I recently argued a case before the PA Commonwealth Court regarding whether our client, a church, was barred by the statute of limitations to seek just compensate for the partial taking of its property.  In In re: Condemnation of Land, 2014 WL 3028035, Jenkintown Borough filed a declaration of taking in 1998 seeking to take a portion of the Church’s property.  We did not represent the Church at that time and its prior counsel filed “Preliminary Objections” challenging the taking.  After the filing of the POs, the Borough’s counsel forwarded a check purporting to be the “estimated just compensation” – or EJC – for the taking.  The Church’s counsel properly returned the check because it was not permitted to pay EJC when POs are pending and the EJC amount admittedly was not based on what was actually taken.

The parties agreed to remove the POs from the argument list in an effort to resolve the matter and neither side ever sought to have it relisted.  Many years passed and we were ultimately retained to represent the Church to obtain just compensation for the taking.  In 2013 we filed  petitions to withdraw the POs and to determine the amount of just compensation owed to the Church for the taking.  The Borough objected arguing that the statute of limitations barred the claim.  The trial court rejected that argument and the Borough appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed and held that the statute of limitations did not bar the Church from seeking just compensation.  Although we argued numerous bases as to why the statute of limitation did not bar the claim, the Court affirmed on one specific basis.  The PA Judicial Code states that the 6 year statute of limitations commences when “the condemnor first made payment” of the EJC.  The Borough argued that forwarding the check constituted payment even though it was returned.  The Court rejected that argument and held that, since the Eminent Domain Code distinguishes between “‘payment’, which is required to trigger the statute of limitations, and ‘a written offer to pay,’” the forwarding of the check did not trigger the statute of limitations.