Argued: December 10, 2014.
Appealed from No. July Term, 2012, No. 00061. Common Pleas Court of the County of Philadelphia. Tucker, J.
Gregory A. Biernacki, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Elise M. Bruhl, Deputy City Solicitor, Philadelphia, for appellee.
BEFORE: HONORABLE RENé E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.
RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge
Starwood Airport Realty (Starwood) appeals from the January 10, 2014, Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court), which denied Starwood's Motion to Strike the School District of Philadelphia's (School District) praecipe to discontinue the School District's tax assessment appeal (Motion to Strike). On appeal, Starwood argues that (1) based on our precedent, School District's discontinuance of its appeal is not allowed under Section 518.1(b) of The General County Assessment Law (Law) because such a discontinuance would prevent Starwood from challenging subsequent years' tax assessments; and (2) School District's discontinuance without leave of court was inappropriate because Rule 229 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, does not apply to statutory appeals. Based on our precedent we conclude that the trial court erred and, therefore, we reverse.
The Philadelphia Office of Property Assessment (OPA) sent Starwood a property tax assessment for Starwood's property located at 4101 Island Avenue in Philadelphia (Property) for the 2012 tax year. (Trial Ct. Op. at 1.) Starwood appealed the OPA's assessment to the Board of Revision of Taxes (Board). (Trial Ct. Op. at 1.) Following a hearing, on June 6, 2012, the Board reduced the Property's assessed value to $1,477,980. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2; Board Hearing Result, R.R. at 16a.) On July 2, 2012, the School District appealed the Board's reduced assessment to the trial court. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2.) While the
School District's appeal was still pending, the Property was assessed for the 2013 and 2014 tax years. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2.) In addition, during the period of the appeal the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted specific provisions governing assessments in cities and counties of the First Class, which mandated that Philadelphia 2013 property tax values revert to their 2011 assessed values. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2 (citing 53 Pa. C.S. § 8565(b)(1).) Thus, Starwood's tax liability for the 2013 tax year increased back to the pre-appeal level. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2.)
On October 30, 2013, the School District filed a praecipe to discontinue its appeal without prejudice. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2.) Thereafter, Starwood filed its Motion to Strike, alleging that it would be unfairly prejudiced by the School District's discontinuance of the appeal because it would affect Starwood's ability to challenge the 2013 and 2014 tax assessments, which it claimed had been automatically incorporated into its 2012 assessment appeal pursuant to Section 518.1(b) of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5020-518.1. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2.) Although Starwood had not sought review of its 2013 tax assessment before the OPA, it did seek review of its 2014 tax assessment. (Trial Ct. Op. at 2.) In addition to requesting that the trial court strike the School District's praecipe to discontinue, Starwood alternatively sought leave from the trial court to appeal nunc pro tunc for the 2012-2014 tax years. (Trial Ct. Op. at 3.)
On January 10, 2014 the trial court denied, without prejudice, Starwood's Motion to Strike, but granted Starwood leave to file nunc pro tunc appeals of its 2012 and 2013 tax assessments. The trial court did not grant Starwood leave to file a nunc pro tunc appeal of the 2014 tax assessment, because a review of that assessment " was already pending before the OPA." (Trial Ct. Op. at 3.) The School District filed a motion for reconsideration with the trial court on February 6, 2014, requesting that the trial court strike from its January 10, 2014 Order any language permitting Starwood to appeal nunc pro tunc, but preserving the language in the Order denying Starwood's Motion to Strike. (Trial Ct. Op. at 4.) Thereafter, on February 10, 2014, Starwood filed its own motion for reconsideration with the trial court and an appeal with this Court. (Trial Ct. Op. at 4.) On February 11, 2014, the trial court granted the School District's motion for reconsideration, amending its January 10, 2014 Order to state that the Motion to Strike was denied in its entirety. (Trial Ct. Op. at 4.) Subsequently, on February 25, 2014, the trial court denied Starwood's motion for reconsideration for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Section 5505 of the Judicial Code.
In its 1925(a) opinion, the trial court concluded that it properly denied Starwood's Motion to Strike because the School District did not need to obtain leave of the trial court before filing its praecipe to discontinue. (Trial Ct. Op. at 9.) The trial court also concluded that, just as Starwood had sought review of its 2014 tax assessment before the OPA, it could have appealed its 2013 tax assessment, but had failed to do so and, thus, had waived its right to appeal. (Trial Ct. Op. at 7, 9.) Finally, the trial court determined that it properly granted the School District's motion for reconsideration. (Trial Ct. Op. at 9.)
On appeal, Starwood argues that its initial 2012 tax assessment appeal to the Board resulted in an automatic appeal of its 2013 and 2014 assessments under Section 518.1(b) of the Law. Based upon this Court's precedent in In re Appeal of Gateway School District, 124 Pa.Cmwlth. 463, 556 A.2d 924 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1989), Starwood contends that Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 229, Pa. R.C.P. No. 229, is inapplicable to tax assessment appeals because the Rule is contrary to the automatic appeal provisions of Section 518.1(b). Because the discontinuance of the appeal thwarts Starwood's ability to contest assessments for the 2013 and 2014 tax years, the trial court erred in granting the discontinuance. Starwood also argues that discontinuance without leave of the trial court was inappropriate because the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure generally do not apply to statutory appeals, such as tax assessment appeals. Since the trial court has not specifically adopted the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure for assessment appeals, it erred in relying on case law interpreting Rule 229, which permits discontinuances without leave of the court.
In response the School District argues that, in order for Starwood to challenge its 2012-2014 tax assessments, Starwood was required to file cross-appeals. By failing to file cross-appeals, Starwood has lost its ability to appeal the subsequent years' tax assessments. The School District contends that this case is distinguishable from Gateway because our decision in that case was based on an interpretation of an Allegheny County local rule governing discontinuances of appeals; in contrast, here the trial court did not have to apply a local rule. The School District also argues that, due to the absence of local rules governing discontinuances of tax assessment appeals, the trial court was free to apply the Rules of Civil Procedure to the School District's praecipe to discontinue.
Under Section 518.1(a) of the Law, " [a]ny owner of real estate or taxable property in this Commonwealth, who may feel aggrieved by the last or any future assessment or valuation of his real estate or taxable property, may appeal from the decision of the . . . [Board]." 72 P.S. ...