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Battisti v. Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

December 11, 2014

In Re: Consolidated Return of the Tax Claim Bureau of the County of Beaver From the August 16, 2011 Upset Sale For Delinquent Taxes Eileen Battisti
v.
Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau and S.P. Lewis. Appeal of Eileen Battisti

Argued November 13, 2014

As Amended December 18, 2014.

Appealed from No. 60026 of 2011. Common Pleas Court of the County of Beaver. Kwidis, J.

Edgardo D. Santillan, Beaver, for appellant.

Joseph A. Askar, Beaver, for appellee Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau.

David E. Holland, Erie, for appellee S.P. Lewis.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge.

OPINION

Page 77

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

Eileen Battisti (Taxpayer) appeals an order of the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas (trial court) tat refused to set aside the sale of her home, which had a market value of approximately $250,000, in order to satisfy a 2009 tax delinquency of $234.72. It is not disputed that in September of 2010 Taxpayer paid $3,990.03, which was the total amount set forth in the Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau's notice of what she needed to pay to satisfy her 2009 real estate taxes. Likewise, it is not disputed that the Tax Claim Bureau did not advise her that it had applied some of the $3,990.03 payment to an outstanding 2008 shortfall, thereby creating a shortfall on the 2009 tax in the amount of $234.72. In this circumstance, Taxpayer contends that it was the Tax Claim Bureau's duty under the Real Estate Tax Sale Law[1] to offer Taxpayer an installment payment plan on the outstanding 2009 tax amount. We agree and reverse.

At issue is a family home located at 118 Rosewood Drive, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (Property). Taxpayer and her husband, Anthony Battisti, purchased the house 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.

Page 78

Taxpayer, who was inexperienced in managing the household finances when her husband died, struggled with this new responsibility. She also struggled financially. Taxpayer did not pay the real estate taxes on the Property in a timely manner, which she attributed to her inexperience as well as several physical and emotional challenges.[2] On September 12, 2011, the Tax Claim Bureau sold her Property to S.P. Lewis (Bidder) for $113,000 for the $234.72 delinquency on the 2009 taxes.[3]

On October 11, 2011, Taxpayer filed objections and a petition to set aside the September 12, 2011, upset tax sale of her home, asserting a lack of notice of the outstanding debt or the sale. Both the Tax Claim Bureau and Bidder answered, and on November 18, 2011, Bidder filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Thereafter, Taxpayer, with permission of the trial court, filed an amended petition, but Bidder did not renew his motion for judgment on the pleadings.[4] Nevertheless, on May 18, 2012, the trial court granted the motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed Taxpayer's petition without a hearing.

This Court reversed the trial court, holding the procedural device of judgment on the pleadings was not available in a tax sale proceeding brought under the Real Estate Tax Sale Law. Battisti v. Tax Claim Bureau of Beaver County, 76 A.3d 111 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013). Accordingly, this Court remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to hold an evidentiary hearing, and it did so on March 28, 2014.

The essential facts on the 2008 and 2009 taxes follow. The Central Valley School District notified the Tax Claim Bureau that there was an unpaid 2008 school tax on the Property in the amount of $833.88 plus a $42.01 penalty. Trial ct. op. at 1-2. The Tax Claim Bureau added a $15.00 entry fee to that amount for a total of $890.89. On April 1, 2009, the Tax Claim Bureau added $6.30, for one month of interest, which brought the total claim for the Property's 2008 school tax to $897.19. On May 7, 2009, the Tax Claim Bureau received a payment from Taxpayer in the amount of $897.19, the amount owing as of April 30, 2009. However, on May 1, 2009, the Tax Claim Bureau had added another $6.30 interest, which was not covered by Taxpayer's payment. The Tax Claim Bureau did not reject Taxpayer's payment of $897.19 as inadequate. Instead, it sent her

Page 79

a document entitled " Receipt" that acknowledged its receipt of a " Total Remittance" of $897.19. Reproduced Record at 193a (R.R. ).

The Tax Claim Bureau did not send an invoice to Taxpayer for $6.30; advise her that this amount would continue to grow over time; or tell her that the outstanding $6.30 could cause the sale of her Property. The only reference to the outstanding $6.30 was a notation on the bottom of the Tax Claim Bureau's " Receipt" that stated " Remaining Balance $6.30." Id. It did not explain the basis of the " ...


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