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Jones v. Butler

August 11, 2009

DARRELL JONES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WENDELL N. BUTLER, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I.

This matter came before the Court on a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Emergency Injunctive Relief, filed July 15, 2009.*fn1 Plaintiffs are Darrell Jones, Charles Warren, Gail McLary, Daniel Vermeychuk, the Residents of the City of Chester Pennsylvania, and the Chester Landlord Association (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs "are residents and property owners of the City of Chester, Delaware County, who it is contended... are obligated to pay certain trash taxes and fees to the City of Chester."*fn2 Defendants are various elected and appointed officials of the City of Chester ("City"), as well as the City itself.

After service was effectuated, the Court held a preliminary conference with counsel for the parties on July 21, 2009,*fn3 in which the Court questioned its jurisdiction to hear this action in light of the dictates of the Tax Injunction Act.*fn4 Pursuant to an expedited response deadline imposed by the Court, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the action on July 24, 2009, asserting therein that the Tax Injunction Act deprives the Court of jurisdiction to hear this matter, and seeking dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).*fn5 As directed by the Court, Plaintiffs responded with respect to the jurisdictional question only on July 31, 2009, contesting Defendants' arguments.*fn6

Counsel for the parties presented oral argument on the applicability of the Tax Injunction Act to this matter on August 6, 2009, and the matter is ready for disposition.

II.

Under Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must dismiss an action which it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear.*fn7 A motion to dismiss on this ground may be brought at any time.*fn8 When faced with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), it is a plaintiff's burden to show that a proper jurisdictional basis exists.*fn9

As the Third Circuit has instructed, a Rule 12(b)(1) motion may be treated as either a facial or factual challenge to the court's jurisdiction, depending on the nature of the argument it presents.*fn10 Where the defendant does not dispute the truthfulness of material facts alleged in the complaint by presenting contrary evidence of its own, the court may evaluate the motion under the now-familiar Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack standard discussed by the Third Circuit in Phillips v. County of Allegheny.*fn11 In applying this standard, the court "may consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached thereto, and matters of public record."*fn12 It must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, draw all reasonable inferences therefrom and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.*fn13 A court should not grant such a motion if, "under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief."*fn14 Thus, "[t]he standard is the same when considering a facial attack under Rule 12(b)(1) or a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)."*fn15

III.*fn16

This action arises from notices received in May, 2009, by thousands of property owners or renters in the City stating that the recipient was late in paying rubbish collection fees, and owed such fees, as well as delinquency charges and interest ("Notices"). Due to inadequate computer programs, the City had failed to notify Notice recipients of the delinquent fees since at least 1995, and some Notices stated that fees were owed from as many as fourteen years ago.

The sample Notice referenced in and attached to the Complaint states that it is issued by the Office of the City Treasurer. It lists the years in which payment was not received, and the fees, penalties and interest owed by the recipient. It states that questions may be directed to the City Treasurer's Office, during certain hours at a listed telephone number. It does not specify on its face how the recipient may dispute or appeal the Notice. But it does reference the City Ordinance under which it was issued, City Codified Ordinance 925, and in particular, section 925.021.

Also referenced in and attached to the Complaint is City Ordinance 925, entitled "Refuse Collection" ("Ordinance"). First, the Court notes that Section 925.02 states that the City Streets and Public Improvements Department has jurisdiction over municipal refuse collection within the City. Next, Section 925.021 of the Ordinance is entitled, "FEES; APPEAL; DELINQUENCIES." In relevant part, Section 925.021(a) ("Fees") provides the following:

The fees for collection and disposal of ashes, garbage, rubbish and refuse placed for collection, pursuant to the provisions of this article, shall be as follows, beginning January 1, 1995:

(1) For all single family dwellings, either owner occupied or renter occupied, the sum of one hundred twenty dollars ($120.00) ...


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