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F. W. WOOLWORTH COMPANY TAX ASSESSMENT CASE (09/26/67)

decided: September 26, 1967.

F. W. WOOLWORTH COMPANY TAX ASSESSMENT CASE


Appeals from orders of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1961, No. 3550, in re appeal of F. W. Woolworth Company and Liberty Sixth, Inc. from assessment of Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County.

COUNSEL

T. Robert Brennan, and Brennan and Brennan, for appellants.

James Victor Voss, Assistant County Solicitor, Francis A. Barry, First Assistant County Solicitor, and Maurice Louik, County Solicitor, for Board, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Mr. Chief Justice Bell concurs in the result. Mr. Justice Eagen dissents.

Author: Cohen

[ 426 Pa. Page 584]

This is an appeal by F. W. Woolworth Company, lessee, and Liberty Sixth, Inc., owner (taxpayer), with respect to the assessment of their property in the City of Pittsburgh for the triennial period 1960, 1961 and 1962.

Testimony was originally taken before the court below on May 6, 1964. The Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County (Board) introduced the assessment of $1,493,730 and rested. The taxpayers called a real estate broker as an expert witness. He testified that the market value of the property was $975,000; in addition, he testified that the ratio of assessed value to market value of six

[ 426 Pa. Page 585]

    similar properties ranged from 75.4% to 110.6% (as compared to 153% for the property in question). The taxpayers also produced testimony from Dr. Raymond L. Richman, an economist, who had studied extensively all sales of real estate in Allegheny County for 1958, 1959 and 1960 in order to compute a common level ratio of assessed values to market values throughout the county. He testified that this ratio was 41.4% for 1959. The Board then called several of its employees as witnesses, but none of their testimony went to either the fair market value of the subject property or to the common level ratio of assessed value to market value in the county.

The court below, in summarizing these proceedings, referred to the testimony of taxpayers' expert witness in the following language: "[He] has a thorough knowledge of real estate in the downtown area of the City of Pittsburgh matched by very few other realtors. He had made a thorough study of the property in question and considered the size, location of the lot, the type of structure, the age, the rental value, the use, the sales of the variety store tenant, and the sales and holding prices of other property in the area." The court concluded its summary on fair market value as follows: "The Court carefully considered and weighed the testimony especially that of the taxpayers' expert witness concerning market value and based upon the fair weight of the evidence determined that the fair market value of the property in question as of December 31, 1959, was $1,313,700. . . ."

The lower court then reviewed the uniformity testimony and set the ratio at 100%. In doing so, it recognized the validity of the Richman study but decided to refer to the testimony of taxpayers' expert regarding the six similar properties as a basis for setting the ratio. Therefore, it determined the assessment to be $1,313,700. Taxpayers appealed.

[ 426 Pa. Page 586]

The contentions of the taxpayers are (1) that the lower court, having found their expert to be a competent and credible witness, could not refuse to accept his estimate of fair market value and set its own in the absence of countervailing testimony from the Board and (2) that the lower court could not reject the admittedly correct common level ratio of assessed value to market value for the county as a ...


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