Appeal from the Order of the Board of Property in case of Theron Northrup, Derwin Northrup, Carl Northrup, Irene Fish and Lucille Yardman v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for and on behalf of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, dated September 8, 1981.
Michael J. Dowd, Dowd and Kocsis, for petitioners.
William R. Pouss, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.
Judges Blatt, MacPhail and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 390]
The petitioners, who are heirs of one Llewellington Northrup, appeal a decision of the Board of Property (Board) denying their request for equitable relief in this matter concerning the ownership of six tracts of land in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.
The pertinent facts, as found by the Board, are as follows. Members of the Northrup family owned the tracts in question until the land was sold at tax sale on December 18, 1941. Taxes on the property had been paid by Carrie Northrup, Llewellington's widow,*fn1 until 1934. The 1935, 1936, and 1937 assessments remained unpaid. Commencing on April 12, 1941, the subject property was advertised in two newspapers of general circulation in Bradford County, the notice stating that the land, listed in the name of the Llewellington Northrup Estate, was to be sold for non-payment of taxes. Written notice was sent to the Estate, and although no one lived on the land at this time, a receipt for the written notice was signed by one Cedric Northrup, a cousin of the petitioners, who lived approximately one mile down the road from the subject property. The taxes remained unpaid and the property was sold to R. G. C. Jones whose tax deed was acknowledged in open court on May 7, 1942 subject to any right of redemption. The tax deed was subsequently recorded. Jones later deeded the property to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (Commission), the respondents in this action.
Our scope of review, as statutorily mandated, requires us to affirm the Board's adjudication unless the adjudication is in violation of the petitioners' constitutional rights, or it is not in accordance with law, or if any finding of fact made by the Board and necessary to support its adjudication is not supported by substantial
[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 391]
evidence. Section 704 of the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 704.
The petitioners here alleged that there were deficiencies in the tax sale procedure, particularly as to the notice requirements, and that the sale should be voided with title restored in the petitioners. They also requested that the Commission be enjoined from asserting any title to the land or from impeaching the petitioners' title.
We begin by noting that, when the tax sale was confirmed and acknowledged in open court, the sale acquired a presumptive validity. This rule is based on the presumption that the acts of public officers are regular. Shoemaker v. Tax Claim Bureau, 27 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 211, 365 A.2d 1320 (1976). Moreover, our Supreme Court has stated that this presumption is particularly suitable in tax sales cases. Hughes v. Chaplin, 389 Pa. 93, 132 A.2d 200 (1957). Defects in the notice requirements, however, if sufficiently irregular, may render the tax sale void, as required by the rule that the notice provisions of a tax sale statute must be strictly construed. See Patterson v. Oakes, 260 Pa. Superior Ct. 415, 394 A.2d 995 (1978). In this matter, however, even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that the notice given to Cedric Northrup was insufficient, the Board clearly found that all of the petitioners received actual notice of the sale at various times between 1943 and 1949. Yet, it was not until 1979, over 30 years after being in receipt of actual knowledge that the realty had been sold, that the petitioners initiated any legal action. We agree with the Commission that the petitioners have slept on their rights for too long, and must now be said to have waived whatever rights they may have had, if any, in this land.
This principle has long been accepted in this Commonwealth. In Foulk v. Brown, 2 Watts 209, ...