No. 80-1-194, Appeal from the Order of July 10, 1980, of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, docketed to IN RE: Tax Claim Bureau, German Township, Mt. Sterling, 54 1/2 acres, Miscellaneous Buildings, No. 1814 C.D. 1979.
Gerald R. Solomon, Samuel J. Davis, Uniontown, for appellant.
William M. Radcliffe, C. Grainger Bowman, Harrisburg, for Rinaldo Dicenzo and Fred Cuteri.
Jeffrey Clay, Harrisburg, Philip T. Warman, Uniontown, for Fayette County Tax Claim Bureau.
Pamela J. Bailey, Uniontown, for appellee.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Wilkinson, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
This is an appeal from an order of the Commonwealth Court reversing an adjudication of the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County invalidating a tax sale of real property by appellant, Fayette County Tax Claim Bureau ("Tax Bureau"). The issue presented is whether the trial court was divested of equitable jurisdiction to void the tax sale simply because the pleading initiating this action, which was substantively adequate in all respects, was erroneously labeled "petition" rather than "complaint." Because the fundamental purpose of our procedural rules is to provide for a fair, orderly and expeditious decision on the merits, we conclude that the non-prejudicial caption error should have been disregarded. Accordingly, we vacate the order of the Commonwealth Court and remand for disposition on the merits.
The facts are not in dispute. On August 26, 1970, the Mt. Sterling Fuel Company ("Mt. Sterling") sold three tracts of land to appellants George A. Solomon and George Teslovich ("Solomon and Teslovich"), and the deed was duly recorded. The tax assessment authorities, however, erroneously changed the assessment records to reflect the transfer of only one of the tracts, and the other two remained on the tax assessment records in the name of Mt. Sterling.
At the time of the transfer, the 1970 taxes had been assessed and were due and payable. Subsequently, the Tax Collector of German Township, Fayette County, returned as unpaid the 1970 county, school and township taxes levied against two of the tracts, and the Tax Bureau notified Mt. Sterling that they would be sold at the 1972 tax sale. Although they were the record owners, appellants were not notified that the 1970 taxes were delinquent or that a tax sale would be held. On October 12, 1972, the Tax Bureau sold the two tracts to appellees, Rinaldo Duenzo and Fred A. Cuteri.
In April 1978, the Fayette County Chief Assessor discovered the error and advised the Tax Bureau that, in his opinion, the tax sale was invalid. In May, 1979, the Tax Bureau filed a "Petition to Void Sale" in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County seeking to declare the sale of the two tracts null and void. Solomon and Teslovich thereafter joined in the Bureau's petition without objection. Appellees responded with an "Answer and New Matter." The trial court then concluded that the sale must be ...