Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County in case of Robert H. Roeting and Barbara E. Roeting v. The County of Lancaster, Pennsylvania -- Tax Claim Bureau; Harold E. Martin, Robert E. Binkley, Robert A. Milner and Tom Swift, Equity Docket No. 17, Page 27.
Harold E. Martin, Robert E. Plank, and Tom Swift, appellants, for themselves.
Louis J. Farina, with him Blakinger, Grove & Chillas, P.C., for appellees.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr. and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson, Jr. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr.
[ 42 Pa. Commw. Page 316]
Appellants (defendants) appeal a decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County setting aside a tax deed executed by the Tax Claim Bureau of Lancaster County (Bureau) pursuant to a tax upset sale held in accordance with the provisions of the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (Law), Act of July 7, 1947, P.L. 1368, as amended, 72 P.S. § 5860.101 et seq. We reverse.
By virtue of delinquencies in real estate taxes for 1973 appellees' (plaintiffs) property was sold at the tax upset sale held on October 18, 1975 to the three named defendants and two others as tenants in common. The plaintiffs' complaint in equity initially
[ 42 Pa. Commw. Page 317]
named as defendants all five purchasers and the Bureau. The two defendants not appealing here suffered entry of a default judgment for failure to file an answer and the plaintiffs, admitting the regularity of the Bureau's procedures, took a voluntary non-suit with respect to that defendant. Therefore, the only remaining issue is whether defendants, by their conduct at or prior to that sale, have invalidated an otherwise admittedly proper tax upset sale.
The chancellor granted plaintiffs equitable relief after concluding that
an agreement [existed among the five defendants] to bid for and purchase the Plaintiffs' property as a group [having] as its primary object the stifling of competition and the lowering of the selling price and [which] was therefore illegal as perpetrating a fraud upon the Plaintiffs and rendered the sale to said Defendants void as against public policy.
The findings on which the chancellor determined an illegal bidding combination existed among the defendants are, we think, inadequate to sustain that conclusion.
In addition to his findings regarding the value of the property and the price paid, the chancellor found that the defendants individually performed much of the same "legwork" prior to the sale, that the defendants as a group had never before bid together and in fact each member was not previously acquainted with all of the others, and finally that plaintiffs' property was the only one of the four exposed for sale that day in which all five were interested. The chancellor found that the ...