Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County in the case of American Home Products Corp. v. Board of Assessment Appeals of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, No. CV-80-480.
Robert E. Benion, for appellants.
John E. Garippa, for appellee.
Judges Rogers, Craig and Colins, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig. Judge Colins dissents.
In this tax assessment case, two of the taxing bodies, the Borough of Milton and the Milton Area School District, have appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County which, pursuant to a settlement stipulation entered into by American Home Products Corp., the taxpayer, and the Board of Assessment Appeals of Northumberland County, reduced the overall assessment on the landowner's real estate from $992,650 to $620,000, effective for the year 1980 and thereafter, and which also ordered the taxing bodies to pay refunds for the years 1980-82 to the landowner.
Although the borough and school district were not parties to the tax assessment appeal which the taxpayer pursued in the common pleas court, they have appealed to this court under the authority of section 706 of the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law, Act of May 21, 1943, P.L. 571 as amended, 72 P.S. § 5453.706, which expressly allows each taxing body to appeal to this court "as though it had been a party to the proceedings" in the common pleas court "even though it was not such a party in fact."
Although the taxpayer and board apparently held nonevidentiary conferences with the court, as well as between themselves, the court of common pleas held no hearing and received no evidence whatsoever. In actual effect, the taxpayer and the board entered into an agreed settlement of the case, embodying that settlement
in a written stipulation specifying $620,000 as the proper assessed value and listing the refunds to be made by the county school district and borough for the years 1980, 1981 and 1982. The final order of the common pleas court simply "approved" the "stipulation of counsel" and ordered that the tax assessment be fixed in accordance with the agreement enbodied in the stipulation.
We do not have the benefit of any opinion from the common pleas court because the issues which the borough and school district now raise were never presented to that court -- a consequence of the rather unusual statute, cited above, which permits appeals by non-parties.
The borough and school district here contend, as their first issue, that the taxpayer established no legal basis for reducing the assessment. Secondly, they question whether the common pleas court had the authority to order the borough and school district to pay refunds when they were not parties to the proceeding before that court.
With respect to the first issue, the borough and school district rely upon Deitch Company v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review, 417 Pa. 213, 209 A.2d 397 (1965) and Pittsburgh Miracle Mile Town & County Shopping Center, Inc. v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review, 417 Pa. 243, 209 A.2d 394 (1965) for the proposition that any stipulation as to the assessed value of real estate for taxation is legally ineffective. Those decisions do not stand for a proposition that broad. Essentially, they both hold that a taxpayer and a county board cannot, by stipulation, confine the purview of a tax ...