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STRAWBRIDGE & CLOTHIER v. BOARD ASSESSMENT APPEAL DELAWARE COUNTY (05/08/85)

decided: May 8, 1985.

STRAWBRIDGE & CLOTHIER, INC., AND EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES, APPELLANTS
v.
BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEAL OF DELAWARE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County in case of Strawbridge & Clothier, Inc. et al. v. Board of Assessment Appeals of Delaware County, Pennsylvania et al., No. 82-16873.

COUNSEL

Carl N. Martin II, with him, Robert Scandone, for appellants.

D. Barry Gibbons, Gibbons, Buckley, Smith, Palmer & Proud, P.C., with him, A. Leo Sereni and Harry J. Bradley, for appellees.

Judges Doyle and Palladino, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle. Judge Williams, Jr., did not participate in the decision in this case.

Author: Doyle

[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 200]

This is a tax assessment case in which Strawbridge & Clothier, Inc. and the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States (Appellants) appeal from the order of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas which assessed Appellants' property at $865,000.00 for the 1983 tax year.*fn1

Appellants are the owners of commercial property located in Springfield Township, Delaware County. Appellants appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals of Delaware County (Board) from a 1983 tax assessment against their property in the amount of $880,000.00. On November 5, 1982, the Board affirmed this assessment, and an appeal was taken to the court of common pleas. While this appeal was pending, Appellants' property was again assessed for $880,000.00 for the 1984 tax year. When the trial was held on October 19 and 20, 1983, Appellants sought to include in their appeal the 1984 tax year assessment, as well as that from 1983.

[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 201]

After considering the evidence, the trial court made an initial determination that only the 1983 assessment was at issue, since the Board had not yet rendered a decision on the 1984 assessment. As to the 1983 tax year, the court determined that the fair market value of the property was $8,650,000.00. Concluding that the common level ratio of assessed value to fair market value in Delaware County was ten percent, the Court set the assessed value of the property at $865,000.00.

Before this Court Appellants raise two issues: 1) Whether the trial court erred in establishing the common level ratio of assessed value to fair market value at ten percent, and 2) Whether the trial court erred in refusing to consider the 1984 tax year assessment.*fn2

I. Common Level Ratio

The concept of a common level ratio was set forth by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Deitch Co. v. Board of Property Assessment, 417 Pa. 213, 209 A.2d 397 (1965). Deitch held that under the tax uniformity provisions of the State Constitution, no taxpayer should be required to pay more than his fair share of taxes, and that any excessive assessment must be reduced to the "common level" of assessments in the taxing districts. Thus, in situations where a ratio is used to determine assessed value from fair market value, Deitch required that a "common level" ratio be determined as follows:

Where the evidence shows that the assessors have applied a fixed ratio of assessed to market value throughout the taxing district,

[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 202]

    then that ratio would constitute the common level. However, where the evidence indicates that no such fixed ratio has been applied, and that ratios vary widely in the district, the ...


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