Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1959C, No. 1923, in case of Pittsburgh Miracle Mile Town & Country Shopping Center, Inc. v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County.
Philip Baskin, with him Baskin, Sachs & Craig, for appellant.
Francis A. Barry, First Assistant County Solicitor, with him John F. Murphy, Assistant County Solicitor, and Maurice Louik, County Solicitor, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Musmanno joins in this Dissenting Opinion.
Pittsburgh Miracle Mile Town & Country Shopping Center, Inc., appellant, was the owner of certain real estate located in Monroeville Borough, Allegheny County. The total valuation for county assessment purposes on this property for the triennium beginning in 1959 was $2,465,820. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County for a reduction in valuation, an appeal was taken to the court below where the issue raised was an alleged lack of uniformity.
The lower court dismissed the appeal, holding that appellant had not attacked the complete assessment in this case as required by law, and also that appellant had produced no competent evidence to establish that the assessment was unjust, discriminatory, or lacking in uniformity.
The court below indicated that at the pretrial conference counsel had stipulated that only the land assessment was being contested. If so, this was improper and should not have been permitted by the pretrial judge. The basic and controlling substantive issue in a real estate assessment appeal is the correctness of the total assessment of the property as a unit. North Park Village, Inc. v. Bd. of Property Assessments, 408 Pa. 433, 184 A.2d 253 (1962); see Sheldon Hotel Corp. Assessment Appeal, 362 Pa. 313, 66 A.2d 242 (1949). A stipulation as to the fair market value of land or improvements is merely an evidentiary expedient and does not alter the court's obligation on review to pass upon and to determine the correctness of the property assessment as a whole. Such a stipulation, in effect, achieves only the same evidentiary result as though the taxpayer offered no evidence to challenge or overcome the prima facie validity of the Board's assessment either as to land or improvements. In that
event, absent contrary evidence, the prima facie validity of the Board's assessment would prevail on an evidentiary basis. In essence, the taxpayer may permit such a result to obtain either by (1) offering no evidence or inadequate evidence to overcome the prima facie validity or (2) by affirmatively saying in the form of a stipulation that he does not disagree with a portion of the valuation and will offer no contradictory evidence. It was therefore improper to have permitted the stipulation to restrict the court's function, as appears to have been the situation in the court below. Apparently, the stipulation caused the trial to be conducted on a basis which limited the attack and the court's province to the determination of the correctness of a portion of the property assessment, rather than the total.*fn1
With respect to the issue of uniformity, appellant submitted to the court below a letter from the Pennsylvania State Tax Equalization Board which stated that the ratio of market value to assessed value in Monroeville Borough School District for the year 1959 was 55%. This ratio was based on a total market value of real estate in the amount of $82,301,300 and an assessed valuation of $45,239,667. The question of the admissibility of State Tax Equalization Board figures, if properly presented, would be one of first impression in this Court although there is dictum in Buerger v. Allegheny County Bd. of Property Assessment, 188 Pa. Superior Ct. 561, 567-68, 149 A.2d 466, 470 (1959), allocatur denied, 188 Pa. Superior Ct. XXVIII, concerning the issue. If competent evidence of an overall currently prevailing or common ratio based on actual sales within the taxing district is available, and if the manner in which such evidence would be introduced permits of cross-examination, such evidence may normally be received. However, without reaching the question of the helpfulness, relevancy or admissibility of the State Tax Equalization Board figures, it is clear that the ratio figures for the Borough were improper evidence in this ...