Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County in case of In Re: Tax Claim Bureau of Lehigh County, Parcel No. 0210G09SE1C002002, 620 North Park Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania, No. 78-C-3489.
Thomas C. Anewalt, with him William E. Doyle, for appellants.
Susan E. Mensch, Assistant County Solicitor, with her John P. Karoly, for appellee, Tax Claim Bureau of Lehigh County.
David F. Dunn, for appellee, Lawrence and Francesca Marra.
Judges Mencer, Rogers and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Judge Palladino did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 65 Pa. Commw. Page 497]
The appellants,*fn1 successful bidders in an upset tax claim sale of a premises known as 620 North Park Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania, seek review of an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County sustaining the record owner's objections to the sale and declaring the transaction to be invalid and set aside.*fn2
The facts in this case are not in dispute. The record owner of the property in question was appellee, Hattie J. Lewis, and on October 3, 1978, her property was exposed for sale*fn3 by the Tax Claim Bureau (Bureau) of Lehigh County for the non-payment of her 1976 and 1977 school and city taxes. On or about July 30, 1977, Mrs. Lewis received a notice from the
[ 65 Pa. Commw. Page 498]
Bureau that she was delinquent in paying her 1975 and 1976 school and city taxes. Such notice indicated that if these taxes were not paid by December 31, 1977, her property would be sold at a future upset sale in order to satisfy the outstanding claims. Then, on or about June 7, 1978, the Bureau sent notice to Mrs. Lewis by certified mail that her property would be sold on October 3, 1978; however, this notice was not delivered to her and was returned as not received. Mrs. Lewis, on or about June 26, 1978, paid taxes in the sum of $255.82 directly in the City of Allentown. Such payment did not, however, reflect the applicable tax for which it was to be applied, but the Director of the Bureau did admit that Mrs. Lewis had paid her 1975 school and 1976 county taxes. Also introduced into evidence was an adding machine tape dated July, 1976 (no day stated) indicating payment of the 1976 city tax in the sum of $164.35, but the Bureau maintains that such amount was not received by them.*fn4 Then, on or about July 17, 1978, Mrs. Lewis received a notice of non-payment of taxes which showed delinquent 1976 city, county and school taxes and 1977 city and school taxes. This notice provided
[ 65 Pa. Commw. Page 499]
that if these taxes were not paid before December 31, 1978, or if no exceptions were filed, that the claim would become absolute. The notice also stated that a one year redemption period would begin to run on July 1, 1978. Thereafter, on July 18, 1978, a notice of the October 3, 1978 sale was posted on Mrs. Lewis' property. Mrs. Lewis, whom the court below noted had a "second grade education and must depend upon others to interpret reading material for her," took the July 17, 1978 notice to her daughter-in-law, who in turn took it to an attorney for interpretation. Mrs. Lewis was advised that, according to the express terms of the July 17, 1978 notice, which showed delinquent 1976 and 1977 taxes -- the very subject of the pending October 3, 1978 sale and July 18, 1978 posting -- the taxes would not have to be paid until December 31, 1978. On October 3, 1978, Mrs. Lewis' property was sold to the appellants on the basis that she failed to pay her 1976 and 1977 taxes, for a bid price of $1,377.85. Mrs. Lewis filed timely objections and exceptions to the confirmation of the sale.
The court below, applying the doctrine of estoppel against the Bureau, declared the October 3, ...