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Thomas A. Robinson Family Limited Partnership v. Bioni

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 27, 2017

THOMAS A. ROBINSON FAMILY LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, A PENNSYLVANIA LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, AND T.A. ROBINSON ASPHALT PAVING, INC., A PENNSYLVANIA CORPORATION
v.
TED S. BIONI AND DOMINIC J. BIONI Appellants

         Appeal from the Order Entered January 20, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County Civil Division at No(s): 2014-2027

          BEFORE: OLSON, J., SOLANO, J., and RANSOM, J.

          OPINION

          SOLANO, J.

         Appellants Ted and Dominic Bioni appeal from an order granting permanent injunctive relief enforcing a prescriptive easement in favor of Appellees Thomas A. Robinson Family Limited Partnership and T.A. Robinson Asphalt Paving, Inc. ("the Robinsons"). After careful review, we deny the Robinsons' motion to quash the appeal for failure to file post-trial motions, affirm the order of the trial court enjoining conduct by the Bionis that interferes with the Robinsons' prescriptive easement, and vacate the order to the extent it enjoined conduct by the Bionis that interferes with a purported prescriptive easement owned by the public.

         The Robinsons commenced this action by a complaint in equity that sought to enjoin the Bionis from interfering with their ability to enter their property from a public street (Federal Street) in Cecil Township, Washington County. The Robinsons have operated an asphalt business since 1994, and store heavy equipment on their property. They also lease their property to other commercial businesses that store commercial vehicles on the property. Prior to their ownership and use of the property, it was owned by Angelo Brunetti, who used it for the storage and hauling of coal by-product materials. The Bionis own adjacent commercial property where they operate an excavating and hauling business.

         The Robinsons access Federal Street by means of a strip of land (the "cartway"), a portion of which abuts the Bionis' property. The cartway, which is sometimes referenced in the record as the "Federal Street Extension, " is privately owned by the Robinsons, and, according to the Robinsons' property deed, it was originally nine feet wide. However, the Robinsons require a larger width in order to accommodate their large vehicles and equipment. The paved portion of the cartway now varies in places from nine to fifteen feet in width, and a portion of the cartway next to the Bionis' property is fifteen feet wide. This width encroaches on the Bionis' property by approximately three feet.[1] The Robinsons contend that through years of continuous use by themselves and their predecessor (Brunetti), they acquired a prescriptive easement to use this additional width of the cartway. The Bionis disagree and do not recognize the Robinsons' right to use a fifteen-foot-wide right-of-way.

         In 2014, the Bionis erected a steel post at the edge of their property, obstructing the Robinsons' use of the portion of the cartway that encroaches on the Bionis' property. The Robinsons moved for a preliminary injunction to have the post removed, and the trial court granted that relief by an order dated April 11, 2014, which reads in relevant part:

AND NOW, this 11th day of April, 2014, upon consideration of plaintiff Thomas A. Robinson Family Limited Partnership's Motion for Preliminary Injunction, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that said motion is GRANTED, and a PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION is hereby entered, and defendant[s] Ted S. Bioni and Dominic J. Bioni and any other person or entity acting in active concert or participation with said defendant[s] are hereby ENJOINED from:
A) Taking any action which would interfere with or prohibit Robinson from accessing the Subject Property from Federal Street across a portion of Bionis' Property; and
B) Taking any action that would interfere with or impede[] Robinson or its contractors, employees, and agents from accessing the Subject Property; and
C) Bioni must remove the post that was installed on or about April 2, 2014, and is hereby prohibited from reinstalling any such barrier, post, or obstruction.

Order, 4/11/14, at 6.

         The trial court held hearings on the Robinsons' request for a permanent injunction on November 14, 2014, and January 26, 2015, during which both sides offered testimony and exhibits. By an opinion and order dated January 15, 2016, [2] the trial court found in favor of the Robinsons and against the Bionis, holding that the Robinsons held a prescriptive easement over the disputed portion of the Bionis' property along the cartway for access to the Robinsons' property. The court enjoined the Bionis from interfering with that access. The trial court's order reads:

AND NOW, this 15th day of January, 2016, upon careful consideration of the evidence and testimony presented, and upon review of the briefs filed on behalf of Plaintiffs and Defendants, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that Plaintiffs' Motion for a Permanent Injunction is GRANTED, and Defendants are hereby PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from:
A) Taking any action which would interfere with or prohibit Plaintiffs or the public from accessing the subject Property, ingress or egress, from Federal Street across a portion of Defendants' property;
B) Installing or constructing any pole, marker or other obstacle which would impede or interfere with Plaintiffs' access, or its contractors, employees, agents, business invitees, tenants or the public to the subject Property.
By way of further order, the trial court hereby ORDERS that the bond posted by Plaintiffs pursuant to the court's order of April 11, 2014 is hereby released; and
The trial court awards court costs in favor of Plaintiffs and against Defendants.

         Opinion and Order, 1/15/16, at 6. Significantly, unlike the preliminary injunction, the permanent injunction prohibited the Bionis from interfering with access to the disputed portion of the cartway not only by the Robinsons, but also by "the public." In its Conclusions of Law, the court held that the evidence not only proved that the Robinsons had acquired a prescriptive easement across the Bionis' property, but also that "the public and Cecil Township" had done the same. See id. at 5 (Legal Conclusions 1-2).

         The Bionis did not seek post-trial relief pursuant to Rule 227.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Rather, on February 16, 2016, they filed a direct appeal to this Court in which they raise the following six issues:

1. Is a Trial Court Order granting a permanent injunction, which alters the status quo, immediately appealable as a matter of right pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 311(4)?
2. Did the Trial Court Abuse its Discretion in making findings of fact which are not supported by substantial evidence of record?
3. Did the Trial Court abuse its discretion and/or err as a matter of law in concluding that the Robinsons demonstrated by "clear and positive proof" the existence of a prescriptive easement acquired in their favor over and across the Bionis' property based on the adverse, open, notorious, continuous and uninterrupted use by the Robinsons and their predecessors in title for over twenty-one years?
4. Did the Trial Court abuse its discretion and/or err as a matter of law in determining that the evidence adduced at trial demonstrated by "clear and positive proof" the existence of a prescriptive easement in favor of the public and Cecil Township over and across Defendant's property along "Federal Street Extension" based on the adverse, open, notorious, continuous and uninterrupted use by the public and the Township for over twenty-one years?
5. Did the Trial Court abuse its discretion and/or err as a matter of law in failing to identify the period of prescription, as well as the specific location and size of the alleged prescriptive easement?
6. Did the Trial Court abuse its discretion and/or err as a matter of law in determining the existence of a prescriptive easement where no evidence of record demonstrates that the Robinsons' predecessors in interest ever used the Bionis' property adversely and/or whether by words or action ever asserted a prescriptive easement claim over said property?

         Bionis' Brief at 5-6 (suggested answers omitted).

         On March 18, 2016, we issued an order requiring the Bionis to show cause why their appeal should not be dismissed for failure to file a post-trial motion pursuant to Rule 227.1. On March 21, 2016, the Robinsons filed a motion to quash the appeal based on the Bionis' failure to comply with Rule 227.1. See Mot. To Quash, 3/21/16. On April 6, 2016, we issued a per curiam order dismissing the appeal sua sponte, and dismissing the Robinsons' motion to quash as moot. On April 7, 2016, the Bionis filed an application for reconsideration of our April 6, 2016 order, in which they contended that they were not required to file a post-trial motion because they had filed an interlocutory appeal from an order granting an injunction pursuant to Rule 311(a)(4) of the Rules of Appellate Procedure. On April 27, 2016, we issued a per curiam ...


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