Distinguishing Between Preliminary and Permanent Injunction for Purposes of Appeal; Applicability of Pa. R.A.P 311(a)(4); Requirement to File Post- Trial Motions; Waiver

Wolk v. Sch.  Dist. of Lower Merion, 2017 WL 1418445(Pa. Cmwlth.)(unreported), allocatur granted Jan. 17, 2018, appeal docket 1 MAP 2018

Wolk sued the School District of Lower Merion in the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery County to attack a tax increase for fiscal year 2016-17 that he alleged was in excess of the statutory maximum increase.  He also sought numerous other reliefs as part of a twelve-count complaint, including appointment of a trustee to supervise the district and its finances, imposition of a constructive trust, damages, a declaration that the system of school taxation was illegal, and others. Lower Merion filed preliminary objections.  While the preliminary objections were pending, Wolk filed a petition seeking an injunction to enjoin collection of the tax increase for 2016-2017. A hearing was scheduled and held at which testimony was taken, and the trial court two months later issued an opinion and order with immediate effect enjoining Lower Merion from collecting that portion of the 2016-17 tax increase that allegedly was in excess of the statutory maximum increase.  The trial court did not address most of the other requests for relief in the complaint.

Lower Merion took an immediate appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 311(a)(4), treating the order as a preliminary injunction. Noting that Wolk did not specify whether his request was for a preliminary or a permanent injunction, the Commonwealth Court treated the trial court order as one granting a permanent injunction, reasoning as follows:

In determining whether an injunction is preliminary or permanent, an appellate court must look to the nature of the relief granted. Soja v. Factoryville Sportsmen’s Club, 522 A.2d 1129, 1132 (Pa. Super. 1986). A preliminary injunction is issued to preserve the status quo and prevent imminent and irreparable harm that could occur before the case is heard on its merits. Id. at 1131 (Pa. Super. 1986). A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy that may only be granted if a clear right to relief is established. Id. In preserving the status quo, the court must restore the last peaceable, non-contested status that preceded the controversy. Id. A preliminary injunction shall issue “only after written notice and [a] hearing.” Pa. R.C.P. No. 1531(a). “The question to be determined at this hearing is whether there is an urgent necessity for interim relief before the case can be heard on the merits.” Soja, 522 A.2d at 1131.

A permanent or final injunction is issued when a party establishes a clear right to relief. Board of Revision of Taxes v. City of Philadelphia, 4 A.3d 104,133 (Pa. 2010). “[T]he party need not establish either irreparable harm or immediate relief,” as is necessary when seeking a preliminary injunction, and “a court may issue a final injunction if such relief is necessary to prevent a legal wrong for which there is no adequate redress at law.” Buffalo Township v. Jones, 813 A.2d 659, 663 (Pa. 2002). When a final injunction is granted, the court must issue a decree nisi with a statement of the issues, findings of fact and conclusions of law. Soja, 522 A.2d at 1132.

Here, Appellees sought an “injunction” directing the School District to rescind a 4.4% tax increase that was passed in violation of the School Code and Act 1, and to refund any taxes that were paid under it. The trial court held a hearing to “address the merits of the case because the tax increase [that occurred the night before the hearing,] was [allegedly] illegal.” (N.T. at 6.) At the hearing, testimony and evidence were presented and both parties had the opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses. At the hearing’s conclusion, the trial court asked the parties to submit proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and responses to opposing submissions. The parties complied. The trial court thereafter, filed an opinion and order with extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial court did not “maintain the status quo,” as it would in a preliminary injunction, but enjoined the School District from enforcing or collecting a tax increase for fiscal year 2016-17 that was more than 2.4% over the tax from the previous fiscal year. The trial court further ordered the School District to adopt a resolution revoking the 4.44% tax increase for 2016-17, and enact a tax of no more than 2.4% greater than the previous fiscal years’ tax. Thus, after looking at the “nature of the relief granted,” we must conclude that a permanent injunction was issued by the trial court.

Slip op., at 7-8 (footnotes omitted).

Having interpreted the trial court order as one granting a permanent injunction, notwithstanding the pendency of Wolk’s many other claims against Lower Merion, the Commonwealth Court went on to find all issues on appeal waived because Lower Merion failed to file post-trial motions pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 227.1.

The Supreme Court has granted allocatur.

The issues, as stated by Lower Merion, are:

(1) Where a Court of Common Pleas grants a petition by issuing an immediately effective injunction, is that order immediately appealable of right under Pa. R.A.P. 311(a)(4)?

(2) Is an order of the Court of Common Pleas that enjoined a school district from collecting a portion of its 2016 taxes a “final order” as to which [Petitioner] must file post-trial motions before taking an appeal, even though other and different claims in the case remain unaddressed?

(3) May a Court of Common Pleas convert a preliminary injunction hearing into a permanent injunction hearing without the consent of the parties?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.