Argued: April 20, 2017
BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge
HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER
COLINS, Senior Judge
HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge
Grudsky appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of
Lackawanna County (trial court) denying his petition to set
aside a tax sale of property he owned. Grudsky contends that
the Lackawanna County Tax Claim Bureau (Tax Claim Bureau) did
not comply with the notice requirements of the Real Estate
Tax Sale Law (Tax Sale Law) and, thus, the trial court erred.
We agree and reverse.
August 11, 1985, Bella Grudsky purchased "Campsite
Lot(s) No. 111" in Eagle Lake, Covington Township,
Lackawanna County, for $16, 490, and placed her son, Michael
Grudsky, on the deed as joint owner. Reproduced Record at 22a
(R.R.__). In 1998, Grudsky became the sole owner of the
property when his mother died. On September 29, 2014, the
property was sold at an upset tax sale to George Robles for
$1, 377.04. On July 20, 2015, Grudsky filed a petition to set
aside the upset tax sale, and the trial court conducted a
hearing, Ronald Koldjeski, Deputy Director of the Tax Claim
Bureau, testified about the procedures it followed in this
upset tax sale, prompted by the unpaid taxes for 2012 and
2013. The Tax Claim Bureau sent, by certified
mail, a notice of the tax sale to 3089 Brighton
6th Street, Apartment 2, Brooklyn, New York,
11235-6966, but it was returned by the postal service as
unclaimed. Koldjeski then did a search of records in the
County, including those of "the Assessor, the
Prothonotary, and Recorder of Deeds." Notes of Testimony
at 18 (N.T. __); R.R. 47a. They showed the same address.
Last, he checked
voter registration records, but they did not list Grudsky.
Because Koldjeski did not find an alternate address, the Tax
Claim Bureau sent a second notice to Grudsky at the same
Brooklyn address by regular mail; it was not returned by the
U.S. Postal Service.
cross-examination, Koldjeski acknowledged that he did not
check the Lackawanna County telephone directory for another
address for Grudsky. Koldjeski explained that "[he]
didn't think there was a need" because he did not
find that Grudsky was registered to vote "anywhere in
the Commonwealth." N.T. 17; R.R. 46. Also on
cross-examination, Koldjeski stated that he documented his
search efforts with handwritten notes in the file, albeit
without dates. Those notes did not appear in the file made
available to the public.
purchaser, Robles, next testified. He explained that after
purchasing the property at the upset sale, he petitioned the
trial court for title to a trailer on the property. The trial
court scheduled a hearing for May 20, 2015, and notice was
sent to Grudsky at the same address used by the Tax Claim
Bureau. Grudsky did not appear at the hearing, and the trial
court awarded Robles title to the trailer, which he has
Salazar, Robles' wife, also testified. She stated that
the couple has been paying the delinquent school taxes owed
on the property with a payment plan, and they have paid all
of the Lackawanna County property taxes. They also entered
into an installment agreement with Eagle Lake to pay the
delinquent homeowners' association dues.
Grudsky testified. He established that his address is 215
Amherst Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11235. The Brighton
6th Street address used by the Tax Claim Bureau
was his parents' address, both of whom are deceased.
Grudsky has not lived there since childhood. Grudsky
explained that ten years ago the building was refurbished to
add apartments. Accordingly, the mailing addresses changed to
"Second floor, 2-F and 2-B." N.T. 49; R.R. 78a.
Grudsky and his wife own the building.
testified that he did not learn about the sale until 2015.
His wife informed him
that there was a letter that they got, like, five days prior
to the, what do you call it, to the Court. Not five days,
like three days or something. I don't recall which. We
couldn't be there or something like that. I don't
remember. We received some kind of letter that it was sold
already and we were to come to court, but we couldn't
come in time.
N.T. 51; R.R. 80a. Grudsky was not sure if the letter was in
reference to the property or the trailer.
stated that he purchased the trailer in 2009 or 2010 and that
it was in good condition. It was definitely not in need of
significant repairs. He and his family last visited the
property in the summer of 2014 and "use[d] the
trailer[.]" N.T. 55; R.R. 84a. At the end of the summer,
they winterized the trailer.
trial court found that 3089 Brighton 6th Street,
Brooklyn, New York was Grudsky's proper mailing address.
It based this finding on a comment made by Grudsky in the
course of examination by his counsel:
[Counsel] Residence address, please.
[Grudsky] 215 Amherst Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11235.
[Counsel] What address is the 3089 Brighton 6th