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MORRIS v. BOARD PROPERTY ASSESSMENT (02/25/65)

decided: February 25, 1965.

MORRIS
v.
BOARD OF PROPERTY ASSESSMENT, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1960, No. 1899, in case of Charles M. Morris and Henry Ellenbogen v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County.

COUNSEL

James Victor Voss, Assistant County Solicitor, with him Francis A. Barry, First Assistant County Solicitor, and Maurice Louik, County Solicitor, for appellant.

William H. Eckert, with him Eckert, Seamans & Cherin, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Musmanno joins in this Dissenting Opinion.

Author: Jones

[ 417 Pa. Page 193]

In the case at bar, the Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County (Board), appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which reduced the real estate assessment of appellees' property for the triennial years 1960-1961-1962. The court reduced the assessment only on the land from $49,900 to $29,500, a total reduction of $20,400. That was the only reduction granted and involved a tax saving to appellee of

[ 417 Pa. Page 194]

    approximately $3978 over the triennial period. On this appeal the sole controversy between the parties concerns the assessment figure placed upon the land and the tax involved in the reduction of that figure.*fn1

While the "thing from which the property owner appeals (and, therefore, the matter before the court) is the total assessment of the property as a unit" (Sheldon Hotel Corporation Assessment Appeal, 362 Pa. 313, 316, 66 A.2d 242), the "total assessment" figure does not determine the jurisdiction of this Court to entertain this appeal. That which does determine and delineate the respective jurisdiction of the Superior Court and our Court is the actual "amount in controversy": Act of August 14, 1963, P. L. 819, § 1, 17 P.S. § 184.

What is the "amount in controversy" in this type of action? In Du Bois's Appeal, 293 Pa. 186, 192, 193, 142 A. 134, this Court said that the test of appellate jurisdiction is the amount of taxes sought to be avoided, not the value of the property upon which they are assessed. In Jackson Appeal, 191 Pa. Superior Ct. 455, 458, 157 A.2d 100, the Superior Court stated: "Had the assessment been made, and the appeal to the Court of Common Pleas been taken, under the above county assessment law this Court would have jurisdiction, as the amount involved is measured not by the amount of the assessment involved but by the amount of tax

[ 417 Pa. Page 195]

    sought to be avoided, which in this case is under $5000 [citing Du Bois's Appeal, supra]".*fn2

The "amount in controversy" measured by the amount of taxes involved in the instant appeal is less than $10,000 and, therefore, sole jurisdiction to entertain this appeal lies in the Superior Court. It is of vital importance that we entertain appeals only in actions where we have jurisdiction.

The appeal is remitted to the Superior Court.

Disposition

Appeal remitted to Superior Court.

Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell:

The Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review*fn1 appeals from an Order of the Court of Common Pleas which in effect reduced the assessed value of appellees' property in Pittsburgh from $187,900 to $167,500. The property involved is a shopping center, consisting of land and a large building erected thereon. The property was valued and assessed by the Board for the triennium commencing in 1960, at $187,900, which was broken down into a land valuation of $49,900 and a building valuation of $138,000. The parties agreed upon the assessed value of the building, namely, $138,000, but differed as to the correct assessment and value of the land. Although the taxes on this property, for the triennium, or the separate tax on the land and the separate tax on the building do not appear in the record*fn2 or in the majority opinion, it is undisputed that the tax on the entire property for the triennium, under the Board's valuation, was $29,143.98, and under the Court's valuation over $25,000.

[ 417 Pa. Page 196]

The lower Court, we repeat, considered only the value of the land and reduced the assessment of appellees' land from $49,900 to $29,500 -- it did not even discuss the subject or amount of taxes.

The majority Opinion admits and a myriad cases state the general rule that an appeal lies from the (Order which fixes the) assessments of the entire property. Nevertheless, the majority Opinion states that this Court has no jurisdiction because the jurisdiction is determined by the difference in tax due under the Court's assessment of the land alone and that claimed by the appellant to be due on the land alone, for the triennium. Not only is there no case or statutory authority to justify this test, but on the contrary (1) literally a score or more cases demonstrate that this is not the test -- indeed it cannot be -- and (2) the statute, and (3) the analogous cases undoubtedly refute the majority's test for jurisdiction.

The City of Pittsburgh under the Second Class City Act, is required to separately assess land and buildings, and a different rate of millage tax is required to be imposed upon buildings, from that which is imposed upon land exclusive of any building thereon. This different millage and separate assessment are mandated by the Act of March 7, 1901, P. L. 20, as amended, 53 P.S. § 25,894.

[ 417 Pa. Page 197]

The Act of August 14, 1963, P. L. 819, § 1, provides that the Superior Court shall have jurisdiction of "all actions and proceedings at law . . . if the subject of the controversy be either money,*fn3 chattels, real or personal, or the possession of or title to real property, and Page 197} if also the amount or value thereof in controversy*fn4 be not greater than ten thousand dollars, exclusive of costs."

The majority bases its opinion that the Superior Court has jurisdiction upon the Act of August 14, 1963. If that Act is not applicable,*fn5 then the Superior Court has no jurisdiction; if it is applicable, then the majority has misconceived and misconstrued it.

Once more, we repeat, it is exceptionally rare that any real estate assessment case either in the Court of Common Pleas or on appeal to the Supreme Court or to the Superior Court, shows (a) the amount of taxes which are allegedly due, or (b) the tax rate. Indeed, at the time of the assessment or at the time of the appeal, neither the taxes which are due, nor even the rate of tax, may have been fixed by Statute or Ordinance. It would therefore seem clear (1) that the assessments fixed by the lower Court and not the taxes should be the test of our jurisdiction, but (2) in no event, should the test be the difference between the amount of taxes resulting from the Court's assessment of the land and the amount of taxes which appellant claims would be validly due thereon. Moreover, if expert witnesses for an appellant gave six widely different values, which value does appellant claim is the correct one, and consequently, what is the difference in taxes between the taxes resulting from the Court's Order and those which appellant claims should be due?

[ 417 Pa. Page 198]

In other words, according to the majority, " what is the tax sought to be avoided ?"

In the six other real estate assessment cases in which Opinions are being filed simultaneously herewith,*fn6 not one of them states the amount of taxes which have been imposed or are allegedly due, and not one of these six Opinions even mentions the test promulgated by the majority in the instant case.

A few analogous cases will further demonstrate that " the amount or value in controversy " is not the difference in tax between that resulting from the Court's assessment and that contended for by appellant. For example, in eminent domain cases, where the value of the property is the issue, and where real estate experts differ sometimes 2% or 10% or 1000% or 1500%, the jurisdiction of this Court does not depend and never has ...


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