Worthington v. Mount Pleasant Twp., 2019 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 533 (Jun. 6, 2019)
Theoretical concerns do not establish that an objector has a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in the appeal and, therefore, do not establish standing.
A conditional use application was filed with the Township’s Board of Supervisors (Board) for an unconventional natural gas development well (Well Site) in the Township’s Rural Residential (R-1) Zoning District. At the hearing, the Township’s Solicitor stated that, under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), party status will generally be granted in a conditional use hearing if a person is “adversely, directly, immediately and substantively affected” in a way that differs from the general populous, which can include living in close proximity to the subject property. A resident (Objector) attempted to obtain party status on the basis that the Well Site was located less than one mile from her granddaughter’s school and could potentially result in adverse health effects for her granddaughter. The Board denied Objector party status and approved the application, subject to certain conditions. On appeal, the Trial Court upheld the Board’s denial of party status for Objector, and Objector appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court found that Objector did not have standing and, therefore, could not obtain party status to appeal the conditional use application. The Commonwealth Court stated that “any person aggrieved” who has a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in an adjudication has standing and can be granted party status to an appeal. The Court first noted that a substantial interest in an appeal requires an adverse effect to some interest other than an abstract interest that all citizens have. Objector did not have a substantial interest in the adjudication, as Objector was not the legal guardian of the child and, in Pennsylvania, standing is not automatically granted based on familial relationships.
The Court then held that Objector did not have a direct interest in the adjudication. A direct interest requires a concretely demonstratable showing of harm from the adjudication. Objector argued that the chemicals from the Well Site could potentially cause her granddaughter harm, but the Board had already determined that oil and gas wells were consistent with the zoning plan, the Well Site’s operations had to be in compliance with applicable state and federal laws, and speculative concerns regarding health effects were not concrete enough to be direct. Lastly, the Court found that there was no immediate interest in the adjudication, as Objector’s speculation regarding adverse health effects represented a remote consequence. Because Objector’s concerns were speculative, and theoretical concerns cannot satisfy the interest requirements for standing, the Court affirmed the Trial Court’s denial of party status for Objector.
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