In Church of Grace and Glory v. PennDOT, PennDOT filed a declaration on May 1, 2006 seeking to condemn subsurface coal of a property in which a church owned the surface property. PennDOT alleged that, despite a diligent search, it was unable to identify or otherwise determine the owner of the subsurface coal and published a notice of the taking in Pittsburgh newspapers. PennDOT also filed a declaration of taking condemning the surface property owned by the church.
On July 18, 2006, the trial court granted PennDOT’s petition to pay “estimated just compensation” into court. The payment of “EJC” is a prerequisite in PA to the right to possession of condemned property. On December 28, 2010, the owner of the subsurface rights assigned to the Church its right to just compensation the assignor had against PennDOT for the condemnation of the subsurface rights.
In PA, the statute of limitations period regarding challenges to just compensation begins when an EJC payment is made or deposited into court. On October 12, 2011 – more than 5 years after PennDOT paid the EJC into court – the Church filed a petition seeking to obtain additional just compensation for the condemnation of the subsurface rights. PennDOT objected on the basis that the petition was filed beyond the applicable statute of limitations period.
The church argued that the statute of limitations period was tolled because allegedly did not properly provide notice of the taking. The Court rejected this argument and explained that “the statute of limitations does not run from the filing of the declaration of taking or notice thereof.” It also stated that “the Church had notice far in advance of December 28, 2010. . . . The Church, for reasons known only to itself, sat on its right for over six and one-half months and cannot now be heard to complain about a lack of notice.” The Court further noted that “the record reveals that the Church knew in 2006-2007 that DOT had condemned the subsurface coal rights, because the Church, in conjunction with the condemnation of its own property, sent interrogatories to DOT, requesting DOT to identify the owner of the condemned coal estate beneath the Church’s property. In response, DOT provided the coal analysis which identified Champion, along with others, as a potential owner of the coal estate. The assignment, executed by Champion and the Church on December 28, 2010, expressly assigns the Church “all of Champion’s right, title, and interest (if any) in and to a claim . . . for damages, which include[s] . . . estimated [or] just compensation . . . for certain coal taken by [DOT] pursuant to the Declaration of Taking filed in April 2006 by [DOT] . . . at [docket number] GD 06-10196.” The record, therefore, appears to demonstrate a lack of prejudice, because it establishes that as of December 28, 2010, (almost seven months prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations for the appointment of a board of viewers for just compensation) both the Church and Champion knew of the condemnation of the coal estate. There is no explanation in the record as to why, once it acquired an interest through the assignment, the Church sat on its claim for almost ten months.”