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City of Philadelphia v. New Life Evangelistic Church

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

April 24, 2015

City of Philadelphia
v.
New Life Evangelistic Church c/o Bishop William L. Jackson, Appellant

Submitted October 6, 2014

Appealed from No. September Term, 2013, No. 03790. Common Pleas Court of the County of Philadelphia. Tucker, J.

Richard C. DeMarco, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Kelly Diffily, Deputy City Solicitor, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge.

OPINION

Page 473

P. KEVIN BROBSON, JUDGE

Appellant New Life Evangelistic Church c/o Bishop William L. Jackson (New Life Church) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court). The trial court granted a permanent injunction in favor of the City of Philadelphia (City). The injunction, inter alia, authorized the City to demolish property New Life Church owns, consisting of buildings that formerly were used as a parochial church and school.

In this appeal, the primary question New Life Church raises is whether the procedures before the trial court violated the due process rights of New Life Church. The City, however, asserts that New Life Church has waived all the issues in this appeal by failing to file post-trial motions under Pa. R.C.P. No. 227.1. Because we agree with the City's waiver argument, we affirm the trial court's order.

On October 1, 2013, the City filed a complaint in equity (the Complaint), asserting that New Life Church was the owner of property located at 2826 through 2846 N. 9th Street in the City and formerly owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, consisting, inter alia, of a church and school building. The City averred that it had sent numerous notices of violations under the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code (PMC), to which New Life Church never responded. The most recent notices of violations indicated that the church building was in imminent danger of collapse and provided New Life Church with the option of making necessary repairs

Page 474

or demolishing the structures within a particular period of time. The City filed the Complaint after New Life Church again failed to respond to the notices. In the Complaint, the City sought an injunction to authorize the City (1) to demolish the structures, (2) to obtain liens against the property, (3) to recover administrative costs and fines, and (4) other relief as deemed appropriate. The City contemporaneously filed petitions seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, through which the City also sought initial relief authorizing the demolition of the structures.

The trial court scheduled an emergency hearing for October 3, 2013, to address the City's petitions. Also, on October 2, 2013, the City filed with the trial court a petition for alternative service. The City appeared for the October 3, 2013 hearing, but no one appeared on behalf of New Life Church. Counsel for the City indicated that the City made several attempts to serve New Life Church through its apparent President, Bishop William Jackson (Jackson). Counsel for the City stated that she believed that Jackson was avoiding service but also believed that he had received a copy of the Complaint. She noted that the day before the hearing, October 2, 2013, the City had filed the above-mentioned petition for alternative service. After the City's attorney informed the trial court of the efforts the City made to serve Jackson, the trial court proceeded to consider the City's petition.

The trial court issued an order from the bench, authorizing the alternative service the City requested.[1] The trial court concluded that Jackson was seeking to avoid service of process and that the City had properly served Jackson. With regard to the merits of the City's request, the trial court granted the City's request for preliminary injunctive relief. By written order dated October 3, 2013, captioned " Preliminary Injunction," the trial court determined that the church structure presented a danger to the public and authorized the City to demolish the church and school building. The trial court also directed the City to take certain actions to serve Jackson and provide proof of such service. According to the docket, a sheriff/process server filed an affidavit of service on October 4, 2013, indicating that the trial court's October 3, 2013 order was served by posting a copy of the order on numerous locations, including Jackson's residence and various windows and doors of the building premises. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 262a-79a.)

On October 8, 2013, New Life Church c/o Jackson filed a motion for reconsideration of the trial court's October 3, 2013 order. New Life Church challenged the entry of the October 3, 2013 order based upon the contention that the City failed to serve New Life Church properly with the City's Complaint. On October 9, 2013, the City filed a " motion for permanent injunction--emergency." The trial court issued rules to show cause relating to both New Life Church's reconsideration request and the City's motion for permanent injunctive relief. By order dated October 9, 2013, the trial court set October 15, 2013 as the date for hearing regarding the motions.

Jackson appeared pro se before the trial court for the October 15, 2013 hearing. During that ...


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