Hydrojet Services, Inc. v. Reading Area Water Authority, 111419 PACCA, 1272 C.D. 2018

Docket Nº:1272 C.D. 2018
Opinion Judge:PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, JUDGE.
Party Name:Hydrojet Services, Inc. v. Reading Area Water Authority, Appellant
Judge Panel:BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge.
Case Date:November 14, 2019
Court:Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
 
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Hydrojet Services, Inc.

v.

Reading Area Water Authority, Appellant

No. 1272 C.D. 2018

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 14, 2019

Argued: September 10, 2019

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge.

OPINION

PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, JUDGE.

The Reading Area Water Authority (RAWA) appeals from the April 27, 2018 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County (trial court) granting in part the petition of Hydrojet Services, Inc. (Hydrojet), seeking to enforce a settlement agreement reached with RAWA over unpaid water usage charges for a period of approximately eight years.[1]

Facts and Procedural History

The underlying facts of this case are not in dispute. In early 2009, Hydrojet began its business operations in a building located at 450 Gateway Drive, Reading, Pennsylvania (the property). For unknown reasons, Hydrojet first began receiving water bills for the property in May 2017. At that time, RAWA sent Hydrojet an invoice for its current water usage, without mention of any outstanding or unpaid charges. However, on November 2, 2017, Hydrojet received an invoice from RAWA detailing outstanding charges of $242, 043.14, representing charges for its water and sewer usage from 2009 until May 2017. On November 21, 2017, RAWA posted a shut-off notice at the property for nonpayment of the outstanding charges. This shut-off notice advised that water service would be discontinued by December 6, 2017, unless the outstanding charges were paid in full. (Petition for Enforcement of Settlement Agreement ¶¶3-13; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 3a-4a.)

Following a meeting of the respective parties on December 5, 2017, the parties agreed to settle the outstanding charges and for these charges to be paid in installments over time. On December 18, 2017, counsel for RAWA forwarded a draft settlement agreement to Hydrojet's counsel, who later advised counsel for RAWA that the agreement was acceptable. On December 27, 2017, counsel for RAWA forwarded a final version of the settlement agreement to counsel for Hydrojet for execution. Michael Rado, Hydrojet's President, signed the settlement agreement but struck out a paragraph stating the agreement was executed voluntarily and without any duress or undue influence. On January 24, 2018, RAWA posted a second shut-off notice at the property, with a service discontinuance date of February 8, 2018. Two days later, Hydrojet paid its January invoice and also made a lump sum payment in accordance with the terms of the settlement agreement. RAWA cashed the check from Hydrojet on January 29, 2018. (Petition for Enforcement of Settlement Agreement ¶¶14-22; R.R. at 4a-6a.)

On January 30, 2018, counsel for Hydrojet contacted counsel for RAWA to confirm that RAWA had accepted the settlement agreement and would abide by the terms therein. However, counsel for RAWA advised that the settlement agreement was not accepted. That same day, counsel for Hydrojet forwarded an executed settlement agreement to counsel for RAWA that included the paragraph that was previously stricken by Rado. Approximately one week later, counsel for RAWA advised counsel for Hydrojet that RAWA declined to enter into a settlement agreement and that service would be discontinued the following day as set forth in the second shut-off notice. (Petition for Enforcement of Settlement Agreement ¶¶23-26; R.R. at 6a.)

On February 8, 2018, the scheduled service disconnection date, Hydrojet filed the present petition for enforcement of the settlement agreement, along with a request for injunctive relief seeking to enjoin RAWA from discontinuing water service to the property. That same day, the trial court issued an order granting Hydrojet's request for injunctive relief and enjoining RAWA from discontinuing water service to the property.2 On February 13, 2018, RAWA filed an answer to the petition denying the existence of any enforceable settlement agreement. Rather, RAWA described the settlement agreement provided to counsel for Hydrojet as an offer and the returned agreement executed by Hydrojet with paragraph 13 stricken as a counteroffer which RAWA never accepted. (R.R. at 3a-29a.)

That same day, the trial court heard argument with respect to Hydrojet's petition. At this argument, counsel for RAWA introduced a motion requesting the presiding judge to recuse herself from the proceedings based upon the fact that the judge had previously represented a landlord in a lease transaction involving Hydrojet. However, after discussions between the judge and counsel for Hydrojet, counsel for RAWA stated that he no longer had any concerns regarding the recusal issue.

Returning to the issue of the...

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