Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton

CourtCommonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore COLINS and PALLADINO JJ., and BARBIERI; BARBIERI
Citation562 A.2d 965,128 Pa.Cmwlth. 31
Decision Date03 August 1989
PartiesRONALD H. CLARK, INC., Appellant, v. TOWNSHIP OF HAMILTON, Appellee. 306 C.D. 1989

Page 965

562 A.2d 965
128 Pa.Cmwlth. 31
RONALD H. CLARK, INC., Appellant,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF HAMILTON, Appellee.
306 C.D. 1989
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued June 9, 1989.
Decided Aug. 3, 1989.

Page 966

[128 Pa.Cmwlth. 33] Steven L. Friedman and James J. Greenfield, Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish & Kauffman, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Allen E. Ertel, Allen E. Ertel & Assoc., Williamsport, for appellee.

Before COLINS and PALLADINO JJ., and BARBIERI, Senior Judge.

BARBIERI, Senior Judge.

Ronald H. Clark, Inc. (Clark) appeals the order of the Tioga County Court of Common Pleas which sustained the preliminary objections of the Township of Hamilton (Township) to Clark's declaratory judgment complaint seeking a determination that Ordinances passed by the Township restricting Clark from operating a landfill were invalid.

The facts surrounding the appeal are that in November of 1984, Clark obtained long term leases on 400 acres in Hamilton Township for the purpose of operating a "natural renovation landfill." On November 9, 1984, Clark applied to the Department of Environmental Resources (DER) for a landfill permit which was denied on September 13, 1985. Clark re-applied for a permit to operate a state-of-the-art landfill with a protective liner. This permit application had not yet been acted upon at the time of the decision and opinion of the trial court. 1

[128 Pa.Cmwlth. 34] In November of 1985, the Township passed four Ordinances that purported to regulate the use of landfills in the Township. Ordinance No. 14 regulates landfills by creating location restrictions and states no landfill may operate without written permission by the Board of Supervisors. Ordinance No. 16 prohibits vehicles weighing more that 30,000 pounds from using a described portion of a Township road. Ordinance No. 17 governs operation of solid waste landfills and establishes location restrictions and assesses a 10% tax on the landfill's gross yearly revenues, increasing by 1% annually. Ordinance No. 19 basically regulates activities involving deep mines and prohibits excavations more than ten feet deep without a Township permit.

On June 6, 1988, Clark filed an action under the Declaratory Judgments Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 7531-7541, seeking a determination that these Ordinances were invalid because landfill operation has been pre-empted by the Solid Waste Management Act, 35 Pa.C.S. §§ 6018.101-6018.1003. Clark also alleged that the Ordinances represented spot zoning, 2 and that the Township is barred by the pending ordinance doctrine from enforcing them against Clark. Clark further contends that Ordinance No. 16 imposing a weight restriction is pre-empted by the Motor Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §§ 4941-4947, and Ordinance No. 19 imposing an excavation prohibition is pre-empted by the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act, 52

Page 967

Pa.S. § 1406.7(b). Clark also argued that none of the Ordinances were properly advertised and noticed.

The Township filed preliminary objections to Clark's action for declaratory judgment, several of which the trial court sustained. 3 The trial court held that since Clark had [128 Pa.Cmwlth. 35] been denied one landfill permit by DER and the reapplication had not yet been acted upon by DER, no actual case or controversy existed and the case was not ripe for declaratory decision. The trial court also concluded that the pending ordinance doctrine did not apply 4 and Clark had not stated a claim that the Ordinances were improperly advertised or noticed. Because we conclude that this matter does not present an actual case or controversy, we do not reach the pending Ordinance or notice issues and must affirm the trial court.

Petitions for declaratory judgments are governed by the provisions of the Declaratory Judgments Act (DJA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 7531-7541. The Declaratory Judgments Act is broad in scope and is to be liberally construed and administered, but is not without its limitations. Cloonan v. Thornburgh, 103 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 1, 519 A.2d 1040 (1986), appeal dismissed sub nom. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Bd. v. Casey, 516 Pa. 52, 531 A.2d 1391 (1987). For instance, declaratory relief is appropriate only where there is an actual controversy. South Whitehall Township v. Department of Transportation, 82 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. [128 Pa.Cmwlth. 36] 217, 475 A.2d 166 (1984). In the instant case, Clark seeks declaratory relief on the theory the Ordinances in question would cause irreparable harm 5 by interfering with Clark's "vested rights in the enjoyment of its leasehold interest by making it impossible for Clark to operate a landfill on the property in the event that Clark is granted a permit to do so by DER." (Amended Complaint in Equity at p. 5; R.R. at 30a).

A declaratory judgment to decide future rights will not issue in a case where the alleged breach of the petitioner's rights is merely an anticipated event which may never happen and a petition for declaratory judgment is properly dismissed where the proceeding may prove to be merely academic. McCandless Township v. Wylie, 375 Pa. 378, 381-82, 100 A.2d 590, 592 (1953), citing Eureka Casualty Co. v.

Page 968

Henderson, 371 Pa. 587, 92 A.2d 551 (1952). While the subject matter of the dispute giving rise to a request for declaratory relief need not have erupted into a full-fledged battle, petitioner must at least allege facts demonstrating the existence of an active controversy relating to the invasion or threatened invasion of the petitioner's legal rights; there must emerge the "ripening seeds" of a controversy. In re Cryan's Estate, 301 Pa. 386, 152 A. 675 (1930).

Here, any potential interference with Clark's landfill operations, by necessary implication, is contingent on the granting of a permit by DER. Clark cannot lawfully operate a landfill without a DER permit and, therefore, may not [128 Pa.Cmwlth. 37] claim to be hindered until such a permit is granted. Thus, Clark has not established a causal connection between the action complained of...

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25 practice notes
  • Gmerek v. State Ethics Com'n
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • 18 Mayo 2000
    ...Judgments Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 7531-7541, govern petitions for declaratory judgments. Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton, 128 Pa.Cmwlth. 31, 562 A.2d 965 (1989). Declaratory judgments are not obtainable as a matter of right. Id. Rather, whether a court should exercise jurisdiction ......
  • Brouillette v. Wolf, No. 410 M.D. 2017
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 2 Julio 2019
    ...by the provisions of the Declaratory Judgments Act, 42 Pa. C.S. §§ 7531 - 7541. Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton , 128 Pa.Cmwlth. 31, 562 A.2d 965, 967 (1989). Although the Declaratory Judgments Act is to be liberally construed, one limitation on a court's ability to issue a de......
  • National Solid Wastes Management Ass'n v. Casey
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 11 Octubre 1990
    ...discretionary and not a matter of right, Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. [135 Pa.Cmwlth. 146] Township of Hamilton, 128 Pa.Commonwealth Ct. 31, 562 A.2d 965 (1989) and since the Association has pled that its members are suffering direct, immediate and substantial injury, William Penn Parking Garag......
  • Larry Pitt & Associates, PC v. Butler
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 30 Octubre 2001
    ...of the DJA, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 7531-7541, govern petitions for declaratory judgments. Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton, 128 Pa. Cmwlth. 31, 562 A.2d 965 (1989). Declaratory judgments are not obtainable as a matter of right. Id. Rather, whether a 785 A.2d 1097 court should exercise j......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Gmerek v. State Ethics Com'n
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • 18 Mayo 2000
    ...Judgments Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 7531-7541, govern petitions for declaratory judgments. Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton, 128 Pa.Cmwlth. 31, 562 A.2d 965 (1989). Declaratory judgments are not obtainable as a matter of right. Id. Rather, whether a court should exercise jurisdiction ......
  • Brouillette v. Wolf, No. 410 M.D. 2017
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 2 Julio 2019
    ...by the provisions of the Declaratory Judgments Act, 42 Pa. C.S. §§ 7531 - 7541. Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton , 128 Pa.Cmwlth. 31, 562 A.2d 965, 967 (1989). Although the Declaratory Judgments Act is to be liberally construed, one limitation on a court's ability to issue a de......
  • National Solid Wastes Management Ass'n v. Casey
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 11 Octubre 1990
    ...discretionary and not a matter of right, Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. [135 Pa.Cmwlth. 146] Township of Hamilton, 128 Pa.Commonwealth Ct. 31, 562 A.2d 965 (1989) and since the Association has pled that its members are suffering direct, immediate and substantial injury, William Penn Parking Garag......
  • Larry Pitt & Associates, PC v. Butler
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 30 Octubre 2001
    ...of the DJA, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 7531-7541, govern petitions for declaratory judgments. Ronald H. Clark, Inc. v. Township of Hamilton, 128 Pa. Cmwlth. 31, 562 A.2d 965 (1989). Declaratory judgments are not obtainable as a matter of right. Id. Rather, whether a 785 A.2d 1097 court should exercise j......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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