Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Greene County, Nov. T., 1967, No. 8, in re appeal of United States Steel Corporation from decision of Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes.
Albert A. Sayers, with him Sayers, King & Keener, for appellant.
A. J. Marion, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Mr. Chief Justice Bell and Mr. Justice Jones concur in the result.
This is an appeal by the United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) from an adjudication of the Court of Common Pleas of Greene County sustaining an assessment of coal lands made by the Greene County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes (Board). The coal lands, called the Cumberland Reserve Coal Tract (Cumberland), is being assessed at an average price of $74.00 per acre, that being 35% of the appraised market value of $214.00 per acre. Through expert testimony before the court below, U. S. Steel attempted to prove the coal lands had a market value of $116.00 per acre.
Before analyzing the particular facts of this case and the reasoning of the court below in sustaining the finding of the Board, it is necessary to state the procedure a court must follow when hearing such an appeal.
"The proceedings in the trial court are de novo and the proper order of proof in cases such as the present one has long been established. The procedure requires that the taxing authority first present its assessment record into evidence. Such presentation makes out a prima facie case for the validity of the assessment in the sense that it fixes the time when the burden of coming forward with evidence shifts to the taxpayer.
If the taxpayer fails to respond with credible, relevant evidence, then the taxing body prevails. But once the taxpayer produces sufficient proof to overcome its initially allotted status, the prima facie significance of the Board's assessment figure has served its procedural purpose, and its value as an evidentiary device is ended. . . . Of course, the taxpayer still carries the burden of persuading the court of the merits of his appeal, but that burden is not increased by the presence of the assessment record in evidence.
"Of course, the taxing authority always has the right to rebut the owner's evidence and in such a case the weight to be given to all the evidence is always for the court to determine. The taxing authority cannot, however, rely solely on its assessment record in the face of countervailing evidence unless it is willing to run the risk of having the owner's proof believed by the court. Where the taxpayer's testimony is relevant, credible and unrebutted, it must be given due weight and cannot be ignored by the court. It must necessarily be accepted." [Citations omitted]. Deitch Company v. Board of Property Assessment, 417 Pa. 213, 221-2, 209 A.2d 397, 402 (1965); see, also, F. W. Woolworth Tax Assessment Case, 426 Pa. 583, 235 A.2d 793 (1967).
Having established the procedural framework for such an appeal, it is necessary to determine whether that procedure was properly followed. The Board introduced its assessment record and after U. S. Steel had introduced its testimony the Board presented evidence in rebuttal. We start with an analysis of that rebuttal evidence for, if it is irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial as appellant contends, then appellant's evidence, if it is relevant, credible and unrebutted, must prevail. That rebuttal evidence ...