SCRANTON – Plaintiffs’ continuing litigation against the City of Scranton for its alleged failure to inspect or repair a stormwater drainage system that they claim has damaged their property received a boost when a judge recently overruled the City’s preliminary objections.
Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas Judge James A. Gibbons ruled Jan. 22 that the City’s objections to the complaint initiated one year ago by Anthony J. Piazza III and Christopher A. Piazza were overruled, and the plaintiffs’ claims were sufficient to proceed.
The Piazzas of Scranton first filed suit on March 27, 2017 in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, against the City.
“The City, in ordinary course, has failed to inspect, clean, maintain, upgrade and/or repair the stormwater drainage system, resulting in the damage to plaintiff’s property. As a result of the City’s actions and/or inactions, the stormwater drainage system running through plaintiffs’ property has collapsed. Plaintiffs’ yards and/or driveways have caved in and large, unsafe sinkholes have developed in the rear portions of plaintiffs’ property,” the suit says.
The plaintiffs say these safety hazards have resulted in them not being able to use their garage due to the sinkhole, sustaining erosion damage, a loss of property value.
The plaintiffs allege the defendants are responsible for continuing trespass, continuing private nuisance, negligence, and violations of the Stormwater Management Act 32 P.S. Section 680.1 eq. seq. and the Lackawanna County Stormwater Management Plan.
In his decision, Gibbons reviewed the City’s objections to the Piazzas’ complaint, namely, alleged failure of the plaintiffs to exhaust statutory remedies, insufficient specificity of the plaintiffs’ claims, the City’s sovereign immunity from suit, insufficient allegations as to the supposed violation of the Pennsylvania Stormwater Management Act and general negligence.
Gibbons addressed each objection in turn, first with the objection that the plaintiffs should have went before the Scranton City Planning Commission before filing suit. Gibbons stated the City “misreads the ordinance to its own use.”
“Plaintiffs correctly point out that the City Planning Commission has no authority to either direct the City to take any particular action, or to award compensatory damages. Further, plaintiffs argue that they have brought an action under the Stormwater Management Act, and that legislation specifically authorizes the institution of actions in equity or at law for violations of the statute,” Gibbons said.
Next, came the issue of specificity.
“According to the complaint, the City artificially collects and channels stormwater, has failed to inspect, clean, maintain, upgrade and/or repair the stormwater system, has failed to manage the quantity, velocity and direction of its stormwater drainage and that, as a result, their properties have collapsed.” Gibbons said, adding that the alleged excessive stormwater run-off’s continuous damage to the property, was sufficient to sustain the claim.
On the topic of sovereign immunity, Gibbons stated exceptions exist for sewer and water systems owned by a local agency.
“The complaint clearly alleges that the City owns the stormwater systems at issue here and that the plaintiffs have been injured as a result of the City’s stormwater systems. Clearly, the allegations are sufficient to withstand this preliminary objections,” Gibbons said.
With regard to the claims of the City violating the Stormwater Management Act, Gibbons explained, “The complaint is replete with allegations that the defendant, through its stormwater drainage system, artificially collected and channeled such waters in an excessive and concentrated fashion through plaintiffs’ properties, that defendant does not inspect, clean, maintain or repair its system, that the defendant does not manage the quantity, velocity and direction of stormwater drainage in its system, that the defendant has redirected stormwater and altered natural drainage patterns. All these allegations, it seems to us, are sufficiently specific to place the defendant on notice of how it is alleged to have violated the Act.”
Finally, Gibbons commented that the plaintiffs’ properly alleged negligence on the part of the City.
“The City correctly notes that in order for plaintiffs to succeed on this claim, they must establish that the City owed them a duty of care. City incorrectly, however, argues, that the complaint is void of any allegations that establish that the City owed or owes plaintiffs a duty of care. Contrary to the City’s argument, the complaint specifically alleges that the City owed plaintiffs a reasonable duty of care in operating and/or maintaining its stormwater drainage system. The complaint then lists allegations as to how the City has allegedly breached that duty of care. We believe this is sufficient at this stage. We are not determining at this point whether plaintiffs will succeed; we are only determining whether the complaint contains sufficient allegations to support its claims. We believe it does.”
In their suit, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration the defendant is in violation of the Stormwater Management Act; a directive for the city to take all necessary actions to repair the stormwater drainage system and the damages to plaintiffs’ property; other relief as the Court deems equitable and just; plus costs as authorized under the Stormwater Management Act and applicable case law, in this matter.
The plaintiffs are represented by Anthony J. Piazza Jr. of Piazza Law Group, in Dickson City.
The defendant is represented by Joseph G. Price, of the City of Scranton’s Law Department.
Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas case 2017-CV-01923
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com