Commonwealth Court Judge James Gardner Colins
HARRISBURG – A Shenango Township condominium group’s attempt to overturn a Mercer County Court of Common Pleas order connected to a Sheriff’s sale of property in its complex has been denied by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Judge James Gardner Colins ruled last Wednesday the appellant, Oak Tree Condominium Association, attempted to appeal an order that was not subject for appeal and thus quashed its motion to do so. Per a court order, Wells Fargo Bank was precluded from filing briefs in this matter, and Mercer County Sheriff Gary A. Hartman is the lone appellee.
After the trial court denied Oak Tree’s request to set aside the sale of the property on Feb. 9, 2015, Oak Tree filed a post-trial relief motion on Feb. 20. On April 10, the trial court decided because the matter had not gone to trial, the post-trial relief motion would be viewed instead as a motion for reconsideration.
Further, the trial court decided reconsideration of the original Feb. 9, 2015, had not been granted within the mandated 30 day-window; therefore, the trial court no longer had jurisdiction over Oak Tree’s relief motion.
On appeal, Oak Tree argued pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 227.1, “A motion for post-trial relief is proper when a party is appealing an order under the Uniform Condominium Act.”
In support of its argument, Oak Tree cited Centennial Station Condominium Association v. Schaefer Company Builders, but it was a rationale the Commonwealth Court rejected.
“In relying on Centennial Station, the Association’s argument overlooks the fact that the parties in Centennial Station were before this Court on appeal following a bench trial. In the instant matter, there simply was no trial,” Colins said.
Colins explained when a trial court has granted a request for reconsideration, the 30-day period in which an appeal is appropriate will began after the entry of the trial court’s reconsideration decision, and the appeal period is only tolled where the trial court “expressly grants” the request for reconsideration.
“In contrast, where a trial has taken place and timely post-trial motions have been filed pursuant to Rule 227.1, the appeal period does not begin to run until the trial court has issued a decision on the post-trial motions,” Colins said. “The purpose of Rule 227.1 is to allow the trial court the opportunity to examine its ruling and correct any errors in the first instance, as well as to frame the issues should appellate review be necessary.”
Colins added an “impermissible” motion for post-trial relief cannot be treated as a proper motion for reconsideration when the appeal period has run before the motion is acted upon.
“Prior to the 30- day appeal period, a trial court has broad authority to modify or rescind an order, and is within its authority to exercise its discretion to decide even untimely motions where there is no objection,” Colins said.
“However, a trial court relinquishes its ability to act once the 30-day period has passed and a motion for reconsideration has not been expressly granted to toll the appeal period.”
Colins said in this case, post-trial motions were “improperly filed” and the trial court did not expressly grant reconsideration to Oak Tree. Colins added this improper filing allowed the appeal period to run, leaving the trial court without jurisdiction, echoing the sentiments of the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas.
“Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure, the Association was required to appeal the trial court’s Feb. 9, 2015 order within 30 days or file a motion for reconsideration, which if granted, would result in an appealable order,” Colins said. “The Association did not appeal the Trial Court’s Feb. 9, 2015 order and the Association did not file a motion for reconsideration that was expressly granted by the trial court.”
On behalf of the Commonwealth Court, Colins quashed Oak Tree’s appeal.
“Instead, the Association has appealed to this Court from the trial court’s April 10, 2015 opinion and order where the trial court noted its lack of jurisdiction and, in the alternative, denied the Association’s request for reconsideration. The trial court’s April 10, 2015 order is a non-appealable order,” Colins concluded.
The appellant was represented by P. Raymond Bartholomew of Bartholomew Mudrinich & Nesbit, in Hermitage.
The appellee was represented by James Nevant II, also in Hermitage.
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case 794 C.D. 2015
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com