Appeals from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, No. 2025 of 1968 and Nos. 2048 and 2049 of 1969, in case of Harry S. Crosson et al. v. Downingtown Area School District.
A. Bruce Niccolo, with him Arthur A. Moorshead, and Moorshead & Niccolo, for appellants.
Theodore O. Rogers, with him Susan P. Windle, and Rogers, Gentry, Windle & Lamb, for appellees.
Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Pomeroy concurs in the result. Mr. Justice Eagen dissents. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell joins in this dissent.
Appellants (taxpayers), in three separate actions in equity in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, sought to enjoin appellees (a third-class school district and its tax collectors) from collecting occupation taxes. The Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes
of Chester County had previously adopted a revised occupational classification and assessment schedule on May 1, 1967.*fn1 In preparation of its budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1968, the school district used the assessment rolls received from the Chief Assessor of Chester County. A tentative school budget was approved
on May 7, 1968, and finally adopted on May 28, 1968. On June 25, 1968, the school district (acting under authority of The Local Tax Enabling Act, Act of December 31, 1965, P. L. 1257, § 1 et seq., 53 P.S. § 6901 et seq. (Supp. 1970)), levied a 500 mill tax on occupations, as assessed by the County.*fn2 Appellants received their tax bills in the fall of 1968.
Both the tax resolution of the school district as well as the occupational assessments made by the county assessing authorities upon which the tax was levied were attacked by appellants below. As regards the assessments, appellants contended that the tax was invalid because: (1) the assessments were made by the local tax assessors of the various municipalities included within the school district and not by the Chief Assessor of Chester County as required by section 602 of The Fourth to Eighth Class Assessment Law (Act of May 21, 1943, P. L. 571, art. VI, § 602, as amended, 72 P.S. § 5453.602); and (2) it was not levied on the "Last adjusted valuation" of assessments as required by the Public School Code (Act of March 10, 1949, P. L. 30, § 677, 24 P.S. § 6-677). As regards the direct challenge to the tax itself, appellants argued: (1) the tax violates the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article VIII, § 1, in that minors are exempt;
(2) the tax is a disguised income tax and as such violates certain state statutes; and (3) the tax was not assessed and levied within the time provided by statute.
The chancellor, by an adjudication dated May 21, 1969, entered decrees nisi dismissing the complaints. Exceptions to these decrees were dismissed by the court en banc and a final decree entered. These appeals followed.
As to those issues advanced concerning the allegedly improper assessment procedures, the primary issue is one of jurisdiction: whether a court of equity, having jurisdiction and competency to determine the validity of a taxing resolution due to a constitutional challenge, should inquire into the validity of the assessment upon which the resolution was based when there are statutory procedures available to test the allegedly invalid assessment? This Court had occasion to consider this subject in Lynch v. Owen J. Roberts Sch. Dist., 430 Pa. 461, 465-66, 244 A.2d 1 (1968), wherein we approved the following language in our case law: "'The teaching of our case law is that, where the controversy involves a challenge to the constitutional validity of a taxing statute or ordinance, such a controversy falls within the general class of cases wherein equity does have jurisdiction and competency to act. [Citations omitted.]' Studio Theaters, Inc. v. Washington, 418 Pa. 73, 79, 209 A.2d 802, 805 (1965). See also, Philadelphia Life Ins. Co. v. Commonwealth, 410 Pa. 571, 190 A.2d 111 (1963); Young Men's Christian Assoc. v. Reading, 402 Pa. 592, 167 A.2d 469 (1961) (dictum); cf. Blue Cross Appeal, 416 Pa. 574, 209 ...