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Parkesburg Violated the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause, States Judge

Parkesburg Violated the Excessive Fines Clause of the Constitution, States Judge
Borough attempt to seek nearly $600,000 called "outrageous, excessive and unconstitutional"

PARKESBURG, PA — The Borough of Parkesburg sought a judgment of nearly $600,000.00 against Joseph Rzonca, as a fine for exposed Tyvek wrap on a house worth only $130,000.00, according to County Court of Common Pleas documents. “While this demand seems absurd, it is no joke,” wrote the Honorable Jeffrey R. Sommer in his decision.

“I believe the Borough’s actions were politically motivated and a way to punish me,” asserts Rzonca. “In early January 2016, I sent an email asking for information about a municipal vehicle that was in an automobile accident. Immediately following, the Borough fined and then sued me for a property that was foreclosed and had been in the possession of the bank for two years.”

In 2006, just prior to the financial crisis and meltdown of the housing market, Joseph Rzonca purchased a house at 8 Chestnut Street in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania for $130,000. Over time, Rzonca made various attempts to improve and remodel the property, as his extra cash would allow. In late 2011 and into early 2012, Rzonca began to install polyvinyl siding over the existing wood siding.

Unfortunately, the costs of improvement, coupled with the monthly mortgage payments, proved too much for Rzonca. Unable to make his mortgage payments, he was eventually served with an Act 91 Notice of Intention to Foreclose from Wells Fargo Bank. On October 6, 2014, Wells Fargo filed a mortgage foreclosure against Rzonca in Chester County. This action gave Wells Fargo the right to possession of the Property and the bank sought a judgment. Consequently, Rzonca left the property and moved in with his girlfriend in a neighboring township.

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In compliance with Borough Ordinances, on October 24, 2014, Wells Fargo filed in the Office of the Borough of Parkesburg a form drafted and supplied by the Borough of Parkesburg entitled Notice of Vacant Property. Wells Fargo filed the form and paid the filing fee, thereby notifying the Borough the Chestnut Street property was vacant and that Wells Fargo was thereafter the responsible party. The form additionally requested that any needs should be addressed to Wells Fargo via email.

However, in January 2016, a full 15 months after Wells Fargo filed with the Borough that they took possession, Parkesburg charged Joseph Rzonca with violating Ordinance No. 486 and mailed him a Notice of Violation, asserting his property was not “sufficiently weatherproofed”. Yet, according to court documents, Parkeburg’s Code Official testified he never actually inspected the property, having made his judgment of a violation based solely on photos taken from the street. Additionally, there is no evidence that Rzonca ever received the Enforcement Notice, since he no longer lived at the property. Nevertheless, in March 2016, Magisterial District Justice Nancy Gill found in favor of the Borough in the amount of $1,284.18.

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Over the years, there have been multiple appeals until the matter eventually came before the Honorable Jeffrey R. Sommer in March of 2019. In that time, the amount the Borough was demanding increased to $572,000.00 plus attorney’s fees of $18,105.56 and court costs. When the Judge asked the Borough’s Solicitor, John Carnes, why he did not contact Wells Fargo, he responded by saying dealing with banks was “too hard.” Sommer’s wrote in his opinion, “[The Solicitor] sought to ignore common sense and legal requirements in order to go after Rzonca. It should have come as no surprise the Enforcement Notice came back unclaimed. How anyone, particularly a county solicitor, could conclude this returned mailing constituted ‘good service’ is beyond comprehension.”

The Judge described the Borough’s pursuit of nearly $600,000 as “outrageous, excessive and unconstitutional.” The decision of the Court declared, “It must be stated that the fines sought by the Borough, even if Rzonca is responsible for same, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the alleged violation. Clearly, this runs afoul of the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.”  Regardless, the court also stated the Borough was unclear on the exact violation they attempted to enforce and failed to prove any violation actually occurred. Ultimately, the final judgment was in favor of Joseph Rzonca and against the Borough of Parkesburg.

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Over the last week, MyChesCo reached out to multiple Parkesburg officials for comment. There was no official statement at the time this article was published.

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Cameron Canipe
Guest
Cameron Canipe

Joseph Rzonca has balls of steel.

Debbie
Guest
Debbie

Joey you should have called me when this was going on! I would have gone to court with you on this one.

Joey Rzonca
Member
Joey Rzonca

Just to be clear according to this judges opinion Judge Nancy Gill also violated civil procedure in this case by not checking for proper service. The enforcement notice was also a violation of due process according to Judge MacElree. This case started because the individual asked about the former borough manager car accident in which no investigation was made. There is a copy of the repair order from Town Service center. The borough vehicle was crashed outside of the borough limits which if anyone else was injured it would have been a bigger lawsuit that what you just read. The… Read more »