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Battisti v. Tax Claim Bureau of Beaver County

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

August 19, 2013

Eileen Battisti, Appellant
v.
Tax Claim Bureau of Beaver County and S.P. Lewis

Argued: April 16, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge (P.) HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

OPINION

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

Eileen Battisti (Taxpayer) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County (trial court) denying her petition to set aside the sale of her home at an upset tax sale. Taxpayer paid her 2008 school district taxes six days late and, thus, her payment was short $6.30 in interest. Taxpayer paid her 2009 taxes but the $6.30 delinquency on the 2008 school taxes remained unpaid, causing the Tax Claim Bureau of Beaver County to sell Taxpayer's home. Taxpayer challenged the upset tax sale for the stated reasons that she did not have notice that her payment of the 2008 school district taxes was short by $6.30 and did not have notice of the scheduled upset tax sale. The petition named the purchaser, S.P. Lewis, and the Tax Claim Bureau of Beaver County as respondents. On appeal, Taxpayer argues that the trial court erred in granting Purchaser's motion for judgment on the pleadings because, inter alia, there were facts in dispute and the "pleadings" were not closed when Purchaser filed his motion. We agree and remand this matter for an evidentiary hearing.

At issue is a residential property located at 118 Rosewood Drive, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (Property). Taxpayer and her husband, Anthony Battisti, purchased the Property as their home in 1999. Anthony Battisti was responsible for managing the family's finances, including the payment of all bills and taxes. He died in 2004. Taxpayer used her husband's life insurance policy to pay off the mortgage. Taxpayer explains that she has struggled to assume responsibility for the financial matters previously handled by her husband. She has also struggled with both physical and emotional challenges that have caused her to be tardy in paying taxes.[1]

The essential facts on tax payments made for the tax years 2008 and 2009 are not in dispute.[2] In March of 2009, the Central Valley School District notified the Tax Claim Bureau of an unpaid school tax on the Property in the amount of $833.88 plus a $42.01 penalty. A $15.00 entry fee was added to that amount by the Tax Claim Bureau for a total of $890.89. On April 1, 2009, interest for one month in the amount of $6.30 was added, which brought the total claim for the Property's 2008 school taxes to $897.19. On May 1, 2009, another $6.30 interest charge was added, raising the total to $903.49. On May 7, 2009, the Tax Claim Bureau received a payment from Taxpayer in the amount of $897.19. The Tax Claim Bureau credited that amount to the Taxpayer's account, leaving a remaining balance of $6.30 owing for the interest added when she did not pay by May 1, 2009.

On June 3, 2009, the Tax Claim Bureau sent Taxpayer a "notice of return and claim" that identified 2008 delinquent taxes in the amount of $6.30, plus postage and costs for a total of $28.25. The notice was returned to the Tax Claim Bureau as unclaimed. It is not clear if this notice functioned as a receipt or an invoice. No further notices, apparently, were sent to Taxpayer.

In April of 2010, Beaver County and Central Valley School District notified the Tax Claim Bureau of 2009 unpaid taxes on the Property. The unpaid Beaver County tax was $1, 184.37 and a $118.44 penalty; the unpaid Central Valley School District tax was $2, 324 and a $116.09 penalty. On June 3, 2010, the Tax Claim Bureau notified Taxpayer that she owed $3, 832.71 for her 2009 real estate taxes, including interest and costs. On July 2, 2010, the Tax Claim Bureau sent a certified notice to Taxpayer that added interest, raising the total to $3, 990.03. On September 11, 2010, the Tax Claim Bureau received a check from Taxpayer in the amount of $3, 990.03, and it was applied to Taxpayer's 2009 county and school taxes.

There remained an unpaid balance of $234.72 for the 2008 school taxes. This amount was based upon the $6.30 interest imposed when the tax payment was six days late and then grew with accruing interest and costs. On September 12, 2011, Taxpayer's Property was sold at an upset tax sale for collection of the unpaid balance of $234.72 owing on Taxpayer's 2008 school taxes.

On October 11, 2011, Taxpayer filed the instant objections and petition to set aside the upset tax sale, asserting a lack of notice of either the sale or of the outstanding debt. Both respondents answered. On November 18, 2011, Purchaser filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and a supporting brief. On January 23, 2012, Taxpayer filed a motion for leave to amend her petition, which the trial court granted. On January 24, 2012, Taxpayer filed her amendment, adding that there were no unpaid taxes from 2008, only unpaid interest and costs, of which she lacked knowledge. On January 25, 2012, the trial court heard oral argument on Purchaser's motion for judgment on the pleadings, at which Taxpayer did not appear. On February 27, 2012, Taxpayer filed a motion to set a hearing on her petition.[3] On February 29, 2012, Purchaser filed an answer and new matter to Taxpayer's amended objections, but Purchaser did not file a new motion for judgment on the pleadings. On March 22, 2012, Taxpayer filed her reply to Purchaser's new matter. On May 18, 2012, the trial court granted Purchaser's motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed Taxpayer's objections.

Based on the "pleadings, " the trial court concluded that Taxpayer received all notices required under the law, but her payments did not satisfy the full amount owing. Thus, Purchaser's motion for judgment on the pleadings was granted. Taxpayer appealed to this Court.[4]

On appeal, Taxpayer presents four issues for our review.[5] First, Taxpayer argues that she has been deprived of her home without a hearing that comports with due process. This was particularly inappropriate because the outstanding liability was small and the value of the home was far greater than the amount paid by Purchaser. Second, the trial court erred in upholding the upset tax sale because Taxpayer made the tax payments in accordance with invoices from the Tax Claim Bureau, which never sent her an explicit invoice for $6.30. Further, she contends that the Tax Claim Bureau should have applied her 2010 payment to the 2008 unpaid balance before applying it to the 2009 taxes. Third, Taxpayer argues that it is a violation of the equal protection clauses of the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions to permit citizens of the County of Philadelphia the opportunity for a redemption after upset tax sale but not citizens who live in other counties. Fourth, Taxpayer argues that it was error for the trial court to authorize an upset tax sale where taxes were paid in full, leaving only past due interest and costs.

In her first issue, Taxpayer argues that the trial court erred in not allowing Taxpayer to present evidence on whether the Tax Claim Bureau satisfied the requirements of the Real Estate Tax Sale Law, [6] which violated her due process rights. Purchaser responds that Taxpayer has failed to preserve any issues for appeal in her "docketing statement."[7] Further, Taxpayer's brief does not provide specific citations to the record showing that her issues were preserved, and her reproduced record does not include an index or numbered pages. Purchaser argues that these deficiencies in her brief and record preclude our appellate review.

We begin with a review of the procedures in the Real Estate Tax Sale Law for setting aside a tax upset sale. Section ...


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