Amended Appeals Remedy Procedural Defect

more+
less-
more+
less-

A panel of the Commonwealth Court modified an order of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas that quashed certain real estate assessment appeals filed on a consolidated basis, but permitted the property owners to file amended appeals beyond the statutory appeal period provided they do so within 60 days of the order and pay the necessary filing fees. Alma, et al. v. Monroe County Board of Assessment Appeals et al., No. 1132 C.D. 2013 (Pa. Cmwlth. Jan. 8, 2014). The court agreed that the property owners were permitted to file amended appeals, but modified the order to quash to apply it only to those property owners that do not file their amended appeals and pay the necessary filing fees within 60 days of the court’s modified order.

Separate assessment appeals were filed by 158 property owners in Monroe County. Because the facts and issues in all of the cases were alleged to be substantially similar, the Monroe County Board of Assessment Appeals (Board) consolidated the appeals for hearing purposes only. The Board denied the appeals and sent separate decisions and notices of appeal rights to each of the 158 property owners. All 158 property owners then filed a single, timely appeal with the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas, in which all 158 property owners were listed in the caption. The Board filed a motion to quash, arguing that a separate appeal should have been filed by each property owner. The trial court granted the motion to quash, but further provided that the property owners could amend their assessment appeals by filing each appeal individually and paying the required filing fee within 60 days of the trial court’s order.

The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that once the motion to quash was granted, any amended appeal filed by a property owner was an appeal nunc pro tunc, which the trial court could not grant absent a showing of fraud or some other extraordinary circumstance that excused the late filing – a standard the property owners could not meet. The property owners countered that they did not fail to meet the deadline for filing their appeals, and thus, there was no jurisdictional defect that would have required that their appeals be accepted nunc pro tunc. The owners argued that their appeals were timely filed, and that any defect was procedural and therefore curable.

Relying on several previous decisions, the court agreed with the property owners that their appeals were filed on time and that the proper remedy under the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure was to allow amended, individual appeals to be filed to cure the procedural defect of the filing of a consolidated appeal. The court noted that Pennsylvania jurisprudence showed that while taking a single appeal from multiple orders is discouraged, the rules of appellate procedure do not prohibit it and courts have been hesitant to quash the appeals where the circumstances of the case showed that the merits of the appeal should be considered and decided on. See Sulkava v. Glaston Finland Oy, 54 A.3d 884 (Pa. Super. 2012); Croft v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 662 A.2d 24 (Pa Cmwlth. 1995); Gen. Elec. Credit Corp. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 437 Pa. 463 (1970). In this case, the court agreed that because the consolidated appeal was timely filed with the trial court, the merits of the assessment appeals should be reached as long as amended, individual appeals were filed in the time frame allotted by the trial court.