Vernon Twp. Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Connor

579 Pa. 364, 855 A.2d 873 (2004)

 

RULE:

In reviewing the ruling of the trial court in an action to quiet title, an appellate court's review is limited to determining whether the findings of fact are supported by competent evidence, whether an error of law has been committed, and whether there has been a manifest abuse of discretion.

FACTS:

Appellants are the 6 property owners who refused to sign a "Limited Release of Restrictions" granting appellee fire department the permission to sell liquor at the social hall it was building. At the time it purchased the property, appellee did not have actual notice of the restrictive covenant banning the sale of alcoholic beverages on the land. Appellees instituted an action to quiet title, as well as declaratory relief, which the trial court denied. On appeal, the court reversed judgment. The intermediate court's order was reversed and the case was remanded for the intermediate court to consider the department's remaining unaddressed issue concerning the applicability of the principles of estoppel, laches, and waiver to the case.

 

ISSUE:

Did the intermediate court err by substituting its factual determinations for those of the trial court?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The state's highest court held that the department had constructive notice of the recorded covenant when it purchased the parcel. The existence of three liquor-serving businesses outside of the tract did not warrant a finding of changed circumstances to invalidate the restriction. Further, the changes in the immediate neighborhood did not affect the benefit conferred upon the owners by the restriction. Notwithstanding that the majority of owners in the tract agreed to release the restriction and that the owners who objected testified that they did not rely upon the restriction when purchasing their property, the restriction benefitted the owners by hindering the nuisances that resulted from the sale and consumption of alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol had never been sold in the restricted tract. The trial court had competent evidence to conclude that the entire restrictive plan had not been abandoned and that the alcohol restriction still had significant value to the owners.

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