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B.P. OIL COMPANY v. DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD ASSESSMENT APPEALS AND CHICHESTER SCHOOL DISTRICT (03/23/88)

decided: March 23, 1988.

B.P. OIL COMPANY, INC., APPELLANT
v.
DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS AND CHICHESTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, TRAINER BOROUGH AND MARCUS HOOK BOROUGH, APPELLEES. B.P. OIL COMPANY, INC. V. DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS AND CHICHESTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, TRAINER BOROUGH AND MARCUS HOOK BOROUGH. CHICHESTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT



Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, in case of B. P. Oil Company, Inc. v. Delaware County Board of Assessment Appeals and Chichester School District, Trainer Borough and Marcus Hook Borough, Nos. 82-16548, 82-16549, 82-16912 and 82-16913, dated May 6, 1986.

COUNSEL

John E. Garippa, with him, Gregory G. Lotz, Garippa & Trevenen, for appellant/appellee, B.P. Oil Company, Inc.

Stephen J. Polaha, with him, Arthur Levy, Of Counsel: Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte & Moses, for appellee/appellant, Chichester School District.

A. Leo Sereni, Solicitor for appellee/appellant, Delaware County Board of Assessment Appeals.

Joseph F. Battle, Solicitor for appellee/appellant, Trainer Borough.

James F. Proud, Solicitor for appellee/appellant, Marcus Hood Borough.

Judges MacPhail and Barry, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 551]

Before us for disposition are the cross-appeals of B.P. Oil Company, Inc. (Appellant) and Chichester School District of an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (trial court) establishing the fair market value of property owned by Appellant, following Appellant's appeal of an assessment of the Delaware County Board of Assessment Appeals (Board).

The subject property consists of a total of 347.524 acres, 274.55 of which are located in the Borough of Trainer, and 55.18 of which are located in Marcus Hook.*fn1 For tax year 1983, the Trainer parcel was assessed at $1,540,000.00, and the Marcus Hook parcel was assessed at $815,000.00. Appellant appealed the assessments to the Board, and following a hearing, both were affirmed.

Appellant appealed the Board's determination to the court of common pleas and four de novo hearings were held. Appellant and the taxing authorities, including the school district, (Appellees herein) presented expert valuation testimony as to the appropriate fair market value of the subject property. On May 7, 1986, the trial court issued an opinion and order in which it applied an 8.63% equalization ratio to $30,500,000.00, the amount the court determined to be the fair market value of the subject property, to reach an assessed value of $2,632,150.00. This value was allocated between Appellees,

[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 552]

    with $1,842,505.00 assigned to Trainer, and $789,645.00 assigned to Marcus Hook.

Appellant raises the following issues before us: 1) whether the trial court erred in finding Appellees' expert witnesses more credible than Appellant's; 2) whether the trial court erred in relying on certain hearsay evidence presented by Appellees; 3) whether the court's determination of fair market value was contrary to the evidence; and 4) whether the court's reliance on a 1969 sale of the subject property was contrary to the evidence. We will address each issue seriatim, keeping in mind that in a tax assessment appeal, our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether the trial court committed an error of law or abused its discretion in determining a property's fair market value. Harrisburg Park Apartments, Inc. Appeal, 88 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 410, 489 A.2d 996 (1985).

Initially, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in finding the testimony of Appellees' expert witnesses, Mr. McClatchy and Mr. deGrouchy, more credible than Appellant's witness, Mr. Lerario, because Appellees' witnesses had testified more often. Appellant challenges, specifically, the following language in the trial court's opinion: "All three men were qualified by this Court as experts, although Mr. McClatchy and Mr. deGrouchy have testified in Court more times than Mr. Lerario. Accordingly, we find the taxing authority's [sic] experts to be more credible." Trial court opinion at 5-6, Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 142a-143a.

It is well settled that in a tax assessment appeal, all matters of credibility and evidentiary weight are within the province of the trial court. Mellon Bank, N.A. Appeal, 78 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 463, 467 A.2d 1201 (1983). Of course, the qualification of an expert witness is a matter within the trial court's discretion. City of Philadelphia v. Sorrentino, 95 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 236, 505 A.2d 373 (1986).

[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 553]

In the case before us, Appellant does not contend that Appellees' witnesses were not qualified to offer expert testimony as to the fair market value of the subject property. Appellant does assert that the trial court erred in finding Appellees' witnesses more credible merely because they had testified more often. Whether or not the trial court's explanation for its credibility determination was appropriate, we will not second guess the court's exercise of discretion in this matter, as we are satisfied that that discretion was not abused. The court's opinion clearly indicates that it did not rely on Appellees' witnesses' valuations ...


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