W. W. Hall, Pittston, Leo W. White, R. Lawrence Coughlin, Coughlin & Hughes, Wilkes-Barre, for appellant.
Henry Thalenfeld, Donald S. Mills, Wilkes-Barre, for Tax Claim Bureau.
Before Rhodes, P. J., and Ross, Gunther, Wright, Woodside and Ervin, JJ.
[ 175 Pa. Super. Page 271]
This is an appeal from an order dismissing a petition to intervene in the adjudication of exceptions to
[ 175 Pa. Super. Page 272]
the return of a tax sale of real estate under the Real Estate Tax Sale Law of July 7, 1947, P.L. 1368, 72 P.S. § 5860.101 et seq. It has been stated that the strict provisions of this Act were not intended to punish tax payers, but to protect the local government against wilful, persistent and longstanding delinquents: Ross Appeal, 366 Pa. 100, 76 A.2d 749.
On September 4, 1952, the Tax Claim Bureau of Luzerne County exposed certain lands to public tax sale at which time one Harry Mertz became the purchaser of two properties. On November 6, 1952, Mertz assigned his interest to appellant, R. C. Reese. A consolidated return of the properties sold was made by the Tax Claim Bureau on December 11, 1952. The next day, December 12, 1952, Edward C. Lowe, Virginia P. Lowe and Frank P. Bevan filed exceptions to the return, asserting that the properties in question had been improperly assessed and advertised, and that, as real owners, they had not received notice of the sale. On the same day the court fixed January 16, 1953, as the time for hearing the exceptions. No notice was given to appellant, nor to Mertz, the original purchaser. However, appellant's attorney saw a news announcement of the filing of the exceptions. Acting for appellant, he appeared before the court below on January 15, 1953, accompanied by the attorney for the appellees. The court thereupon, and with the agreement of counsel, continued the hearing until January 23, 1953. At the request of appellant's attorney, the hearing was subsequently continued until January 30, 1953, at three o'clock p. m. On the morning of January 30, 1953, appellant's attorney requested a third continuance, which was refused. A hearing was held at the appointed hour. At this hearing there appeared the assistant solicitor of Luzerne County, the director of the tax claim bureau, and the attorney for the exceptants. Neither appellant nor his counsel were present.
[ 175 Pa. Super. Page 273]
The court proceeded to take testimony, and the record was closed. Thereafter, on March 3, 1953, the stenographic transcript of the hearing was lodged for decision by the court. On March 4, 1953, appellant presented to the court a petition for leave to intervene. On this petition the court granted a rule upon the exceptants to show cause why appellant should not be allowed to intervene and directed that all proceedings be stayed. An answer was filed in the nature of preliminary objections on March 10, 1953. Argument was subsequently heard by the court en banc and, on June 11, 1953, the court unanimously held that there had been undue delay on the part of appellant and dismissed the petition. This appeal followed.
Appellant contends (1) that a purchaser at a tax sale has such an interest in the subject matter as to require him to be joined as a real party in interest in the proceedings to set the sale aside; and (2) that a pronouncement of laches should not have been made so as to preclude him from protecting his property right. In view of our determination of the second contention, it is unnecessary to pass on the nature of the rights appellant may have acquired under the tax sale.
It is important to note that, even though he received no formal notice of the filing of the exceptions, appellant was apprized of them at some time before the original date set for hearing. In consequence thereof, his attorney appeared before the court below with the attorney for the exceptants and, by agreement, a continued date was set for the hearing. The inescapable conclusion is that appellant was thus recognized as a party in interest in the proceedings and was given an opportunity to be heard. However, he then sought to delay the proceedings by securing continuances of the ...