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WILLARD LEASING v. CITY PITTSBURGH (09/16/76)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: September 16, 1976.

WILLARD LEASING, INC.
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND JOSEPH L. COSETTI, TREASURER. AUTO RENTAL COMPANY V. CITY OF PITTSBURGH, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND JOSEPH L. COSETTI, TREASURER. CITY OF PITTSBURGH AND JOSEPH L. COSETTI, APPELLANTS

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Auto Rental Company v. City of Pittsburgh, a municipal corporation, and Joseph L. Cosetti, Treasurer, No. S.A. 222 of 1973; and Willard Leasing, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, a municipal corporation, and Joseph L. Cosetti, Treasurer, No. S.A. 221 of 1973.

COUNSEL

Grace S. Harris, Executive Assistant City Solicitor, with her Mead J. Mulvihill, Jr., City Solicitor, for appellants.

Robert G. Sable, with him Lampl & Sable, for appellees.

Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 424]

On or about September 21, 1972, the City of Pittsburgh (City) conducted an audit of the books and records of the Auto Rental Company (Auto) and Willard Leasing, Inc. (Willard) which resulted in the issuance of a separate assessment against each company for business privilege taxes (plus interest and penalties).*fn1 Each company appealed its assessment to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which, on October 29, 1975, sustained both appeals.*fn2 The City has now appealed to this Court.

In December 1968, the City enacted Ordinance No. 675, the "Business Privilege Tax" (Tax), which imposed an annual tax upon the privilege of operating a business within the city based upon the gross annual receipts of the taxpayer.*fn3 Section 2(f)(2) of the

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 425]

Ordinance*fn4 allows a "financial business" certain exclusions from "gross receipts." A "financial business" is defined in Section 2(d) of the Ordinance as "[t]he services and transactions of banks and bankers, trust, credit, and investment companies, where not prohibited by law, holding companies, dealers and brokers in money, credits, commercial paper, bonds, notes, securities and stocks, monetary metals, factors and commission merchants."

The single question*fn5 presented upon appeal is whether or not either Auto or Willard is a "financial business," as that term is defined by the ordinance, and entitled, therefore, to the enumerated exclusions from the computation of "gross receipts." The lower court found that the testimony presented established that both companies: (1) purchased vehicles upon the request, and to the specifications, of a customer; (2) that the companies would lease these vehicles to their customers; (3) that the leases would be assigned to a financial institution, and the title encumbered thereto;

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 426]

    and (4) that, at the termination of the lease, the vehicle would be purchased by the lessee-customer from the lessor-company or returned to the lessor-company for sale to the public. While the court stated that both companies were engaged in the leasing of motor vehicles, it further concluded that each was a financial business that dealt in commercial paper.

The general rule of law is that where "an ordinance is plain and unambiguous and conveys a clear meaning, we need not resort to the rules of statutory construction and the ordinance must be given its plain and obvious meaning." Xerox Corp. v. City of Pittsburgh, 15 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 411, 416-417, 327 A.2d 206, 209 (1974). We believe that neither Auto nor Willard is a "financial business" within the plain and ordinary meaning of the definition in the above-quoted ordinance. Each is a leasing company*fn6 which, in conjunction with its leasing operations, deals to some extent with commercial paper (the leases themselves). Neither is a dealer(s) or broker(s) in money, credits, commercial paper, bonds, notes, securities and stocks and monetary metals*fn7 within the plain meaning of the definition which the ordinance provides.

We, therefore, issue the following

Order

And Now, this 16th day of September, 1976, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, dated October 29, 1975, is reversed.

Disposition

Reversed.


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