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WATSON v. CIAFFONI (04/16/56)

April 16, 1956

WATSON
v.
CIAFFONI, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 38, March T., 1956, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, in Equity, No. 5173, in case of W. R. Watson et ux. v. Pete Ciaffoni and John Ciaffoni. Decree affirmed.

COUNSEL

William R. Dennison, Jr., with him Vincent R. Massock, for appellants.

Adolph L. Zeman, with him Robert L. Zeman and Zeman & Zeman, for appellees.

Before Stern, C.j., Jones, Bell, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 385 Pa. Page 17]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES

The question in this case is whether the tax sale at which the defendants purchased the plaintiffs' property was illegal and void because of the failure of the local tax claim bureau to give the owners proper notice by registered mail of the filing of the return of unpaid taxes against the property and the formal entry of a claim therefor as well as notice of the subsequent sale. The court below held the sale to be invalid for the reason above mentioned and, accordingly, entered a final decree adjudging the defendants' title to the property illegal, void and of no effect and directing the defendants to deliver up the deed, which they received from the tax claim bureau, for cancellation, upon being reimbursed by the plaintiffs for the sum paid for the property at the tax sale.

The material facts are undisputed and are fully established by the learned chancellor's findings which the court en banc confirmed. Actually, the defendants excepted to but one of the findings and that dealt with a relatively immaterial and unimportant fact.

Plaintiffs acquired the property in controversy, consisting of an improved tract of some seventeen acres in Washington County, by deed from R. D. Watson, widower, in September, 1950. The deed, as duly recorded, showed on its face that the grantees' residence was

[ 385 Pa. Page 18]

"Beech Bottom, Brooke County, West Virginia". The certificate of residence endorsed on the deed recited the grantees' post-office address as "P.O. Box 112, Beech Bottom, West Virginia". And, the recorder's certification of the transfer to the assessment office of the county, made pursuant to the Act of May 21, 1943, P.L. 571, Sec. 605, 72 PS ยง 5453.605, certified the owners' post-office address as "Box 112, Beech Bottom, Brooke County, West Virginia". The plaintiffs were in fact residents of Beech Bottom, West Virginia, continuously from 1922 throughout all of the times presently material and their post-office address during all of that period remained Box 112, Beech Bottom, West Virginia.

Immediately upon acquiring title to the property, the plaintiffs entered into possession thereof, demised the premises to various tenants and thenceforth continued in possession uninterruptedly.

For the years 1951, 1952 and 1953 the property was assessed in the names of the plaintiffs as owners. But, their address was mistakenly shown on the assessment roll as R.D. #1, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, with the further notation that they were "N.R." meaning "nonresident". The way the incorrect address for the new owners happened to be shown was that, when the change in assessment was made in the assessment office, pursuant to the recorder's certificate of the transfer, the initials of the name of the grantor and last preceding assessee (R. D. Watson) were stricken out and there was substituted therefor by the clerk in ink "W. R. and Frances". So that, the new assessment read "Watson, W.R. and Frances, Canonsburg R.D. #1, ...


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