June 6, 2007 10:42 AM PDT

Google search not enough to locate taxpayer, court says

A Pennsylvania court has ruled that a Google search a county performed to locate someone who owed back taxes on a property was insufficient.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania said on May 31 that Northampton County, a mostly suburban area an hour's drive north of Philadelphia, should have used the phone book instead.

A supervisor in Northampton's tax claim department did not check a telephone book to try to reach Charles Fernandez, who owed $395.36 in back taxes on a vacant lot in Easton, Pa. Instead, she did a Google search for his name and found a phone number for a "Chuck Fernandez" with what seemed to be the correct address--but the number proved to be disconnected.

The county claimed that a notice was posted on the property in July and August 2004, and a judicial sale of the property was held in January 2005. Fernandez says he never saw any notices posted. A certified letter sent to him was returned as undeliverable.

When Fernandez finally contacted the county in March 2005 about his back taxes, he learned about the sale at that time. Two months later, he filed a lawsuit arguing that he wasn't properly notified and accusing Northampton County of not making sufficient efforts to try to find him.

A county judge rejected the arguments, saying the tax bureau had engaged in reasonable efforts, and Fernandez appealed.

He claimed that because the certified letter was returned, Northampton was obligated to take reasonable additional steps beyond a Google search. According to the appeals court, "The bureau argues that its efforts, most notably the computer 'Google' search and the telephoning of the telephone number the search obtained, was sufficient."

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania sided with Fernandez and reversed the decision of the trial court, saying, "We find that the Bureau failed to strictly adhere to the statutory requirements and that this failure, by itself, is sufficient to sustain owner's petition."

The court also noted that if Northampton's tax collectors looked up his number in the phone book, they "may have been able to reach him" and concluded that "it does seem that the county failed to search the countywide telephone book, which, by the law, it was required to consult."

See more CNET content tagged:
Pennsylvania, county, Google Search, tax, court


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Often cities will ge the whole amount that the property sold for
Oftentimes cities will get the whole amount the property sold for beyond what the back taxes were. It is in there own interest not to find the owner.
Posted by georgescott (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not in my area.
They only collect what was owed. The remaining amount is held for collection by the property owner. That keeps them from doing just what you suggest they might be doing.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Another dirty little government secret
Many in my field of social economic research have discovered that tax sales is one of local governments closely guarded dirty little secrets.

The research conducted over the past 50 years indicates that it all depends on the property on how the local government will handle the tax sale.

This is one of America?s darkest and most horrific secrets. Many times a local government would condemn property by virtue of eminent domain not because the property was needed for public use, but because of bribes, and manipulation on behalf of local officials and a business owner. It is not just the tax sale or the condemning of property that has been found to be illegal, but the means in which they perform the tax sale or the condemning of property. Rules of court, and civil procedures are thrown right out the window.

Many times a company will financially support one or more candidates for local office to insure the tax sale or the condemning of property goes through smoothly. These have included all levels of local government, and sever violations of voter fraud. One of the more tragic stories is how companies and candidates will send dozens of vans around picking up voters, and actually pay them to vote. Another means is to go to the local cemeteries, and copy names of recently deceased to use as absentee voters.

Coal companies have raped citizens for decades, and in recent years local government would take the homes of citizens that have been in their family for generations just so Wal Mart or other company could "develop it" on the justification that it would provide a larger tax base.

Compensation? Many times there was no compensation by virtue of legal fees, surcharges, or debt fabricated by the local government, or business to insure there was no compensation or to insure the land owner could never launch a legal defense.

Tax sales, and foreclosures on behalf of local government and their business partners have lead the death of hundreds, if not thousands of American Citizens, but never directly, or proven in a court of law. To see your own government destroy you, your family, and take everything you have away is devastating. It can lead to depression, nervous break downs, and even suicide. In many cases there has been murder committed, although not on a large scale.

This is one area in social economic research and protection of Constitutional Rights where the Internet was the salvation of many American Citizens.

For further study I recommend that everyone that reads this study the following:

History of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Harlan County Ky
Eminent Domain
The Peabody Coal Company
Wal Mart
Your state Civil Rules Procedures and Supreme Court Rules


Harlan County U.S.A
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074605/" target="_newWindow">http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074605/</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093509/" target="_newWindow">http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093509/</a>
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.