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Commonwealth Court Reverses Dismissal of Appeal Based on “Mailbox Rule”

May 31, 2024

In Mixell v. Cumberland County Board of Assessment Appeals, 313 A.3d 330 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2024), the Commonwealth Court held that the Board of Assessment Appeals (“Board”) had failed to show proof of mailing sufficient to establish that a property owner had received hearing notices in her property tax appeal.

The property owner had filed an appeal to restore the so-called “clean and green” preferential assessment on her property after it was subdivided and the county assessed roll-back taxes on it. The Board supposedly mailed hearing notices to the owner, but she did not appear at the hearing. The Board then issued a decision denying the appeal on the basis that the owner had abandoned it under 53 Pa.C.S. § 8844(e)(1).  That statute provides that any appellant who fails to appear for the hearing is presumed to have abandoned the appeal unless the board has agreed to reschedule the hearing date.

The property owner appealed to the trial court, claiming that she had been unable to attend the scheduled hearing. The Board filed preliminary objections, asserting abandonment as a basis to dismiss the appeal, and attaching the hearing notice and the decision. In response, the owner filed an answer and new matter, asserting that she never received the hearing notices.

Under the “mailbox rule,” proof of mailing raises a rebuttable presumption that a notice mailed was received by the intended recipient.  Once it is shown that a notice was mailed, the rule is difficult to rebut, because caselaw has established that mere testimony from the intended recipient that the notice was not received is insufficient.

Based only on the filings, the trial court concluded that the property owner had received the hearing notices based on the mailbox rule and dismissed the appeal.

On appeal, however, the Commonwealth Court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the preliminary objections based on the mailbox rule. The only evidence in support of the rule was the hearing notices themselves, which showed a date but bore no other indication that the notices were in fact mailed. There was no testimony or other evidence showing that the notices were taken to a regular place of mailing.  The Commonwealth Court concluded that, in any event, even if the dates on the notices constituted proof of mailing, the trial court had not allowed the property owner an opportunity to rebut the presumption of receipt.

As a result, the Commonwealth court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded it back to the trial court for a hearing on the mailbox rule.

The mailbox rule is often invoked by boards and taxing authorities to deny appeals on the basis of missed deadlines.  Consequently, understanding how best to rebut the rule’s powerful presumption often means the difference between winning and losing a case.

If you have any questions about this Decision or any state or local tax matter, please feel free t contact Adam Koelsch (717-237-5305) or any member of the McNees SALT Group.


Adam Koelsch

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