In re: Condemnation by the County of Berks, a Third Class County, of Lands and all Improvements thereon for Public Recreation Places and Public Parks, 914 A.2d 962 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007).

An entity lacks standing as a condemnee in an eminent domain proceeding if it has no legal or equitable property interest in the property being condemned.
Case Details:

The City of Reading owned a 560-acre recreation area, including a lake, that provided part of the City’s water supply.  On November 28, 2005, the City passed a Resolution authorizing an option agreement for the sale of the recreation area to a private investment partnership which expired if the partnership did not pay the City $2,500,000 by December 20, 2005.  The mayor, however, vetoed the Resolution and the option agreement was never fully executed.  In an action for mandamus to require the mayor to sign the proposal, the private partnership lost before the trial court and the Commonwealth Court, but requested the Supreme Court to hear the action.

In the meantime, on December 15, 2005, the County condemned the property for public recreation purposes.  Even though it was not listed in the County’s declaration of taking as a condemnee, the private partnership filed preliminary objections, asserting standing as an optionee under the option agreement or, in the alternative, as a “potential optionee,” because its petition for appeal to the Supreme Court was outstanding.

The trial court denied the objections because it found that, because the option agreement was never executed, the private partnership had no property interest in the property.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed.  Furthermore, it found that because the private partnership’s mandamus action had little chance of success, its “potential optionee” argument also had little merit.  In addition, the Commonwealth Court opined, even if the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions on the mandamus action, the option agreement had expired by its own terms because the private partnership did not make the requisite deposit by December 20, 2005.  Accordingly, because the private partnership had no legal or equitable interest in the property being condemned, the Commonwealth Court held that the private partnership had no standing to file preliminary objections to the County’s declaration of taking.

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