Pendle Hill v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Nether Providence Twp., 134 A.3d 1187 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)
Petitions to intervene after entry of a decree may be approved in extraordinary circumstances. In addition, “extraordinary circumstances” refers to an oversight or action on the part of the court or where the judicial process results in the losing party’s lack of knowledge of the entry of final judgment, so that the commencement of the running of the appeal time is not known to the party.
Applicant acquired a property (Property) situated between another property owned by Applicant and property owned by Objectors. Applicant sought zoning relief which was denied after a hearing at which Objectors appeared in opposition. The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) issued an oral decision immediately following the hearing. After no written decision was issued, Applicant appealed to the trial court on the grounds it had not yet received a copy of the ZHB’s written decision. Approximately a month after Applicant filed its zoning appeal, the ZHB issued a written decision. Applicant and the Township subsequently reached a settlement agreement. More than five months later Objectors filed a petition to open judgment and to intervene in Applicant’s land use appeal nunc pro tunc. Objectors asserted they had this right because they were never provided with written notice of the ZHB’s decision, despite being present at the hearing to hear the oral decision. The trial court denied Objector’s appeal on the grounds it was untimely and that their presence at the oral hearing gave them notice to follow the proceedings and appeal within the correct time frame.
Objectors appealed to the Commonwealth Court arguing their due process rights were violated because (1) they did not receive notice of the ZHB’s written decision and (2) they did not receive a copy of Applicant’s land use appeal. Per the Court, petitions to intervene after entry of a decree may be approved in extraordinary circumstances and this circumstance may be extraordinary enough to grant Objectors’ petition to intervene. Extraordinary cause refers to an oversight or action on the part of the court or the judicial process that results in the losing party’s lack of knowledge of the entry of final judgment, so that the commencement of the running of the appeal time is not known to the party.
Section 908(10) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) requires that a zoning hearing board provide to “all [ ] persons who have filed their name and address with the board not later than the last day of the hearing . . . brief notice of the decision or findings and a statement of the place at which the full decision or findings may be examined.” The ZHB failed to comply with this requirement. Objectors’ presence at the hearing where the ZHB announced its oral decision does not meet the requirement of the MPC because (1) the decision referred to in the MPC envisions a final, written, adjudication, and (2) the ZHB has the right to vote again after an initial oral vote, before rendering a written decision. Without compliance with these requirements, Objectors did not have notice of the commencement of the 30-day appeals period and would not have been aware of the later proceedings in the trial court. Therefore, the Court remanded to the trial court with instructions to determine whether extraordinary cause exists.
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