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HAZEN ENGINEERING COMPANY v. PITTSBURGH. (06/10/59)

June 10, 1959

HAZEN ENGINEERING COMPANY, APPELLANT,
v.
PITTSBURGH.



Appeal, No. 48, April T., 1959, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Jan. T., 1952, No. 2578, in case of Hazen Engineering Company v. City of Pittsburgh et al. Decree affirmed.

COUNSEL

Louis Vaira, with him Albert G. Brown, for appellant.

Edmund W. Ridall, Jr., Assistant School Solicitor, with him Niles Anderson, School Solicitor, for School District of Pittsburgh, appellee.

Regis C. Nairn, Assistant City Solicitor, and David Stahl, City Solicitor, for City of Pittsburgh, appellee.

Before Rhodes, P.j., Hirt, Gunther, Wright, Woodside, Ervin, and Watkins, JJ.

Author: Woodside

[ 189 Pa. Super. Page 533]

OPINION BY WOODSIDE, J.

In an effort to determine a simple legal problem, based upon facts easily ascertainable and beyond legitimate dispute, the appellant corporation filed a bill in equity on December 10, 1951. It, and presumably the taxing authorities, wanted to know whether the corporation was a "manufacturer," as the term is used in a tax ordinance of the City of Pittsburgh, and the act authorizing the adoption thereof, and an act imposing a tax on residents of the school district of that city.

The city and school district both answered the bill, and after considerable testimony was taken, an adjudication was filed by the chancellor on August 27, 1956. Exceptions to the adjudication were filed and the matter finally disposed of in the court below on September 8, 1958, nearly seven years after the bill in equity was filed.

The adjudication, and the opinion written on exceptions to it, dealt almost exclusively with findings of fact. Indeed, everybody connected with the case seems to have become so steeped in the ascertainment of facts that little attention was given to the applicable ordinance, statutes, and decisions. Even so, without the aid of the unprinted record and the oral argument, it would have been impossible for us to determine the facts with sufficient clarity to apply the law to them.

Under these circumstances, it seems advisable to refer briefly to the inefficiencies of a practice which, after seven years of litigation, permits a case to reach an appellate court with inadequate development of facts, especially when the facts should never have been in actual dispute in the first place.

[ 189 Pa. Super. Page 534]

A century ago when a similar question was before the Court, "the parties agreed upon the facts as a case stated." Norris Bros. v. The Commonwealth, 27 Pa. 494 (1856). Why should we not be able to thus expedite similar cases today? An investigation, no more thorough and time-consuming than was necessary for the proper presentation of testimony, should have enabled counsel in this case to stipulate the facts which could have been stated more fully and more clearly than was possible through presentation of oral testimony.*fn1

Of course, a solicitor's effort to stipulate facts can be defeated by the taxpayer refusing to state fully and accurately the manner of his doing business, and by his refusing the taxing authorities a reasonable opportunity to check the relevant facts.

We are confident that the solicitors' offices do not insist upon the taking of testimony with the hope that the taxpayers may fail to accurately establish the facts and thus be deprived of the right that would be theirs if the court had the whole truth. Solicitors, like attorneys

[ 189 Pa. Super. Page 535]

    general, always win when justice is done, and always lose when justice is denied, for whatever reason. There could be no just criticism of the solicitors for agreeing in open court to facts in cases like this. As we view it, solicitors, in stipulating facts wherever possible, are merely assuming a proper legal responsibility imposed upon them as officers of the court. We strongly recommend that the practice followed in this case be carefully examined by counsel and court, and that, hereafter, in cases where it is practical and convenient to do so, and particularly in tax matters of this ...


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