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McCormick v. Dunkard Valley Joint Municipal Authority

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

September 24, 2019

William Jon McCormick, Appellant
v.
Dunkard Valley Joint Municipal Authority

          Submitted: May 31, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge

          OPINION

          MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge

         William Jon McCormick (McCormick), pro se, appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Greene County (trial court) that granted Dunkard Valley Joint Municipal Authority's (Water Authority) petition to strike a default judgment entered against it and to quash McCormick's local agency appeal. At issue is how to effect service of a local agency appeal under the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. §§551-555, 751-754, and whether a default judgment can be entered against a local agency that does not file a response to an appeal of its decision. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.

         McCormick owns a bed and breakfast named "The Captain's Watch Inn" in Greensboro, Pennsylvania. The Water Authority supplies water to the property. McCormick's account with the Water Authority became delinquent and on October 20, 2017, the Water Authority issued a shut-off notice, which McCormick disputed in a letter. The Water Authority treated McCormick's letter as an appeal and appointed a Hearing Officer to conduct a hearing on December 19, 2017.

         At the hearing, McCormick asserted that in March of 2016 there had been an accord and satisfaction of his obligation to the Water Authority. Rejecting this assertion, the Hearing Officer recommended that McCormick's appeal be denied and that the Water Authority proceed with its collection of McCormick's delinquent debt and shut off his water service. On January 3, 2018, the Water Authority adopted the Hearing Officer's decision as its own. The Water Authority's counsel, Ernest P. DeHaas, III, sent a copy of the Water Authority's decision to McCormick with a letter stating as follows:

Enclosed is a copy of the Findings, Conclusions and Decision which the [Water] Authority received from the hearing officer today and has adopted. … Although you should make your own determination regarding the time within which an appeal must be taken to this decision, it is my understanding that it would be within 30 days from the date of this letter.

Supplemental Reproduced Record at 39b (S.R.R.___).

         On January 19, 2018, McCormick appealed the Water Authority's decision to the trial court. On January 29, 2018, the trial court entered an order noting that the record did not reveal "service upon the [Water Authority]" and stating that the "Court will take no further action in this matter until [McCormick] is in compliance with Pa. R.C.P. Nos. 400-430." Trial Court Order, 1/29/2018; Reproduced Record at 4 (R.R.). In response, on February 1, 2018, McCormick filed a certificate of service with the trial court stating that on January 20, 2018, he had mailed a true and correct copy of his appeal to the Water Authority's counsel, DeHaas, at 2 West Main Street, Uniontown, Pennsylvania 15401, which was the address that appeared in DeHaas's letter to McCormick enclosing the Water Authority's decision.

         On May 9, 2018, McCormick filed a praecipe for default judgment based on the Water Authority's failure to file a timely responsive pleading to his appeal. The Greene County Prothonotary entered a default judgment against the Water Authority on the same day.

         On May 21, 2018, DeHaas entered his appearance on behalf of the Water Authority that listed his address as 51 East South Street, Uniontown, Pennsylvania 15401. The Water Authority then filed a petition to strike the default judgment and to quash McCormick's appeal. It also sought attorney fees. The Water Authority asserted that McCormick's appeal was governed by the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. §§551-555, 751-754, and that a statutory appeal must be served on the local agency by certified mail, return receipt requested. It argued that McCormick did not properly serve notice of his appeal upon the Water Authority.

         The Water Authority asserted that the default judgment should be stricken because (1) McCormick had not properly served the Water Authority with notice of his appeal; (2) the Water Authority was not required under the Local Agency Law to file a responsive pleading to the notice of appeal; and (3) McCormick failed to notify the Water Authority of his intention to file a praecipe for default judgment, as required by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. The Water Authority requested the trial court to quash McCormick's appeal. It argued that although McCormick filed a certificate of service in response to the trial court's January 29, 2018, order, he did not serve a copy of that certificate on the Water Authority or its counsel. Lastly, the Water Authority requested payment of its attorney fees because McCormick's conduct in the matter was "obdurate and vexatious." Petition, 5/21/2018, at 4; Original Record (O.R.) Item No. 16. The trial court scheduled oral argument on the Water Authority's petition for July 11, 2018, and the parties submitted additional briefs.

         On October 10, 2018, the trial court granted the Water Authority's petition to strike the default judgment and motion to quash McCormick's appeal of the Water Authority's decision of January 3, 2018. The trial court denied the Water Authority's petition for attorney fees. McCormick appealed to this Court.

         On appeal, [1] McCormick argues that the trial court erred in striking the default judgment against the Water Authority and in quashing his statutory appeal. In making these assignments of error, McCormick argues that his statutory appeal was a civil action governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure; therefore, a default ...


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