Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County in the case of Samuel Cox, et al. v. City of Chester, et al., No. 80-16614.
Leo A. Hackett, Solicitor of Chester Upland School District, with him, Francis P. Connors, Solicitor, and James E. DelBello, Assistant County Solicitor, for the County of Delaware, appellants.
Dana M. Breslin, with her, Margaret Lenzi, for appellees.
Judges MacPhail and Barry and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barry.
These appeals by the Chester Upland School District and the County of Delaware (taxing authorities) are from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County which required the taxing authorities to notify delinquent real estate taxpayers of the opportunity to submit a compromise proposal to the taxing authorities for payment of delinquent taxes before their property could be sold at a tax sale.
Plaintiffs-appellees are delinquent in the payment of their real estate taxes. The parties stipulated that the plaintiffs received every notice expressly mandated by the legislature. The legislature has also provided:
Whenever taxes levied by any political subdivision upon real property have become delinquent . . . and such delinquent taxes and the penalties, interest and costs due thereon exceed, in the opinion of the tax levying authorities, the net amount which could be realized at a tax sale of such real property . . . and, in the opinion of said authorities, is more than could be realized by enforced collection against the owner of such property, it shall be lawful for the tax levying authorities, or any of them, if the court of common pleas of the county, in which such real property is situated, shall first have consented thereto, to accept in compromise of such delinquent taxes, penalties, interest and costs any sum less than the whole amount due, and to enter satisfaction of all such taxes on the record.
Section 1 of the Act of November 23, 1938, Sp. Sess., P.L. 90, 72 P.S. § 5551 (Compromise Act). Plaintiffs argued in the trial court that due process required that they be notified of the opportunity to present a
compromise proposal before a tax sale could be held. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the taxing authorities to give such notice. These appeals followed.
Certain principles are not in dispute. Plaintiffs and the trial court recognized that the decision to accept any compromise is wholly within the discretion of the taxing authorities. Therefore, should a taxing authority choose to never compromise delinquent taxes pursuant to the Compromise Act, the judiciary normally would be powerless to interfere with such a decision. Despite this, the trial court nonetheless held that due process required the taxing authorities to notify plaintiffs of the opportunity to present a compromise proposal to them even though those authorities, in an exercise of their discretion, need not accept any such compromise proposal. We believe the trial court erred in reaching such a conclusion.
Due process protections apply to legitimate property rights. As the United States Supreme Court has stated in Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972), "To have a property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it." The Compromise Act does not explicitly require delinquent taxpayers be given notice of the Act's provisions. Nevertheless, relying on two federal cases, the trial ...