The Role of the Court in a Tax Assessment Appeal.


In an assessment appeal, the matter before the trial court is heard de novo, and the order of proof is well settled. Green v. Schuylkill County Bd. of Assessment Appeals, 565 Pa. 185, 195, 772 A.2d 419, 425 (2001), citing, Deitch Co. v. Board of Property Assessment, 417 Pa. 213, 221, 209 A.2d 397, 402 (1965).

         “The procedure requires that the taxing authority first present its assessment record into evidence. Such a presentation makes out a prima facie case for the validity of the assessment in the sense that it fixes the time when the burden of coming forward with evidence shifts to the taxpayer. If the taxpayer fails to respond with credible, relevant evidence, then the taxing body prevails.

         “[T]he taxpayer still carries the burden of persuading the court of the merits of his appeal, but that burden is not increased by the presence of the assessment record in evidence.

         “Of course, the taxing authority always has the right to rebut the owner’s evidence and in such a case the weight to be given to all the evidence is always for the court to determine. The taxing authority cannot, however, rely solely on its assessment record in the face of countervailing evidence unless it is willing to run the risk of having the owner’s proof believed by the court.”

         The trial court’s statutory mandate, as established in the General County Assessment Law, is to hear the evidence and to “make such orders and decrees … as … may seem just and equitable….” In essence, “[t]he Legislature has confined to the Court of Common Pleas the duties of fact finder where there has been an appeal from an assessment for taxes.”

         The trial Court’s duty under Pennsylvania law regarding its function in a tax assessment appeal is as follows:

“The function of the trial judge in a tax assessment case is not to independently value the property, but to weigh the conflicting testimony and values expressed by the competing experts and arrive at a valuation based on the credibility of their opinions.” County of Monroe v. Bolus, 613 A.2d 178, 181 (Pa. Cmwlth 1992), citing, Appeal of the City of Pittsburgh, 541 A.2d 40 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1988), appeal denied, 521 Pa. 623, 557 A.2d 726 (1988).  The finding of value by the trial court must be supported by competent evidence. County of Monroe v. Bolus, 613 A.2d 178, 181 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992), citing, Appeal of Avco Corp., 515 A.2d 335 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1986).

This does not mean that the trial court becomes an assessor, or an appraiser.  Rather, in assessment cases, as in others, the trial court must make its determination on the basis of the evidence put before it.

A tax assessment is an inexact science and it requires that the fact finder’s valuation be tied firmly to the evidence of record. Green v. Schuylkill County Bd. of Assessment Appeals, 565 Pa. 185, 210, 772 A.2d 419, 434 (2001).