HARRISBURG – The State Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal in a Mercer eminent domain case, allowing new proceedings in Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

The case involves Mercer Area School District’s attempt to condemn property that borders school grounds to extend a parking lot and build an emergency access point.

The case originated 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, Kevin and Doreen Wright, and the couple who live in a house on the land and are buying the property, Glenn and Edith  Krofcheck, filed preliminary objections and Judge Christopher J. St. John in 2011 granted them, determining the action 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 board.

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

A three-judge panel of Commonwealth Court on March 17 reversed St. John’s decision, saying 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 in which the judges read opinions from federal appeals courts and courts in Michigan, Connecticut and California.

The panel concluded the footnote had the same force as the rest of the opinion because it was on point and did not address the judge’s personal view.

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