Phila. judge certifies class action status in case of environmental hazard at townhouse site

Jon Campisi Dec. 7, 2011, 7:42am

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge has granted class action status in a case where homeowners who purchased townhouses in a residential development that apparently had high levels of lead and arsenic were suing over their alleged ignorance of the condition of the residential tract.

The order, signed Dec. 2 by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Arnold L. New, means plaintiffs Jamelle Johnson, Cathy and Ken Lewandowski, Richard Paulucy and Sabrina Dreichart can move forward with a collective claim against ADK Development Corporation, Inc. and Thompson Street Associates.

The homeowners accuse the defendants of failing to warn them of the environmental hazards that existed on the site prior to the townhouse development’s construction.

According to background information in the judge’s ruling, the site, which consists of 58 modular construction two-story townhouses, was first purchased in 2001 by Daniel Ryan and Keith Charlton.

Ryan and Charlton retained ReMax Millennium real estate agent James Walsh to assist in evaluating the marketability of the homes.

Ryan and Charlton performed a site evaluation to determine the environmental viability of the site, the ruling states.

A study performed by a group called DCR Environmental revealed that the site contained high levels of arsenic and lead; the two developers purchased the site regardless.

The property was conveyed to ADK Development Corp. in mid July 2003, and construction soon commenced.

“The conveyance of the property did not disclose any elevated levels of lead or arsenic or require any restrictions of use of the property,” the court papers state. “ADK proceeded to develop and construct forty-six homes on the lot and sold them to plaintiffs without deed restrictions or disclosure of elevated levels of lead and arsenic.”

TSA also developed and constructed 12 homes and sold them to the plaintiffs without disclosing the environmental problems. Walsh also never disclosed the study’s findings, the court papers state.

The plaintiffs allege that they have suffered diminished value and loss of the use and enjoyment of their respective properties.

The plaintiffs further allege that the defendants broke Pennsylvania law in failing to disclose the high levels of arsenic and lead, which would have been required by the state Department of Environmental Protection, the court papers state.

In his ruling, Judge New determined that the prerequisites for class certification were satisfied. They include numerosity, commonality, typicality, adequacy of representation, and fair and efficient method of adjudication.

A subclass of plaintiffs was also certified by the judge. The plaintiffs in the subclass are Annmarie Farrell, John Hearns and others who “purchased properties developed or sold by TSA in Port Richmond Gate without disclosure of contamination and restrictions on use of the property,” according to the ruling.

Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section has, like some other so-called “river ward” neighborhoods – those bordering the Delaware River on the city’s eastern edge – experienced a resurgence and some gentrification.

The Port Richmond Gate development that is subject of the litigation is bordered by Thompson, Tioga, Edgemont and Venango streets.

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