The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 22, 2014

School may get to take land after all

MERCER — State Commonwealth Court has reversed the decision of a local judge who dismissed Mercer Area School District’s attempt to condemn property that borders school grounds.

The district hoped to take over the property in order to extend a parking lot and build an emergency access point.

“We’re obviously happy with the result,” said school Superintendent Dr. William D. Gathers.

He said he understands differing opinions about the district’s plan, but said the district wants to do what “is best for the school district and our kids.”

“Our goal is not to hurt anyone or make anyone look bad,” he said.

Glenn Krofcheck, who, with his wife, Edith, is buying the property in question, 398 S. Shenango St., by land contract from Kevin and Doreen Wright – the Krofchecks live in a house on the land – said he will ask the court to reconsider.

“While I’m disappointed with the ruling, this is just a minor setback,” said Krofcheck, who is acting as his own attorney. “It in no way ends the case.”

A message left with the Wrights’ attorney was not returned.

Commonwealth Court sent the case back to Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John for further proceedings. The judge has set a hearing for Wednesday.

The case already has a rather convoluted history that starts in the fall of 2010, when the school board passed a resolution to take a half-acre lot through its power of eminent domain.

The property owners filed preliminary objections and St. John in 2011 granted them, determining the proposed annexation was excessive, done in bad faith and showed an abuse of discretion.

He said the board moved too quickly and did not review any plans, consult with an expert, such as an engineer, to determine where the access road should be located, or resolve other details that would be necessary for the project to be completed.

The district tried again in 2012, this time identifying 1.83 acres. The landowners again objected and St. John ruled that his first ruling precluded the second action by the school district.

The district argued it was not precluded from the new action because St. John’s opinion recognized that the district had a right to file a second action.

A three-judge panel of Commonwealth Court said St. John reserved for the district the right to file a second action by saying that if it wanted to do so, it would have to correct certain deficiencies from the original filing.

The phrase highlighted by the school district was in a footnote, which the landowners said rendered it lacking in “legal significance.” The language would be significant if it had been spelled out “in the body of the opinion,” the landowners said.

That led Commonwealth Court to examine the significance of footnotes, an analysis that prompted the judges to read opinions from federal appeals courts and courts in Michigan, Connecticut and California.

The issue of footnote significance “has not been squarely addressed by Pennsylvania case law,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough said, writing for the panel.

However, outside courts “are seemingly unanimous in concluding that a holding expressed in a footnote is as much of a judicial opinion as the opinion’s text or order and that a footnote has precedential value so long as it does not pronounce dicta,” McCullough said.

Dicta – the plural of dictum – are judicial opinions that reflect individual views and are not relevant to deciding a case.

“Here ... it is clear from footnote 13’s text that (St. John) was directing the district how to file a second declaration of taking and that it was not rendering gratuitous statements of dictum,” McCullough said. “The trial court’s analysis on footnote 13 directly addressed the merits of the first action, discussing the very issues that were litigated by the parties and explaining how the district abused its discretion in seeking to condemn the property.”

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Sharon man 'stable' after being shot in his West Hill home

    A Sharon man was in stable condition this morning after being shot by one of several men he had let into his West Hill home, police said.

    July 23, 2014

  • GJR killer not eligible for parole, court rules

    State Superior Court on Tuesday reversed a local judge’s decision that the sentence for one of two men who killed a night supervisor at George Junior Republic, Pine Township, was unconstitutional.

    July 23, 2014

  • Duplicated files, former worker confesses

    A Mercer woman accused of stealing customer lists, billing information and other data from her former employer headed off trial Monday by pleading guilty to a charge of unlawful duplication.

    July 23, 2014

  • Starved house Vandals vent their emotions

    Vandals kept police busy Sunday and Monday nights at a home in Greenville where the Mercer County District Attorney’s office said a boy was starved and beaten by his mom.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Couple, another man charged in thefts

    Pennsylvania State Police have filed charges of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief against an East Palestine, Ohio, couple and another man in connection with two robberies in rural Mercer County.

    July 22, 2014

  • Taking stock Where’s the beef? Bull’s still missing

    Is it possible that an alien abduction took place in the Mercer area last week? A solid red, 2-year-old Watusi bull with 3-foot-long horns has been missing since July 14 with no trace of its existence left on earth.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Buhl Day honorees

    The Buhl Day committee has chosen for this year’s celebration five honored guests whose volunteer work they feel best showcases the legacy of philanthropic work left behind by Frank and Julia Buhl a century ago.

    July 22, 2014

  • GC pair not hurt in accident injuring 2

    Two drivers were taken to a hospital after an accident at the intersection of state routes 965 and 173 in Worth Township, police said.

    July 21, 2014

  • WaterFire crowds WaterFire doused

    Sharon’s WaterFire wasn’t lacking either of its elements on Saturday. There was steady, day-long rain but the day concluded with the Shenango River ablaze.

    July 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Starved’ boy released from hospital

    A 7-year-old boy allegedly starved and beaten by his mother is out of the hospital and ordered out of his Greenville home by Mercer County Common Pleas President Judge Thomas R. Dobson.

    July 20, 2014

  • WaterFire walking tour Time traveling

    A group of more 50 people walked between the raindrops Saturday during an historical tour of downtown Sharon during the city’s WaterFire celebration.

    July 20, 2014 6 Photos 1 Story

  • News briefs from July 19, 2014

    Michigan man charged with assaulting girl here

    Sharon man charged with raping woman

    July 19, 2014

  • For sale Realty transfer tax hike headed for ballot

    Sharon voters will be deciding through a referendum whether city council can raise the realty transfer tax. Council gave first reading Thursday to an ordinance that phrases the question that will be printed on the November ballot.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bella recovering Vet: Dog lucky to be alive, should survive

    Although a veterinarian said an underweight dog found Thursday with a gruesome neck wound was lucky to be alive, her prognosis for recovery is good.

    July 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Alleged hit-run driver arrested

    Sharon police said Friday afternoon they had arrested a man believed to have driven a vehicle that struck an 11-year-old boy Thursday and left the scene.

    July 19, 2014