Common Law Public Trust Doctrine Pennsylvania Cases

In Trustees of Philadelphia Museums v. Trustees of University of Pennsylvania, 251 Pa. 115, 96 A. 123 (1915) the city passed ordinances setting aside certain land as a public park for museum use for the benefit of the citizens, and then several years later it passed other ordinances attempting to repeal the original ones in order to convey the property to a university. The Supreme Court held that the city had no power or authority to convey the dedicated property for private purposes, quoting Davenport v. Buffington, 97 F. 234 (8th Cir. 1899), that when a state becomes the proprietor of a municipality and dedicates streets and parks to public use it cannot revoke the dedication after lots have been sold, streets have been graded and parks cared for and improved and that a municipality that dedicates land as a park is estopped from selling the property or appropriating it to other uses. In Borough of Ridgway v. Grant, 56 Pa. Commw. 450, 425 A.2d 1168 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1981), the Court held that a borough had established clear and unequivocal intent to devote a property to public park use and rejected a proposal to construct a fire house on part of the property as incompatible with such use. In In re Bangor Memorial Park, 130 Pa. Commw. 143, 567 A.2d 750 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1989) a borough petitioned under the Act to convey to a school district to construct an elementary school part of land accepted in the 1930s and formally dedicated in 1950 as a public park; the court refused under the public trust doctrine to permit the conveyance. Under these decisions the trial court determined that the public trust doctrine required the City to keep and maintain the property as a golf course or for public park purposes, although under the deed restriction it could be sold if the successor agreed to the same restriction.