OPINION NO. 2005-32
July 29, 2005
John Patrick Gonzales, Esquire
Charles W. Rubendall II, Esquire
IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL ACTION – LAW
APRIL M. KOPPENHAVER :
: No. CI-
REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF :
LANCASTER, MATTHEW H. PARIDO, CHARLES H. :
SIMMS, JR., AMY FIELDS, LARRY ROSKOS, SCOTT :
BY MADENSPACHER, J.
Before this Court are the preliminary objections of the Defendants. The primary issue at this time is whether the plaintiff has standing to bring this action. Generally, for a plaintiff to have standing he or she must allege and prove an interest in the outcome of the suit which surpasses the common interest of all citizens in procuring obedience to the law. Wm. Penn Parking Garage v. City of Pittsburgh. 464 Pa. 168, 346 A.2d 269 (1975). This interest must be, at least, substantial, direct, and immediate. Id. All parties agree that this plaintiff does not have an interest which is substantial, direct and immediate.
Although this plaintiff cannot meet the standards of Wm. Penn, in Application of Biester, 487 Pa. 438, 409 A.2d 848 (1979) the Supreme Court created a narrow exception granting standing where, although the degree of causal connection is small, judicial review otherwise would not occur. To have standing under Biester, the plaintiff must show the following: (1) the governmental action would otherwise go unchallenged; (2) those directly and immediately affected by the complained of expenditures are beneficially affected and not inclined to challenge the action; (3) judicial relief is appropriate; (4) redress through other channels is unavailable; (5) no other persons are better situated to deal with the claim. Consumer Party of Pennsylvania v. Commonweath, 510 Pa. 158, 507 A.2d 323 (1986).
The governmental agency being challenged in this case is the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster. The action being challenged is the proposed purchase of the Watt & Shand building from Penn Square Partners. The bases(sic) for the plaintiff’s challenge is that the price is outrageously inflated (complaint, paragraph 8), the Authority’s action is a breach of its fiduciary duty to taxpayers, (complaint, paragraph 52), and the Authority’s actions constitute a waste of taxpayer funds, (complaint, paragraph 53). The plaintiff, April Koppenhaver, is basing her standing as a resident, citizen and taxpayer of Lancaster Township and the School District of Lancaster, and as a property owner and taxpayer of the City of Lancaster.
The parties have stipulated that all of the funds for the purchase of the Watt & Shand building are coming from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that this project is comprehensive, and other potential parties are Penn Square Partners, the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority, and the City of Lancaster, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, because all of these entities are providing financial support in some way, the fact is they are not named as Defendants.(1) The only Plaintiff is April Koppenhaver, the only Defendants are the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster and its members.
1 There are even potential scenarios where the County of Lancaster and School District of Lancaster could be involved.
Generally, the cases allowing or disallowing standing have decided the issue on whether or not there are other plaintiffs who are better situated to bring the action. In Re Biester, supra. In fact, this issue was decided under very similar circumstances in the case of Bold Corp., as Trustee for MASSPA Realty Trust t/d/b/a Lancaster Host and Conference Center, et al v. County of Lancaster, et al., (Commonly referred to as Bold II), CI-03-01008, in which the Honorable Louis J. Farina of this Court held that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the loans made to the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could itself assert a claim and was better situated to do so. There is little difference between this scenario and Bold II.
In addition to having a better situated plaintiff, there is another forum which this plaintiff is challenging the loans being made to the Redevelopment Authority. This is being done through a complaint with the Department of Community and Economic Development pursuant to the Governmental Unit Debt Act, 52 Pa. C.S.A. 8211.
Finally, although Biester envisioned a procedure where standing is granted to taxpayers because of the policy of ensuring judicial review which otherwise would not occur, a careful reading reveals that the exceptional cases referred to in Biester involve situations where there is some degree of causal connection between the action complained of and the injury alleged, although it is too small to ordinarily confer standing. Upper Bucks Cty., ETC. v. Upper Bucks, ETC., 504 Pa. 418, 474 A.2d 1120 (1984). It is the Supreme Court in Upper Bucks that emphasized the word some. In this case, like Upper Bucks, there is no causal connection between the Redevelopment Authority’s purchase of the Watt & Shand building and harm to the Plaintiff as a resident, citizen and taxpayer of Lancaster Township and the School District of Lancaster and as a property owner in the City of Lancaster because all of the money used to purchase the property is coming from the Commonwealth.
Consequently, it is clear that the Plaintiff April Koppenhaver, has no standing to bring this action to enjoin the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster from purchasing the Watt & Shand building under the scenario pled in her complaint, and the facts stipulated to at the July 13, 2005 hearing.
The Court notes that this lawsuit deals principally with the site acquisition, namely the Watt & Shand building, however Plaintiff invites the Court to use this action as the vehicle to challenge the entire Hotel/Convention Center project. However, the Court will decline to do so. Although the law favors allowing amended complaints, to do so in this case would be expanding the action to far more than was originally contemplated. In addition, the fact that the Plaintiff has no standing to challenge the Redevelopment Authority’s purchase of the Watt & Shand building still would remain unchanged.
Since the Court has found that the Plaintiff has no standing, the remainder of the defendants(sic) preliminary objections are moot.
Consequently, the Court issues the following,
AND NOW this 29th day of July, 2005, it is hereby ordered that the Defendants’ preliminary objections regarding standing and capacity to sue are SUSTAINED. The complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.
BY THE COURT
JOSEPH C. MADENSPACHER