When the Lycoming County Tax Claim Bureau sold Susan Linn Thompson's home on 30 acres at 296 Mountain Road, Montoursville, at a delinquent tax sale on Oct. 5, 2011, to Pennmarc Resources, the bureau did not meet its obligations to find the owner's correct address, Judge Richard A. Gray ruled recently, overturning the sale of an Upper Fairfield Township property to a Clearfield County-based natural gas land development company.
Thompson, who bought the property on July 31, 2001, lives in Bermuda.
For some reason, the Lycoming County Assessment Office changed her address from the Bermuda one to the local one on July 16, 2008.
From 2002 to 2008, Thompson's real estate tax bills were sent to her at her out-of-country address and she paid them, according to court documents.
Her attorney, Fred Holland, said Thompson never lived here and didn't even have a mailbox at the Montoursville address. Her real estate tax bills for 2009, 2010 and 2011 were unpaid because she never received them due to the address switch.
Holland said his client had to fly here and testify in court to get her property back from Pennmarc, which bought it for $11,647, including delinquent taxes and state and local transfer taxes.
Court records state that Thompson never requested or approved of the change of address and did not have arrangements for mail to be delivered to the local address.
Additionally, the tax claim bureau hired an independent contractor - Palmetto Posting Inc. of Spartensburg, S.C.- to post the property for the tax sale. However, Gray found the company failed to post the property "conspicuously or in such a matter that would result in the posting being seen by the landowner and/or the public."
Mailings from the tax claim bureau to the Montoursville address were returned because they were undeliverable.
Gray ruled that the bureau "violated Ms. Thompson's due process rights when it failed to comply" with proper publication, mailing and posting of the sale. He said Thompson's correct address could have been found at the county assessment office, the recorder of deeds and from Upper Fairfield Township officials.
"Irrespective of statutory requirements, the court cannot sanction the government taking a citizen's land, when the proper mailing address was available in at least three places within local bodies' records," Gray wrote in his ruling.