Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Nov. T., 1960, No. 31, in re Upset Sale, Tax Claims Bureau of Montgomery County.
Horace A. Davenport, Assistant Solicitor, with him Roger B. Reynolds, Solicitor, for appellant.
Raymond M. Seidel, with him High, Swartz, Roberts & Seidel, for appellee.
Ervin, Wright, Woodside, Watkins, Montgomery, and Flood, JJ. (Rhodes, P. J., absent). Opinion by Flood, J. Concurring Opinion by Wright, J.
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The Tax Claims Bureau of Montgomery County conducted an upset sale of certain property of which the appellees are record owners. A consolidated return was filed with the office of the Prothonotary of Montgomery County and the court below signed a decree nisi in accordance with the Real Estate Tax Sale Law, Act of July 7, 1947, P. L. 1368, art. VI, § 607, as amended (72 PS § 5860.607). The appellees filed objections and exceptions to the consolidated return. After a hearing the court sustained objections and exceptions to certain costs charged by the bureau and ordered it to refund these to the appellees.
On this appeal the bureau attacks this result on both procedural and substantive grounds. It contends that (1) the court had no authority to pass upon these objections because they were filed too late and (2) the costs disallowed by the court were properly charged.
1. The Real Estate Tax Sale Law, Act of July 7, 1947, P. L. 1368 et seq., as amended (72 PS § 5860.101 et seq.), is a self-contained statute. It provides that
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the officials of the various taxing districts of a county in which the act is in force shall on or before the first Monday in May in each year, return to the bureau a list of all properties as to which the preceding year's taxes are unpaid (§ 306). Not later than July 31st of the same year, the director of the bureau must give notice to each delinquent taxpayer that the return has been filed and a tax claim entered against him (§ 308). If the claim is not paid or exceptions to it are not filed by the property owner prior to January 1st of the following year, it then becomes absolute (§ 311). If the exceptions are filed, the bureau "shall hold a hearing thereon", after giving due notice, and dispose of them in accordance with the evidence and its prescribed powers (§ 314(b)). The bureau may set aside or reduce the claim if it is found invalid in whole or in part either because the taxes had been paid or "for any other reason not involving a question which could have been raised by an appeal provided for by law" (§ 314(a)). The property owner may appeal to the court of common pleas within fifteen days after notice of the bureau's decision (§ 314(b)). Upon final disposition of the exceptions, the claim becomes absolute (§ 314(f)).
The appellees filed exceptions to certain items in the claims on the ground that they were not chargeable to them under the act. The bureau notified them that since they did not aver payment of the taxes, they were not entitled to a hearing under § 314. No appeal was taken at this time and an upset sale of the properties was held on October 10, 1960. After the sale, the property owners filed objections and exceptions with the court, raising the same questions they had raised in their exceptions to the claims.
The act provides that the bureau shall sell the property after the tax claim has become absolute and the period of redemption has been allowed to expire
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(§ 601(a)). Not later than sixty days after the sale the bureau is required to make a consolidated return of the sale (§ 607(a)), of which notice shall be given by publication stating that objections or exceptions to the return may be filed within sixty days (§ 607(b)). These objections or exceptions may question the proceedings in respect to the sale but not the validity of the tax claims (§ 607(d)). If the objections or exceptions are sustained and the court deems the defect not amendable, it must invalidate the sale and order another to take place (§ 607(e)).
Despite the fact that the objections to the sale went to the correctness of the tax claims rather than the proceedings relating to the sales, contrary to the provisions of § 607(d), they were sustained by the court. In so doing, the court held that failure to grant the appellees a hearing on their exceptions to the claims made any purported disposition of those exceptions a nullity. Hence the claims never became absolute and the sales were unauthorized under § 601(a). It then decided that some of the charges on which the exceptions to the tax claims were based were invalid. However, in accordance with the request of the bureau, it did not set ...