-trial relief may not be filed before filing an appeal. See Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1, Explanatory Comment – 1989.

Despite the clear language of Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1(g), which explicitly prohibits post-trial practice in statutory appeals, the courts of this Commonwealth continue to permit post-trial practice in those cases where the trial court finds it helpful. Appeal of Borough of Churchill, 525 Pa. 80, 575 A.2d 550 (1990); In re PP&L, Inc., 838 A.2d 1 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003); In re Upset Price Tax Sale for Springfield Twp., 700 A.2d 607 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997); In re Appeal of Sheetz, Inc., 651 A.2d 563 (Pa. Cmwlth.), rev'd per curiam, 539 Pa. 107, 650 A.2d 443 (1994); Shapiro v. Center Twp., 632 A.2d 994 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993); Eachus v. Chester Cnty. Tax Claim Bureau, 612 A.2d 586 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992).

This Court fully discussed the evolution of this position in Springfield Township. We concluded:

In each case where a trial court ruled upon the merits of post-trial motions and this Court quashed the appeal, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Accordingly, the Court expressly concludes from a close reading of Appeal of Borough of Churchill, Shapiro, and In re Appeal of Sheetz, Inc. that, absent some local rule prohibiting the filing of post-trial motions in a particular type of proceeding, where a trial court ...

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