Pennsylvania Judge Orders Widow’s House Sold For Failure To Pay $6.30 In Unpaid Interest

0012 RTBeaver County Common Pleas Judge Gus Kwidis is under file this week after he ordered the home of a widow, Eileen Battisti sold for failure to pay $6.30 in unpaid interest to the county. Kwidis ruled that Battisti had ample notice and only has herself to blame for losing her home. Others see the blame lying elsewhere in a decision that elevated a de minimus violation above simple justice.

Battisti’s husband took care of these bills but passed away. She says that she never noticed the remaining $6.30 due on interest. However, Kwidis held that the county tax claim bureau complied with notification requirements in state law before the auction and “[t]here is no doubt that (she) had actual receipt of the notification of the tax upset sale on July 7, 2011, and Aug. 16, 2011. Moreover, on Aug. 12, 2011, a notice of sale was sent by first class mail and was not returned.”

However, there remains that little question of justice — and the notion of discretion. If there is no role for a court to play in such matters, we could handle these cases by computer.

The couple had previously owed other taxes, but at the time of the sale owed just $235, including other interest and fees. They sold the house from under her for $116,000. Such sales usually generate low prices as distress sales.

Joe Askar, Beaver County’s chief solicitor, insisted that the country and the judge were right in forcing the sale, but then added “It’s bad – she had some hard times, I guess her husband kind of took care of a lot of that stuff. It seemed that she was having a hard time coping with the loss of her husband – that just made it set in a little more.” It is remarkable that Askar would acknowledge such mitigating circumstances over less than seven bucks and yet believe that this was an appropriate and justifiable act. It cost more for the prosecutors and court to meet to issue the order. It cost more to actually put the property up for sale. Yet, even with the mitigating factor of her husband’s death, this was not viewed as sufficient reason for a modicum of mercy.

Source: Washington Post

72 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Judge Orders Widow’s House Sold For Failure To Pay $6.30 In Unpaid Interest”

  1. We have the illusion that there’s justice in America.

    Unless the wrong garnishes qualitative attention (such as this blog owner) that can (and often should) result in quantitative attention (U.S. throughout) –

    then (chances are) justice is fleeting.

  2. A cousin sent me an email with a copy of a newspaper’s legal notices that said my property was going to be sold for taxes. I received no other notification.

    I had sold the property and wasn’t responsible for the taxes (probably less than $100) but there was a paperwork snafu so the new owner apparently didn’t receive the tax notice, nor did I. Since no one rec’d the tax bill, the taxes weren’t paid. It has since been straightened out but what an expensive mess it could have been.

  3. It is the owner who brought the legal action. The sale process in Pennsylvania doesn’t involve the court at all, and was complete before the court had any involvement in the matter. .

    Dredd, I can’t tell from the articles what evidence was actually presented. However I haven’t seen any support for the proposition that there was a defect in the county’s compliance with the notice and posting requirements. Of course, it would be helpful if coverage of legal matters actually included relevant facts.

  4. Sometimes, you have do decide as a county worker, “hmm, I could skip buying a lunch and save this poor woman from losing her house.” And somehow an envelope with a cash payment and parcel number finds its way to the cashier’s office.Of course, fully deniable.

  5. The Law is always what the judge says it is?

    What if there actually are “Laws of Nature,” over which no judge can ever have actual jurisdiction?

    RE: Elaine M., April 29 2014 at 11:17 am, part of the excerpt from abcnews.go.com

    {begin quote}
    “These were careless mistakes,” Geithner told members of the Senate Finance Committee during his nearly four-hour confirmation hearing. They were avoidable mistakes, but they were unintentional. I should have been more careful. I take full responsibility.”
    {end quote}

    As my doctoral thesis and dissertation appear to contain a scientific demonstration to the effect that avoidable mistakes are impossible, either Geithner is correct in having made avoidable mistakes or my work is correct and Geithner did not make avoidable mistakes. That is a dichotomy.

    Dichotomies are the stuff of scientific hypothesis testing; if a scientific hypothesis cannot be tested for its truth value, it is not a scientific hypothesis.

    Truth, in a scientific sense is actually internally triadic. A scientific hypothesis may be true (in that it is true that it is true), exclusive-or it may be false (in the sense that it is true that it is false), or it may not be a scientific hypothesis (in the sense that it is true that it is not a scientific hypothesis)?.

    Truth, in a scientific sense, is actually externally monadic. One way or another, all that exists is of truth.

    If truth is a matter of opinion, then the opinion that there is no truth is true. Alas, scientific objectivity informs me, not surprisingly, that, if the scientific hypothesis that there is no truth is true, then there is, and inescapably, is truth.

    The logical proposition that truth is a matter of opinion ineluctably contradicts itself.

    Every judgement which is a violation of any law of nature is an absolutely false judgement.

    The actual happening of an actually avoidable mistake would violate the foundational law of existence, to wit, what exists is what exists and what exists is not identically what does not exist.

    There is the mythic fable of a state legislator (perhaps in Indiana?) who, more than a century ago, proposed a law establishing the ratio of the circumference of a plane circle to its diameter, in Indiana, exactly integer 3 (using base 10 arithmetic) by legislative act.

    Consider the diameter of a circle, using spherical geometry on the surface of a sphere whereon there is exactly one point on the surface of the sphere not present. Now construct the smallest possible circle which encircles that point. No measure the ratio of the circumference of that circle to its diameter, which, being on the surface of the sphere, has to go around the whole sphere as a great circle which is missing only the length of the great circle which is would would cross the missing point if the point were not missing. The ratio of the circumference of that circle to its diameter approaches zero in the limit.

    From time to time, I ask someone who is a college graduate a question in the form of, “What is the square root of 4?” Most of the college graduates I have so asked have not been able to tell me the square root of 4. Most of them have not even been able to name the number 2 as one of the square roots of 4r. The other square root of 4 is -2. Every number has two square roots.

    It sometimes gets more interesting when I ask someone who did answer “2” or who did answer, “2 and -2,” another question. When I ask what are the square roots of -4, almost no one answers, “the positive square root of -4 and the negative square root of -4,” but a very few have done that.

    The mathematical issue is not what the square roots of -4 are, that is obvious. The salient issue seems to be what to use as mathematical symbols for the square roots of -4. Some mathematicians, I surmise, used their imaginations to imagine a symbol and chose to imagine that the square roots of -4 were imaginary, not because the actual roots are imaginary, but only because it took the use of imagination to come up with a symbol, which the mathematicians chose to be the letter “i” combined with a number. Using that notation, the square roots of -4 may be symbolically represented as +4i and -4i .

    As I had begun studying electronics engineering during the first week after I finished fourth grade, and as square roots were not taught in the grade schools I attended until sixth grade or after, when one of my public school math teachers got around to square roots, and I found that the textbook did not tell about the square roots of negative numbers, and asked the teacher why, the teacher told me that negative numbers did not have square roots. In that manner, I learned that math teachers may not understand math as well as one of their students does.

    Could a mere PhD.-P.E. bioengineer who understands math better than most people seem to understand math be a person who has unrlddled the mathematics of tort liability proximate cause better than did the judge in North v. Johnson (1894); and have unriddled it all the way to a clear grasp of that decision’s stare-decisis innumeracy?

  6. keebler said: It sucks, but the laws ate designed for a steady stream if revenue for the government.

    Actually, the laws are lobbied by investors who hate expensive, judicial proceedings. States with mortgage-only laws never had their real estate boom until after adopting deed-of-trust law, which, if an investor has to foreclose, can do so without judicial proceedings. As soon as a state had adopted trust-deed law, vast amounts of money began flowing into new real-estate markets, buying up deeds of truts as fast as they could be recorded. Some states, I believe, are still mortgage-only law.

    1. There is certainly support for the court’s action in how the laws have been written but I do not believe that it exonerates the judge or the attorney bringing this action. There is a time for adult supervision in such matters where someone steps in and says “hey guys, this looks like it is about $6.50”

  7. blhlls

    The fact that some do ignore it, doesn’t make it right. Here, a property sale was complete after actual notice was provided to the owner, and the property was posted with the information for at least 10 days. Someone purchased the property at that sale.

    ====================
    This is a Pennsylvania case.

    Your narrative happens in every illegal tax sale and every legal tax sale.

    The case I cited and linked to up-thread Philadelphia v Schaffer, 974 A.2d 509 (2009), points this out.

    Both registered mail and first class mail have to be used at every relative single juncture of municipal tax foreclosure mailings, for example, and even if the sale took place, it is not “Haines” until “the fat lady sings.”

  8. jonathanturley

    In any court proceeding, there remains an element of discretion and there are a myriad of ways for judges to get the lawyers to reconsider actions. There appears to have been little consideration of an alternative course in this matter. The case should not have been brought to court and, once there, it should have been handled with a simple meeting in chambers with the judge who would begin the conversation with something along the lines of “are you kidding me, counsel?”
    =======================
    Indeed.

    Isn’t that what equity was invented for?

  9. The fact that some do ignore it, doesn’t make it right. Here, a property sale was complete after actual notice was provided to the owner, and the property was posted with the information for at least 10 days. Someone purchased the property at that sale. Only after the sale, did the original owner object to the proceeding, filing a petition to set the sale aside. If the Judge found the notice defective without substantial evidence to support such a finding because of his sympathy for the petitioner, it would be reversed on appeal. If the court said notice complied with the statutes, but I’ll set aside the sale anyway because I feel sorry for the petitioner, it would be reversed on appeal. The buyers were pursuing legal action to enforce the sale, and were equally entitled to a determination as to whether there was a legally valid basis to set it aside after tying up their money for 2 1/2 years. Presumably, a significant number of the other 600 to 1000 owners whose property was sold also have their own stories to tell.

  10. Property sold at tax sale gets no judicial scrutiny. It was not until the purchaser tried to evict her for possession did this matter get to court. By the, the time to redeem had expired. This does not sound like a court of equity but at law and they are limited to the Scope of the documents before them. It sucks, but the laws ate designed for a steady stream if revenue for the government.

  11. Rafflaw: if the argument is the judge should ignore the law here, how do we or they determine what laws they are required to follow/enforce and what ones they are free to ignore.

    1. In any court proceeding, there remains an element of discretion and there are a myriad of ways for judges to get the lawyers to reconsider actions. There appears to have been little consideration of an alternative course in this matter. The case should not have been brought to court and, once there, it should have been handled with a simple meeting in chambers with the judge who would begin the conversation with something along the lines of “are you kidding me, counsel?”

    2. blhills – police, prosecutors and judges, as well as city, state and federal officials ignore laws all the time. In the past couple of months Obama has ignored laws he helped to get passed. Holder refused to prosecute friends of the administration or Democrats. If a policeman does not like a particular law, they ignore it.

  12. Talk about land grabbing. It is happening everywhere, check your county and pay attention !

  13. Some states put a tax lien on the property, which lien, if it is not redeemed by the owner within, say, 3 years, is put up for sale and sold to private investors. Its a non-judicial process.

  14. The judge didn’t have to ignore the law. If he had paid the $7 himself, the law would not have been broken.

  15. In reviewing the appellate decision that sent it back for a hearing, the only issue was whether the statutory notice requirements had been complied with prior to the sale. Presumably any evidence to the contary was presented by the attorney representing her in the proceeding. While I have great sympathy with her and would certainly be in favor of legislation which would address the issue of tax sales where minimal amounts are owed, I believe there is a major downside to the suggestion that a trial court judge should ignore the law if it doesn’t seem quite fair to him. If you want the law to bind judges when it leads to a result you like, it must be equally binding when it leads to a result you disagree with. Certainly the purchasers at the sale were entitled to a ruling in their favor if the law required that outcome.

  16. De minimus is bad Latin. Correct Latin is de minimis (“De” takes the ablative case.)

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