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Smith v. Township of Richmond

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

December 16, 2013

James M. SMITH, Appellant
v.
TOWNSHIP OF RICHMOND, Berks County, Pennsylvania, Gary J. Angstadt, Ronald L. Kurtz, and Donald H. Brumbach, Appellees.

Argued Sept. 11, 2013.

Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court dated 10/5/12 at No. 1512 CD 2011 affirming the order of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division dated 7/22/11 at No. 10-5583. Trial Court Judge: Jeffrey L. Schmehl, President Judge. Intermediate Court Judges: Bonnie Brigance Ledbetter, Mary Hannah Leavitt, James G. Collins, Judges.

Page 408

David Weston Crossett, Esq., Smith Law Group, LLC, Fleetwood, for James Michael Smith.

James Michael Smith, Esq., Smith Law Group, LLC, Fleetwood, pro se appellant.

Melissa Bevan Melewsky, Esq., for Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, amicus curiae.

Anthony Randall Sherr, Esq., Mayers, Mennies & Sherr, L.L.P., Blue Bell, for

Page 409

Twp of Richmond, Berks Cty PA, Angstadt-G, Kurtz-R, Brumbach-D.

Sean Ashley Fields, Esq., PA School Boards Association, Inc., for Pennsylvania School Boards Association, amicus curiae.

Scott T. Wyland, Esq., Salzmann Hughes, P.C., Harrisburg, for County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, et al., amicus curiae.

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ.

OPINION

SAYLOR, Justice.

This Sunshine Act dispute concerns whether meetings between an agency and outside entities, including those involved in ongoing litigation with that agency, entailed " deliberations" — and thus, should have been open to the public— where the subject of the meetings was the same as that of the litigation, although the agency claims the meetings were held for information-gathering purposes only.

Appellee Richmond Township was engaged in litigation with the Lehigh Cement Company (" Lehigh Cement" ), and the East Penn Valley Residents Group (the " Citizens Group" ) as intervenor, over the possible expansion of Lehigh Cement's limestone quarry into the Township. See generally Lehigh Cement Co. v. Richmond Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 2010 WL 9516510 (Pa.Cmwlth. Feb. 25, 2010). At a March 8, 2010, public meeting of the Township's three-member Board of Supervisors (the " Board" ), the Township's solicitor announced that a series of gatherings with interested parties would take place to obtain information about relevant matters, such as the nature of quarrying and the Citizens Group's environmental concerns.[1] He referred to these gatherings as " executive sessions" of the Board and noted that they would be closed to the public as permitted under the Sunshine Act.[2] Four such gatherings took place on March 9-12, 2010, with a quorum of the Board in attendance at each: two with representatives of adjacent municipalities that had experience dealing with quarries; one with the Citizens Group and its attorney; and one with Lehigh Cement and its attorneys.

At the Board's April 5, 2010, public meeting, the solicitor stated that the previously-announced " executive sessions" had occurred as scheduled. He explained that the supervisors did not deliberate on, conduct, or make any decisions on, Township business at any of the four gatherings, and he indicated that their sole purpose was for the Supervisors to ask ...


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