The PA Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal in a Mercer County eminent domain case. The case involves Mercer Area School District’s attempt to condemn property that borders school grounds to extend a parking lot and build an emergency access point. The School Board first attempted to condemn land in 2010. However, after the property owners challenged the taking, a trial court found that the taking was excessive, was done in bad faith and was an abuse of discretion. The School District tried again in 2012 and, after the property owners again objected, the same judge found that his first ruling precluded the second action by the school board based on the doctrine of “res judicata.”
The Schools District appealed and the PA Commonwealth Court on March 17 reversed the decision holding that the trial court reserved for the School District the right to file a second action by saying that if it wanted to do so it would have to correct certain deficiencies from the original filing. The Commonwealth Court did note, however, that “[a]s a general principle, the doctrine of res judicata (otherwise known as claim preclusion) can operate to bar a condemnor from filing successive eminent domain actions.” The doctrine did not apply in that case, the Court held, because “even if all the elements of res judicata are met, res judicata will not prohibit a second action where a trial court’s order or opinion dismissing the first action indicates the court’s intent to permit the plaintiff to bring a second action.”
The Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s decision and the property owners attempted to appeal to the PA Supreme Court. In contrast to appeals to the PA Superior and Commonwealth Courts, appeals to the PA Supreme Court are not guaranteed and only a small percentage of petitions for appeals are granted. The PA Supreme Court entered an order this week denying the property owners’ appeal request. The case will now be remanded back to the trial court to address the merits of the taking.