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ROCHESTER & PITTSBURGH COAL COMPANY v. INDIANA COUNTY BOARD ASSESSMENT AND REVISION TAXES (05/27/70)

decided: May 27, 1970.

ROCHESTER & PITTSBURGH COAL COMPANY, APPELLANT,
v.
INDIANA COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT AND REVISION OF TAXES



Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Indiana County, June T., 1969, No. 2, in case of Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Company v. The Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes of Indiana County.

COUNSEL

Henry T. Reath, with him Thomas S. Barbor, and Duane, Morris & Heckscher, for appellant.

Joseph W. Serene, with him Serene and Fee, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Mr. Justice Pomeroy concurs in the result. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell joins in this dissent.

Author: Cohen

[ 438 Pa. Page 507]

This is an action in equity brought by the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Company (Rochester) to enjoin application of a revised method of taxation undertaken by the Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes of Indiana County (Board). Rochester, appellant, contends that the classifications created and the rates applied violate the Equal Protection Clause, the Uniformity Clause and The Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law, Act of May 21, 1943, P. L. 571, Art. I, § 101 et seq., 72 P.S. § 5453.101 et seq. Appellee filed preliminary objections alleging that this was not a proper class action (as appellant had contended) and that appellant had an adequate statutory remedy. The court below sustained the preliminary objections on both points.

[ 438 Pa. Page 508]

To support its contention that equity has jurisdiction in this matter, appellant cites Lynch v. O. J. Roberts School District, 430 Pa. 461, 244 A.2d 1 (1968); Studio Theaters, Inc. v. Washington, 418 Pa. 73, 209 A.2d 802 (1965), and Young Men's Christian Association v. Reading, 402 Pa. 592, 167 A.2d 469 (1961). In Y.M.C.A. we did state (402 Pa. 598), that "absent a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute or of official action thereunder, equity has no jurisdiction to restrain the collection of taxes" and that the complaint should be dismissed because of the absence of such an allegation. Appellant argues that the presence of an allegation of unconstitutionality in its complaint cures the defect this Court emphasized in Y.M.C.A. That decision, however, does not state that a mere allegation of unconstitutionality is sufficient to confer jurisdiction on a court of equity. It only states in a negative way one set of circumstances in which equity does not have jurisdiction. In a positive sense, what is required to confer jurisdiction on an equity court is the existence of a substantial question of constitutionality (and not a mere allegation) and the absence of an adequate statutory remedy.*fn1

[ 438 Pa. Page 509]

Appellant contends that Lynch and Studio Theaters hold that equity has jurisdiction even if a specific statutory remedy exists. Neither of those cases, however, involved a real estate tax as this one does. In the real estate tax area most of the grave constitutional questions have already been decided, and most of the actions, including this one, question not the underlying statute but rather its application. In such a situation, the administrative body which has responsibility for applying the statute on a day-by-day basis should have the first opportunity of studying and ruling on any new application. It may well be that all problems will be worked out at that stage, and neither party will be required to resort to the judicial system.

Appellant next argues that equity has jurisdiction because the statutory remedy that does exist is not adequate.*fn2 Appellant argues that the Fourth to Eighth

[ 438 Pa. Page 510]

Class County Assessment Law, supra, Art. VII, § 704, 72 P.S. § 5453.704, makes no explicit provision for the payment of interest on the amount due it as a refund. The fact that the statute does not specifically provide for interest does not mean that interest can not be part of any award. The Act of April 6, 1859, P. L. 381, § 1, 12 P.S. § 781, provides for the collection of interest or any verdict and the entry of every general judgment. Our case law stands for the same proposition. "The weight of authority appears to be that where the taxpayer is entitled to a refund on an excess payment of taxes, whether such right accrues by virtue of statute or not, the taxpayer is entitled to interest on the refund if no statute or public policy militates against it." Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Co. v. Tamaqua Borough School District, 304 Pa. 489, 496, 156 Atl. 75, 77 (1931). Since no statute or public policy of this Commonwealth militates against the payment of interest, Rochester will be able to recover if it is determined that it is entitled to a refund. It is not necessary to ...


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