IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

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1 IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA Philadelphia Metro Task Force : James D. Schneller, : Appellant : No C.D : Submitted: July 5, 2013 v. : : Conshohocken Borough Council : BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge OPINION NOT REPORTED MEMORANDUM OPINION BY JUDGE SIMPSON FILED: August 21, 2013 In this appeal, James D. Schneller, representing himself, and purportedly representing the Philadelphia Metro Task Force (Task Force) (collectively, Schneller), 1 appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County (trial court) that denied his motion to strike or open the order dismissing his complaint on preliminary objections. Schneller contends the trial court erred and abused its discretion in refusing to strike or open the order dismissing his complaint with prejudice. Schneller further contends this Court erred in limiting the scope of the present appeal to a review of the trial court s denial of the motion to strike or open. Schneller also asserts the trial court abused its discretion in denying his petition for stay pending appeal and in dismissing his 1 Although the caption in Schneller s notice of appeal includes the Philadelphia Metro Task Force, the notice of appeal indicates that only Schneller appealed. See Notice of Appeal, 9/9/12.

2 complaint based on lack of standing. Upon review, we affirm. Additionally, in light of our decision to affirm, we dismiss as moot Schneller s outstanding motions for remand or directive for supplemental record and for extension of time to file a reply brief. I. Background In September 2011, Schneller filed a complaint in the trial court against the Conshohocken Borough Council (Council) under the Declaratory Judgments Act, 42 Pa. C.S , seeking a declaration that Conshohocken Ordinance (Ordinance 3), establishing the Conshohocken Human Relations Commission, was void from inception. Council adopted Ordinance 3 pursuant to Section 12.1 of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act 2 (PHRA), which permits enforcement by a local human relations commission of all the rights, protections and privileges set forth in the PHRA. However, unlike the PHRA, Ordinance 3 extends protection to gay, lesbian and transgendered persons. Schneller s complaint alleged Council, in enacting Ordinance 3, failed to follow the required procedures in The Borough Code, 3 which ultimately resulted in insufficient notice to the public of the existence of Ordinance 3 and its contents. Schneller s complaint further alleged the Pennsylvania Constitution and several state laws, including the PHRA and the Religious Freedom Protection Act 4 2 Act of October 27, 1955, P.L. 744, added by the Act of January 24, 1966, P.L. 12, as amended, 43 P.S Act of February 1, 1966, P.L. (1965) 1656, as amended, 53 P.S Act of December 9, 2002, P.L. 1701, 71 P.S

3 (RFPA), preempt Ordinance 3. In addition, Schneller alleged Ordinance 3, in its promotion and encouragement of immoral acts and lifestyles, violates several provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution requiring moral and ethical considerations by public officials in enacting municipal legislation. In response, Council filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer. Council also objected to Schneller s lack of standing, 5 to the trial court s lack of jurisdiction under 42 Pa. C.S (b)(1) (any appeal raising questions relating to an alleged defect in statutory procedure shall be brought within 30 days of the intended effective date of the ordinance), and to Schneller s failure to conform to various rules of court. Schneller filed preliminary objections to Council s preliminary objections. By order dated March 12, 2012 (Dismissal Order), the trial court overruled Schneller s preliminary objections to Council s preliminary objections and sustained Council s preliminary objections on the basis of lack of standing. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 97a. As a result, the trial court dismissed Schneller s complaint with prejudice. Id. Schneller then filed a motion for reconsideration of the Dismissal Order, which the trial court denied. Id. at 106a. 5 Council, in its preliminary objections to Schneller s complaint, asserted that neither Schneller, a resident of Radnor Township, nor the Task Force, which declined to name any member other than Schneller, would suffer a direct, immediate or substantial injury as a consequence of the challenged ordinance. Therefore, Council contended Schneller lacked standing to challenge Ordinance 3. William Penn Parking Garage, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 464 Pa. 168, 346 A.2d 269 (1975); Bldg. Indus. Ass n of Lancaster Cnty. v. Manheim Twp., 710 A.2d 141 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998). 3

4 In addition, Schneller filed a timely notice of appeal from the Dismissal Order. Schneller filed the appeal in Superior Court, which transferred the case to Commonwealth Court. Schneller also filed a petition for stay pending appeal, which the trial court denied. Id. at 146a. On September 4, 2012, Schneller filed a praecipe to withdraw and discontinue his appeal from the Dismissal Order. The same day, this Court entered a notice of discontinuance of action. See Philadelphia Metro Task Force and James. D. Schneller v. Conshohocken Borough Council, (Pa. Cmwlth., No C.D. 2012, discontinued 9/4/12). Thereafter, on September 27, 2012, Schneller filed a motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order in the trial court. See R.R. at 147a-51a. By order dated October 11, 2012, the trial court denied Schneller s motion to strike or open. Id. at 173a. The trial court also denied Schneller s motion for reconsideration of its order denying the motion to strike or open. Id. at 193a. Nevertheless, Schneller timely appealed the trial court s denial of his motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order. In response, Council filed a motion to quash. By order dated February 19, 2013, a single judge of this Court denied Council s motion to quash, but limited the scope of Schneller s appeal to a review of the trial court s order denying the motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order. 4

5 II. Issues Schneller contends the trial court erred and abused its discretion in refusing to strike or open the Dismissal Order. Schneller further argues this Court erred in limiting the appeal to a review of the trial court s order denying the motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order. In addition, Schneller contends the trial court abused its discretion in: (a) denying his petition for stay pending appeal; and, (b) dismissing his original declaratory judgment complaint based on lack of standing. III. Discussion Schneller first contends the trial court erred and abused its discretion in refusing to strike or open the Dismissal Order. 6 To that end, Schneller asserts the trial court acted arbitrarily, capriciously, unreasonably and in palpable bad faith, by denying Schneller s motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order based upon his discontinuance of his appeal. We disagree. Although Schneller timely appealed the Dismissal Order, Schneller later discontinued his appeal. Under such circumstances, the trial court s Dismissal Order is final and except for extraordinary cause is not subject to collateral attack by virtue of a petition to open and/or strike. Witherspoon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 814 A.2d 1222, 1225 (Pa. Super. 2002) (quoting Luckenbaugh v. Shearer, 523 A.2d 399, 402 (Pa. Super 1987)). Such 6 In reviewing a trial court s denial of a motion to strike or open a judgment, we are limited to determining whether the trial court erred or clearly abused its discretion. Campagna v. Brandon Knitwear, Inc., 797 A.2d 405 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002). 5

6 extraordinary cause is generally an oversight or action on the part of the court or the judicial process which operates to deny the losing party knowledge of the entry of final judgment so that the commencement of the running of the appeal time is not known to the losing party. Luckenbaugh, 523 A.2d at 401; see also Simpson v. Allstate Ins. Co., 504 A.2d 335 (Pa. Super. 1986) (absent fraud or some other circumstance so grave or compelling as to constitute extraordinary cause, final judgments regularly entered in an adverse proceeding may not be disturbed). Thus, Schneller needed to establish fraud or extraordinary cause as a reason to compel the trial court to open or strike the Dismissal Order, which became final upon Schneller s discontinuance of his appeal. Witherspoon; Luckenbaugh; Simpson. Moreover, Schneller s strategic error or oversight in discontinuing his appeal does not constitute extraordinary cause justifying the opening of an adverse judgment. 7 Klugman v. Gimbel Bros., 182 A.2d 223 (Pa. Super. 1962). Further, Schneller did not assert fraud or extraordinary cause as reasons for striking or opening the Dismissal Order. Rather, Schneller sought to strike or open the Dismissal Order to add another claim or cause of action against Council based upon a separate PHRA discrimination complaint Schneller filed 7 A party choosing to represent himself in a legal proceeding must, to some reasonable extent, assume the risk that his lack of expertise and legal training may prove his undoing. Reading City Dev. Auth. v. Lucabaugh, 829 A.2d 744 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003). Furthermore, a party representing himself may not expect an appellate court to help him develop or present his case. Id. 6

7 with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). See Motion to Strike or Open the Order Which Dismisses the Case ; R.R. at 147a-55a. In Count I of Schneller s PHRA complaint, he alleged Council discriminated against him based on his Christian religious beliefs by not letting him speak at two Council meetings in April See id. at 153a. In Count II, Schneller alleged Council retaliated against him for his religious beliefs and his efforts to be treated better and to be treated without discrimination. Id. at 154a. In August 2012, the PHRC notified Schneller that a year passed since he filed a discrimination complaint against Council. Therefore, pursuant to Section 12(c) of the PHRA, 43 P.S. 962(c), the PHRC advised Schneller he could now file his PHRA discrimination claim in a common pleas court. In short, it appears Schneller sought to strike or open the Dismissal Order for the purpose of adding the PHRA discrimination claim in an amendment to his then-dismissed declaratory judgment complaint against Council. See Motion for Reconsideration With Proposed Amended Complaint ; R.R. at 175a-91a. Clearly, Schneller s attempt to amend his dismissed complaint after discontinuing his appeal of the Dismissal Order is not in the nature of fraud or extraordinary cause warranting the trial court s opening of its final order dismissing Schneller s complaint. Witherspoon; Luckenbaugh; Simpson. As shown by Schneller s timely appeal from the Dismissal Order, nothing indicates Schneller was denied proper notice of the Dismissal Order. Therefore, we discern no error or abuse of discretion in the trial court s order denying Schneller s motion to strike or open. Id. 7

8 For the same reasons, we reject Schneller s argument that this Court erred or abused its discretion in limiting the scope of Schneller s appeal to a review of the trial court s denial of the motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order. Upon Schneller s discontinuance of his appeal, the trial court s Dismissal Order became final. Witherspoon; Simpson. The finality doctrine has a very definite function, namely, to establish a point at which litigants, counsel and courts ordinarily may regard contested lawsuits as being at an end. Simpson, 504 A.2d at 337 (quoting Klugman, 182 A.2d at 225). Absent a showing of fraud or some extraordinary cause, a judgment entered in an adverse proceeding cannot be disturbed. Id. Here, the trial court determined no such extraordinary cause existed. Consequently, this Court appropriately limited the scope of Schneller s appeal to review of the trial court order denying Schneller s motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order. Witherspoon; Luckenbaugh; Simpson. Having determined this Court properly limited the scope of Schneller s appeal to a review of the trial court order s denying Schneller s motion to strike or open, we disregard as not properly before us Schneller s remaining arguments (that the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing his original complaint for lack of standing and in denying his petition for stay pending his appeal from dismissal of that complaint). 8 8 We note that in Hartman v. City of Allentown, 880 A.2d 737 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005), this Court rejected preemption arguments similar to those Schneller raised in his original complaint. More specifically, in Hartman we rejected the argument that the PHRA preempted a local human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity where the PHRA did not include provisions prohibiting such discrimination. We further held in Hartman that the city s police powers, not the PHRA, provide the city with the authority to enact its anti-discrimination ordinance. We also noted that the ordinance at issue in Hartman (Footnote continued on next page ) 8

9 IV. Conclusion For the above reasons, we discern no error or abuse of discretion in the trial court s order denying Schneller s motion to strike or open the Dismissal Order. Accordingly, we affirm. V. Outstanding Application/Motions Also before the Court for disposition are Schneller s outstanding motions for remand or for directive for supplemental record, and for extension of time to file a reply brief and reproduced record. In light of our decision affirming the trial court s order denying Schneller s motion to strike or open, we dismiss his outstanding motions as moot. ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge (continued ) imposes no affirmative duties on the city s businesses. Rather, the ordinance protects the city s residents from discrimination. 9

10 IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA Philadelphia Metro Task Force : James D. Schneller, : Appellant : No C.D : v. : : Conshohocken Borough Council : O R D E R AND NOW, this 21 st day of August, 2013, for the reasons stated in the foregoing opinion, the October 11, 2012 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County denying Appellant s Motion to Strike or Open the Order Which Dismisses the Case is AFFIRMED. Further, in light of this Court s disposition of Appellant s appeal, Appellant s Motions for Remand or for Directive for Supplemental Record and for Extension of Time to File a Reply Brief and Reproduced Record are DISMISSED as MOOT. ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge

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