Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County in case of In Re: Proposed Tax Compromise and Private Sale of Premises Assessed as 300 Rear Bear Road, Township of Lehigh, County of Lackawanna, State of Pennsylvania, Assessed to J. H. Koch to Bernard P. J. Marinucci, Single, No. 321 November Term, 1973.
Peter C. Paul, with him Ralph P. Carey, and Rawle & Henderson, for appellant.
Otto P. Robinson, Jr., for appellees.
Judges Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 546]
On May 25, 1933 the General Assembly enacted two statutes, P.L. 1018*fn1 and P.L. 1019,*fn2 which provide procedures under which agreements for the sale of property in compromise of taxes may be approved by the courts of common pleas. On October 19, 1973, in accordance with P.L. 1018, Bernard P. J. Marinucci (Marinucci) petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County to approve his agreement with the County Commissioners to purchase the property known as "300 Rear Bear Road" in full compromise and settlement of all delinquent taxes, interest, and penalities due on the premises. In his petition, Marinucci averred that the County Commissioners had acquired title to the property when they purchased the premises on April 26, 1946, at a county treasurer's sale for the non-payment of taxes. Responding to Marinucci's petition, however, were Otto P. Robinson, Jr., Mott Peck, Jr., and Russell C. Hazelton (Respondents) all of whom denied that the County Commissioners had acquired a valid title to the property in 1946 averring instead, by way of new matter, that they had acquired the valid title by deed from Atlee L. Kaufman on November 19, 1973. According to Respondents, title had passed to Atlee L. Kaufman as the sole surviving heir to W. L. Kaufman, the alleged purchaser of the property at a 1911 county
[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 547]
treasurer's sale. Respondents assert that the tax assessor failed to note the 1911 transfer on his assessment records, as he should have done, and, that the property was also improperly sold at subsequent times without a valid title at numerous tax sales and eventually at the sale of the property to the County Commissioners in 1946.
At the time they filed their answer in the court below, the Respondents also filed a motion there to dismiss Marinucci's petition, asserting that they held superior title and asserting in addition that Marinucci, an alleged stranger to the title, had no authority, under provisions of P.L. 1018, to petition the court to approve his agreement with the County Commissioners. After denials by Marinucci, the court below sitting en banc held oral argument and dismissed Marinucci's petition without taking any evidence. This appeal followed.
While the opinion of the court below discussed, to some extent, the merits of Marinucci's petition and attempted to resolve the factual dispute as to the title to the property in question, the court clearly had no evidence before it with which to make conclusive factual determinations. It dismissed Marinucci's petition, having for the principal reason that P.L. 1018 did not appear to enable Marinucci, a stranger to the title, to petition for approval of tax compromise sales with the County Commissioners. The pertinent provisions of P.L. 1018 provide as follows:
"Whenever the county commissioners of any county have heretofore or shall hereafter purchase any real property at any county treasurer's sale for nonpayment of taxes under any act of Assembly authorizing such sale, and such property has not been redeemed or sold by the county as authorized by law,