August 20, 2013 10:35:54 AM
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A western Pennsylvania woman whose $280,000 home was sold at auction over $6.30 in unpaid interest won a court decision Monday allowing her a fresh opportunity to argue she should not lose her home.
Commonwealth Court ruled it was a mistake for a Beaver County judge to rule against Eileen Battisti without first holding an evidentiary hearing.
"This was particularly inappropriate because the outstanding liability was small and the value of the home was far greater than the amount paid by (the) purchaser," wrote Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt.
Leavitt said the state Supreme Court has "emphasized that due process under both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions must be satisfied whenever the government subjects a citizen's property to forfeiture for nonpayment of taxes."
Battisti's lawyer says she still lives in her Aliquippa home, even though it was sold nearly two years ago to S.P. Lewis of Imperial for about $116,000. Messages seeking comment weren't returned on Monday by Lewis and his lawyer, or by the Beaver County solicitor's office.
Battisti purchased the home outside Pittsburgh in 1999 with her husband, who managed their finances. She paid off the property after he died in 2004 with proceeds from his life insurance policy.
The opinion by Leavitt said Battisti had difficulty taking over the financial matters, in part because of a series of personal setbacks. She fell behind on various tax bills, but believed she had paid them all off, even though some were late.
The $6.30 penalty was added to her tax bill in 2009, which grew with interests and costs to $235 by late 2011, when the home was sold at auction. She appealed the sale to county court, which ruled in May 2012 that she received all notices required by law. A month later, Judge C. Gus Kwindis ordered that the Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau could not issue a deed to Lewis while Battisti appealed.
An attorney for Lewis offered to settle the dispute last year for $160,000 from Battisti. David Holland wrote in a court brief that Battisti did have notice of the tax sale, and that she made arguments in the appeal that legal procedures should not permit.
Battisti's lawyer, Ed Santillan, said his client was elated by the court's decision.
"The facts are clear that she didn't receive adequate notice and there was a lot of intervening circumstances that the court should have taken into account," Santillan said.