No. 669 April Term, 1977, Appeal of Constance Z. Smith and Patricia Shaw and heirs at law of Vineta B. and Clyde R. Zundel from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division - Law, of Westmoreland County at No. 3287 of 1974
Ross S. Bash, Delmont, with him Calvin E. Pollins, Latrobe, for appellants.
No appearance entered nor brief submitted for appellee.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Spaeth, J., files a concurring opinion, in which Price, J., joins. Watkins, former President Judge, and Hoffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
[ 260 Pa. Super. Page 416]
This is an appeal from an order of the court below sustaining an action to quiet title to a thirty acre tract of land situated in Mt. Pleasant Township, Westmoreland County, acquired in 1964 by the appellee from the Treasurer of Westmoreland County at a tax sale. The purchase price was $23.62.
The tax sale was held under the County Return Act of 1931, 72 P.S. 5971, which was applicable to Westmoreland County at that time. The notice requirements of the Act (Section 5971g), in addition to advertising in at least two newspapers of general circulation in the County, specified that --
"In addition to such advertisement, at least ten days before any such sale, written notice thereof shall be served by the county treasurer, by registered or certified mail, upon the owner of such land, and if the whereabouts of the owner is unknown, such notice shall be served by registered or certified mail upon the terre tenant, if any . . . If such notice cannot be served in said manner on the owner or terre tenant, then such notice shall be served by the county treasurer by posting the same in the courthouse and at a conspicuous place on the premises."
At the time of the tax sale title to the property on the real estate tax assessment records stood in the name of two sisters, Winona E. Oakes and Vineta B. Zundel, residing on Weldon Street in Ligonier. However, Mrs. Oakes had been a patient in the Harrisburg State Hospital in Harrisburg from 1950 through 1969 for treatment of a mental and emotional disorder and Mrs. Zundel had died intestate in 1960 survived by her husband, Clyde R. Zundel, and two daughters, Constance Smith and Patricia Shaw. Mr. Zundel
[ 260 Pa. Super. Page 417]
died intestate in 1971 and his interest in the property passed by intestacy to the two daughters aforementioned, appellants herein.
The tax sale was held in 1964. The County Treasurer sent notice of the sale by certified mail in a single letter addressed to Winona E. Oakes and Vineta B. Zundel at the Weldon Street address in Ligonier. None of the owners had lived at that address for several years prior to the notice of sale, although it was received and receipted for by Clyde R. Zundel, the widower of Vineta Zundel, who maintained a post office box in Ligonier. It has been stipulated that Winona E. Oakes never authorized Mr. Zundel to receive notice on her behalf and his daughters testified that they never authorized their father to acknowledge receipt of the letter for them or, indeed, to handle any of their business affairs. None of the owners except Mr. Zundel had any knowledge of the sale until the deed received by the appellee at the tax sale was recorded in 1968. Mr. Zundel's knowledge of the sale was acquired through reading the notice sent to his deceased wife and sister-in-law.
In this posture, three of the four owners of the property received no notice of the intended sale and the fourth received only a notice sent to two of the other owners but not to him. The statute requires that if notice of the sale cannot be served upon the owners by certified mail it should be served on the terre tenant or, if that is not possible, it should be posted in the courthouse and at a conspicuous place on the premises. It has been stipulated that the property was vacant ...