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[U] North Chestnut Hill Neighbors, Inc. v. Chestnut Hill College, Inc.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 7, 2014

NORTH CHESTNUT HILL NEIGHBORS, INC. AND NORTHWEST-WISSAHICKON CONSERVANCY, INC., Appellants
v.
CHESTNUT HILL COLLEGE, INC. Appellee

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment Entered December 26, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): July Term, 2011 No. 1469

BEFORE: GANTMAN, J., SHOGAN, J., and PLATT, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

GANTMAN, J.

Appellants, North Chestnut Hill Neighbors, Inc., and Northwest-Wissahickon Conservancy, Inc., appeal from the summary judgment entered in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, in favor of Appellee, Chestnut Hill College, Inc., in this declaratory judgment action. We affirm.

In its opinion, the trial court fully and correctly sets forth the relevant facts and procedural history of this case. Therefore, we have no reason to restate them.

Appellants raise the following issues for our review:
WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED AN ERROR OF LAW AND/OR ABUSE OF DISCRETION WHEN IT DISMISSED THE ABOVE-CAPTIONED MATTER ON THE BASIS OF LACK OF STANDING AFTER ANOTHER JUDGE IN THIS CASE RULED THAT APPELLANTS DID HAVE STANDING AS THIRD-PARTY BENEFICIARIES OF THE SUGARLOAF RESTRICTIONS?
WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED AN ERROR OF LAW, ABUSE OF DISCRETION AND/OR CAPRICIOUSLY DISREGARDED THE RECORD EVIDENCE WHEN IT RULED THAT APPELLANTS LACKED STANDING AS THIRD-PARTY BENEFICIARIES OF THE RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS RECORDED AGAINST SUGARLOAF TO ENFORCE THE USE RESTRICTIONS?

(Appellants' Brief at 4).

Initially, we observe:
"Our scope of review of an order granting summary judgment is plenary." Harber Philadelphia Center City Office Ltd. v. LPCI Ltd. Partnership, 764 A.2d 1100, 1103 (Pa.Super. 2000), appeal denied, 566 Pa. 664, 782 A.2d 546 (2001). "[W]e apply the same standard as the trial court, reviewing all the evidence of record to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact." Id. "We view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party. Only where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law will summary judgment be entered." Caro v. Glah, 867 A.2d 531, 533 (Pa.Super. 2004) (citing Pappas v. Asbel, 564 Pa. 407, 418, 768 A.2d 1089, 1095 (2001), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 938, 122 S.Ct. 2618, 153 L.Ed.2d 802 (2002)).
Motions for summary judgment necessarily and directly implicate the plaintiff's proof of the elements of [his] cause of action. Grandelli v. Methodist Hosp., 777 A.2d 1138, 1145 n.7 (Pa.Super. 2001). Summary judgment is proper "if, after the completion of discovery relevant to the motion, including the production of expert reports, an adverse party who will bear the burden of proof at trial has failed to produce evidence of facts essential to the cause of action or defense which in a jury trial would require the issues to be submitted to a jury." Pa.R.C.P. 1035.2. Thus, a record that supports summary judgment will either (1) show the material facts are undisputed or (2) contain insufficient evidence of facts to make out a prima facie cause of action or defense and, therefore, there is no issue to be submitted to the jury. Grandelli, supra at 1143 (citing Pa.R.C.P. 1035.2 Note). "Upon appellate review, we are not bound by the trial court's conclusions of law, but may reach our own conclusions." Grandelli, supra at 1144. The appellate Court may disturb the trial court's order only upon an error of law or an abuse of discretion. Caro, supra.
Judicial discretion requires action in conformity with law on facts and circumstances before the trial court after hearing and consideration. Consequently, the court abuses its discretion if, in resolving the issue for decision, it misapplies the law or exercises its discretion in a manner lacking reason. Similarly, the trial court abuses its discretion if it does not follow legal procedure.
Miller v. Sacred Heart Hosp., 753 A.2d 829, 832 (Pa.Super. 2000) (internal citations omitted). "Where the discretion exercised by the trial court is challenged on appeal, the party bringing the challenge bears a heavy burden." Paden v. Baker Concrete Constr., Inc., 540 Pa. 409, [412, ] 658 A.2d 341, 343 (1995) (citation omitted).
[I]t is not sufficient to persuade the appellate court that it might have reached a different conclusion if…charged with the duty imposed on the court below; it is necessary to go further and show an abuse of the discretionary power. An abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but if in reaching a conclusion the law is overridden or misapplied, or the judgment exercised is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will, as shown by the evidence or the record, discretion is abused. Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Bartlett v. Bradford Publishing, Inc., 885 A.2d 562, 566 (Pa.Super. 2005). Lineberger v. Wyeth, 894 A.2d 141, 145-46 (Pa.Super. 2006).

After a thorough review of the record, the briefs of the parties, the applicable law, and the well-reasoned opinion of the Honorable Leon W. Tucker, we conclude Appellants' issues merit no relief. The trial court opinion comprehensively discusses and properly disposes of the questions presented. (See Trial Court Opinion, filed March 22, 2013, at 6-12) (finding: (1) Appellants incorrectly applied general principles of "coordinate jurisdiction doctrine"; court ruling on later motion for summary judgment is not precluded from granting relief previously denied by another court in ruling on preliminary objections; (2) Appellants are not promisees of three deed restrictions; Appellants' names do not appear anywhere in restrictive covenants, nor are their property interests identified in restrictive covenants; no clear indication that Appellants were intended as third party beneficiaries to deed restrictions; Appellants have no standing to enforce Growing Greener Deed Restriction because grantor's express intent was for this restriction to be enforceable only by government agency, and Appellants are not Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or its successor; Greenfield Deed Restriction expressly identifies only Greenfield and Temple as parties; Greenfield Deed Restriction, which requires that property maintain "character of the neighborhood" surrounding property, does not plainly identify Appellants as intended beneficiaries of this restrictive covenant; Greenfield Deed Restriction does not relate to common scheme, plan or subdivision; Houston Deed Restriction does not relate to common plan, and it does not plainly identify Appellants as intended beneficiaries of this restriction; Appellants failed to make cogent and convincing argument that they represent interests of parties who might conceptually have standing; Appellants failed to demonstrate they were given rights to enforce prior deed restrictions; Appellants lack standing to enforce any of three deed restrictions). The record supports the trial court's decision; therefore, we see no reason to disturb it. Accordingly, we affirm on the basis of the trial court's opinion.

Judgment affirmed.

*JUDGE PLATT CONCURS IN THE RESULT.

Judgment Entered.

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