Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In Re: Exceptions and Challenges of Rausch Creek Land

November 8, 2012

IN RE: EXCEPTIONS AND CHALLENGES OF RAUSCH CREEK LAND, L.P., CLAIM FOR DELINQUENT TAXES- TAX APPEAL OF: RAUSCH CREEK LAND, L.P.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Brobson, Judge

Argued: June 4, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE BROBSON

This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County (trial court). The trial court affirmed an order of the Schuylkill County Tax Claim Bureau (Bureau), dated November 21, 2011, which denied Rausch Creek Land, L.P.'s (Rausch Creek) exceptions and challenges filed against the Bureau's claims for delinquent taxes. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

On or about December 30, 2010, Rausch Creek filed challenges and exceptions to the Bureau's tax claims relating to mineral (in this case coal) rights owned by Rausch Creek, as described in surface mining permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and identified as tax parcel nos. 13-0-54803019, 13-0-054841304, 13-0-54951301, 22-0-54851319, and 22-0-54930102 (the Tax Parcels).*fn1 (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 98a-102a.) Rausch Creek failed to pay the taxes assessed on the mineral rights for the 2009 tax year. It appears undisputed that Rausch Creek received tax bills for the taxes owed. In addition, Rausch Creek also received absolute letters from the Bureau, indicating that the Tax Parcels (i.e., the mineral rights) would be exposed to public sale if the taxes were not paid or exceptions were not filed by December 2010. (R.R. at 98a-102a.)

Rausch Creek filed with the Bureau separate challenges and exceptions under the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL)*fn2 to each of the five (5) absolute letters sent by the Bureau. (Certified Record (C.R.), Item No. 1.) Rausch Creek, in its exceptions to the validity of the tax claims against the Tax Parcels, argued that all of the specified Tax Parcels pertain to surface mining permits as opposed to real property. (Id.) Rausch Creek also challenged the validity of the tax claims on the basis that the Tax Parcels are not identified sufficiently in the records of Schuylkill County Tax Mapping, the Bureau, or the Schuylkill County Recorder of Deeds, because the maps or descriptions of the Tax Parcels are not maintained within Schuylkill County. As a result, Rausch Creek argued that the absolute letters were inadequate, because they failed to identify properly and consistently the Tax Parcels at issue in violation of Section 309(c) of the RETSL, 72 P.S. § 5860.309(c), which requires that "property against which the claim is filed" be sufficiently described. Further, Rausch Creek argued that the absolute letters were not sent to the owner(s) of the Tax Parcels, and, therefore, they were sent in violation of Section 308 of the RETSL, 72 P.S. § 5860.308.

Following a hearing, the Bureau issued an opinion and order dated February 11, 2011, wherein the Bureau denied and dismissed Rausch Creek's challenges and exceptions to the validity of the tax claims. (C.R., Item No. 1.) Specifically, the Bureau concluded that the genuine issues raised by Rausch Creek related to the validity of the underlying assessments. The Bureau concluded, therefore, that Rausch Creek should have filed appeals with the Schuylkill County Board of Assessment Appeals pursuant to Section 8844(c) of the Consolidated County Assessment Law, 53 Pa. C.S. § 8844(c).*fn3 Furthermore, the Bureau noted that the RETSL allows a tax claim to be set aside, reduced, or found invalid "for any other reason not involving a question which could have been raised by an appeal provided for by law." See Section 314 of the RETSL, 72 P.S. § 5860.314.

Rausch Creek appealed the Bureau's decision to the trial court. Rausch Creek raised the same arguments on appeal to the trial court, specifically that the absolute letters were deficient as they failed to identify properly the Tax Parcels and notify the owner(s) of the affected property. Rausch Creek stated that "although . . . the assessments at issue are themselves invalid," the notices and any sale of the Tax Parcels are invalid as the "absence of maps corresponding to the subject [t]ax n[umbers] literally makes it impossible for the [Bureau] to identify the propert[ies] that [are the] subject of said claims and possible sale." (C.R., Item No. 1.)

The trial court held a hearing on Rausch Creek's appeal on September 23, 2011. Prior to the hearing, however, the Bureau filed an application for summary relief. In its application, the Bureau argued that the proper procedure for challenging an assessment is to file an appeal with the Schuylkill County Board of Assessment Appeals. As a result, the Bureau argued that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on an assessment issue and, further, that based on precedent, a party cannot collaterally attack an assessment by filing an action with the Bureau.

At the hearing before the trial court, Virginia Murray, the Chief Assessor of Schuylkill County, testified that maps dealing with mineral resources have been outsourced to Resource Technology Corporation (RTC) in State College, Pennsylvania, since 1996. (R.R. at 17a.) Ms. Murray testified that RTC maintains maps containing the property location of surface mining permits. (Id. at 20a, 22a.) RTC assigns a value to the coal contained on the properties one time per year and sends the Schuylkill County Assessment Office those figures once per year in order for the Schuylkill County Assessment Office to assess the minerals where surface mining permits are held. (Id. at 20a.) According to Ms. Murray's testimony, the county did not frequently use the information contained on the mineral resources maps. (Id.) Further, the Schuylkill County Assessment Office referred any individual interested in mineral resource information to RTC. (Id. at 44a.) Finally, Ms. Murray testified that she has no involvement with the Bureau's entry of claims or absolute letters. (Id. at 49a.)

As Rausch Creek attempted to question Ms. Murray on the history of the tax maps and the maintenance of mineral resource maps held outside Schuylkill County, the Bureau objected to the relevance of the questioning. (Id. at 24a.) Specifically, the Bureau stated that the line of questions and relevant statutes dealing with the location of tax maps has no relation to the Bureau. (Id.) Rausch Creek pointed the trial court to Section 405 of the County Code,*fn4 requiring certain county offices to keep frequently used records in the county seat, which, in this case, is Pottsville, Pennsylvania. (Id.) The Bureau objected to Rausch Creek's evidence and argument, stating that Rausch Creek's contentions related to an assessment issue. (Id. at 26a-27a.) The trial court sustained the Bureau's objection that Section 405 of the County Code was irrelevant to Rausch Creek's exceptions and challenges to tax claims.

Rausch Creek's land manager, Arthur Diaz, also testified before the trial court. (Id. at 68a.) Mr. Diaz testified that he is responsible for monitoring assessments for Rausch Creek. (Id. at 69a.) Mr. Diaz stated that there were several issues with tax bills pertaining to coal and mining projects, specifically noting that some tax bills were improperly sent to Rausch Creek. (Id.) Mr. Diaz testified that he addressed these concerns with RTC. (Id. at 74a.) Subsequent to that conversation, Mr. Diaz testified that Rausch Creek no longer received improperly sent tax bills. (Id.)

Finally, David Williams, a mining engineer and surveyor, testified that Schuylkill County's present mapping system identifies when a surface mining permit is issued by DEP. (Id. at 79a.) When the permit is issued, the permitted parcel (i.e., the tax parcel) is assigned a tax parcel number, which references the permit number. (Id.) The area of the tax parcel, therefore, should correspond to the area of the mineral associated with the surface, as depicted in the permit. (Id. at 80a.) Mr. Williams testified that the permit number, however, does not always sufficiently describe the real property associated with the mining permit. (Id. at 79a.) Specifically, he opined that the boundary lines for the surface mining permits are, many times, left to the discretion of the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.