In Re: Condemnation by the Beaver Falls Municipal Authority, 960 A.2d 933 (2008).

A municipal authority’s exercise of its eminent domain power was set aside when the land taken was in excess of that which was reasonably required to serve the public purpose.
Case Details:

Condemnees entered into an easement agreement with the Municipal Authority (the “Authority”) whereby they granted an easement to the Authority for an access road and water lines related to the Authority’s construction of a water tank on property adjacent to the Condemnees’ property.  In consideration of the easement, the Authority agreed to provide water service to Condemnees, delimit the area where the access road and water line would be placed, grant the right to remove all of the timber, and the Authority would stockpile any excess excavation at Condemnee’s direction.   The Authority began construction and stockpiled excess soil from the construction at a location which the Condemnees did not agree.  A dispute arose regarding the terms of the easement agreement.

Thereafter, the Authority filed a declaration of taking condemning five acres of Condemnee’s property to avoid the cost of moving the stockpile of soil.  Condemnees filed preliminary objections, and the trial court sustained the objections finding that the amount of land that was taken exceeded the amount reasonably required for the public purpose.  The Authority appealed to the Commonwealth Court.  The Authority argued that it should have been given deference in its exercise of its eminent domain power. The Commonwealth Court agreed that there is a strong presumption that a public authority acted properly when it exercises eminent domain power.   The Authority claimed that it clearly exercised its power for a public purpose, and that the trial court focused on the Condemnees’ loss of the beneficial use of their property rather than the public purpose served by the taking.

The Commonwealth Court found that it is well settled that private property may be taken for a public purpose “only in such an amount and to such an extent as [the] purposes reasonably require.”  Condemnees argued that the Authority’s taking was excessive because the parties had already granted the amount of land necessary for the purposes pursuant to the easement agreement.  The Commonwealth Court agreed that the land taken was in excess of that which was reasonably required and that the Authority already acquired the amount of land needed pursuant to the easement agreement.

Date of Decision: 11/21/08

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