The City of Philadelphia v. Galdo
Frank Galdo owns a home in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. Since 1989 Galdo cleaned up, maintained and used a vacant lot across the street from his home that had been condemned by the City in the 1970s when rerouting the Market-Frankford Elevated line during the construction of Interstate 95. When the City tried to take back the lot in 2013, Galdo, represented by David J. Scaggs, Esquire, claimed ownership of the lot through adverse possession, a legal theory that permits a claimant to obtain title to land through actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile possession for a period of twenty-one years. At trial, the trial court held that the City was immune from adverse possession because the City acted as an agent for the Commonwealth when it condemned the property and because the condemnation was evidence that the City obtained the property for a public use. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court disagreed and vacated the trial court's decision, finding that the City had not acted as an agent of the Commonwealth because the City had no legal obligation to hold the property as an agent of the Commonwealth during the time Galdo adversely possessed the property. The Commonwealth Court also found that simply holding a property for resale did not constitute a public use. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently affirmed the Commonwealth Court. The City abandoned its argument that it acted as an agent of the Commonwealth and focused solely on its public use argument. The Supreme Court recognized that a political subdivision may be immune from adverse possession if the land is devoted to a public use. However, it found that although the subject property was acquired on the basis of public use of the construction of a state highway, the City had abandoned the public use once the construction was complete in the late 1970s. The Court denied the City's argument that its intention to resell the property extended the original public use, finding that such reasoning was unsupported by any legal precedent and antithetical to the policies underlying the doctrine of adverse possession, stating "This scenario constitutes the opposite of devoting property to a public use as the indefinite holding of abandoned municipal property is detrimental to those tax payers who own property nearby and to the community at large." Read a copy of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Decision here.