Bd. of Supervisors of Willistown Twp. v. Main Line Gardens, Inc., 2018 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 160 (May 9, 2018)
The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code permits municipalities to recover “all costs and attorney fees incurred as a result of the violation, which may encompass appeals from the enforcement notice.” Once the municipality establishes the relatedness of the fees, the burden shifts to the party contesting the fees to provide evidence establishing “a basis for segregating the hours spent on successful and unsuccessful claims.”
Main Line appealed an enforcement notice issued by the Township which alleged ongoing violations related to dumping, storing, transferring, or processing of tree waste in the form of wood chips, among other issues. The Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”) upheld the notice and filed civil complaints for enforcement. Following arbitration, a judgment against Main Line was issued on the wood chip issue and the Township sought to enforce it and to recover attorney fees. Attorney fees were awarded and Main Line appealed the award arguing it was based on speculation rather than evidence.
Section 617.2(a) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), 53 P.S. § 10617.2(a), states: “Any person . . . which has violated . . . the provisions of any zoning ordinance . . . shall, upon being found liable therefor in a civil enforcement proceeding commenced by a municipality, pay a judgment of not more than $500 plus all court costs, including reasonable attorney fees incurred by a municipality as a result thereof.” Per the Court, “[a]n award of costs and attorney fees pursuant to Section 617.2 of the MPC is not limited to costs and fees incurred as a result of the action before the [magisterial district judge,] but includes all costs and attorney fees incurred as a result of the violation, which may encompass appeals from the enforcement notice.” Further, once a municipality establishes the “relatedness of the claims,” the burden shifts to the party charged to “establish a basis for segregating the hours spent on the successful and unsuccessful claims.”
Main Line argued there was no evidence as to “what portion of the Township Solicitor’s bills relate to the wood chip issue” and that the trial court guessed at what the related fees should be. The Commonwealth Court determined the Solicitor provided sufficient detail in his testimony concerning the amount of fees incurred as a result of the wood chipping enforcement notice and that the Township included the Solicitor’s bills to support its claim. Further, the Solicitor testified that most of the claims were “peripheral to the wood chip issue” and that “almost a hundred percent of the fees were associated with the wood chip issue.” Accordingly, the Township met its burden. Because Main Line then failed to offer any evidence segregating the Solicitor’s bills into related and unrelated segments, Main Line’s claim failed.
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