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Philadelphia Housing Authority v. Sta Painting Company

December 17, 2010


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


STA Painting Company, Inc. ("STA") filed suit against Philadelphia Housing Authority ("PHA") in Pennsylvania state court seeking $140,000 in unpaid fees for services rendered. After an internal investigation, PHA admitted it owed $132,000, but also discovered that STA owes back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). PHA subsequently filed a state interpleader action identifying the United States as a party in interest. The United States then removed the matter to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442 and § 1444.

Presently before the Court are the United States's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10), PHA's Motion to Pay Funds Into Court and for Dismissal of All Claims (ECF No. 11), and STA's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18). After a review of the parties' briefing and the record, and for the following reasons, the United States's Motion will be granted, PHA's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part as moot, and STA's Cross-Motion will be denied.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The following facts are derived primarily from STA's complaint filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, STA's answer to PHA's interpleader, and the exhibits attached thereto.

In November 2009, STA filed a breach of contract action against PHA in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. STA claimed it entered into a services contract with PHA. PHA was supposed to make payment "monthly and upon receipt and approval of an itemized invoice." (ECF No. 15, Ex. A ¶ 2.) STA submitted the invoices required for payment. (E.g., ECF No. 15, Exs. C-G.) PHA failed to pay, so STA filed suit. (ECF No. 1, Ex. A.)

PHA, not disputing the debt but asserting that the United States had an interest in the funds, filed an interpleader action pursuant to Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 2301 et seq., in the Court of Common Pleas and served the United States.

The IRS had assessed against STA federal employment taxes for several quarters between 2000 and 2003. (ECF No. 10-3, Decl. of Perry Shumsky ¶ 4.) By operation of law, this assessment established a lien against assets belonging to STA. Because STA failed to pay these assessments, and in light of the services contract, the IRS served on PHA a notice of levy on October 21, 2008. (ECF No. 10, Ex. 103.) STA subsequently disclosed tax deficiencies through 2009. (ECF No. 18.) On February 4, 2009, the IRS issued a final demand for payment to PHA, to which PHA responded that it had not received the levy notice. (ECF No. 1, Ex. B ¶¶ 4-5.) But PHA had previously acknowledged receipt of the notice in an October 31, 2008 letter to STA. (ECF No. 15, Ex. K.) Despite this acknowledgment, PHA did not -- and still has not -- forwarded the funds to the IRS, notwithstanding the IRS lien and levy.

The Court of Common Pleas granted interpleader, and the United States removed the matter to this Court asserting federal subject matter jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. § 2410.

(ECF No. 1.) The United States then answered PHA's petition for interpleader, asserting a counter-claim against PHA to enforce the levy (ECF No. 4), and a cross-claim against STA to foreclose the lien (ECF No. 7). In February 2010, counsel for STA informed the IRS that he was "involved with PHA in settling [STA's] lawsuit against [PHA and his] intention is to resolve and have all monies paid to [the IRS]." (ECF No. 26, Ex. A.)

The United States moved for summary judgment on its counter- and cross-claims. (ECF No. 10.)

PHA then filed its Motion, seeking permission to pay the disputed funds into this Court and dismissal. (ECF No. 11.) In April 2010, counsel for PHA informed STA that although it had reviewed STA's claims and acknowledged PHA owed $132,000 for services rendered, it would not forward payment in light of the IRS's levy. (ECF No. 15, Ex. N.)

STA answered PHA's interpleader (ECF No. 15) and filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment seeking the right to use the funds to offset of its most recent tax deficiencies (ECF No. 18).

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

1. Jurisdiction

The United States removed PHA's state interpleader action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442 and § 1444, asserting the Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2410. In removal cases, subject matter jurisdiction is determined from the face of the complaint and on the basis of the state court record at the time the removal notice is filed. Westmoreland Hosp. Ass'n v. Blue Cross of W. Pa., 605 F.2d 119, 124 (3d Cir. 1979). An action is removable only if the district court would have original jurisdiction over the claims in the suit. Jefferson County v. Acker, 527 U.S. 423, 430 (1999); see 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) ("[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction[] may be removed by the defendant or defendants . . . .").

There are two means of bringing an interpleader action in federal court -- under 28 U.S.C. § 1335 or pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Price, 501 F.3d 271, 275 (3d Cir. 2007). In this case, the United States does not assert jurisdiction pursuant to § 1335. Because the United States has no citizenship for purposes of § 1335, this statute does not apply. See Kent v. N. Cal. Reg'l Office of Am. Friends Serv. Comm., 49 F.2d 1325, 1328 (9th Cir. 1974).

The other means for filing interpleader, Rule 22(a), which permits a party to institute an interpleader action when exposed to double or multiple liability, does not confer federal jurisdiction. Price, 501 F.3d at 275. Rule 22 is "no more than a procedural device; the plaintiff must ...

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