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Estate of Anna H. Patterson and Estate of John D. Haynie v. City of Pittsburgh and Margaret L. Lanier

October 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


This suit is brought on behalf of the Estates of Anna H. Patterson and John D. Haynie ("Plaintiffs"), alleging violations of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket No. 1). Defendants the City of Pittsburgh and Margaret L. Lanier, Department of Finance, City of Pittsburgh (collectively, "Defendants"), bring the pending motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment [8]. The Court has considered the record before it as well as the oral argument held September 30, 2011. (Docket No. 16). Plaintiffs presented the Court with a supplemental written brief at the September 30, 2011 hearing, (id.), and this brief was appropriately filed on October 3, 2011. (Docket No. 18). Defendant filed their response to this supplemental brief two days later. (Docket No. 19). The motion is now ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, Defendants‟ motion to dismiss is DENIED, but Defendants‟ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


a.Factual Background*fn1

The facts here are straightforward. On March 19, 1960, Anna H. Patterson died intestate. (Docket No. 1 at 1). Letters of Administration were granted to Johnnie Beatrice Haynie ("Haynie"), as Administratrix of the Anna Patterson Estate, on May 31, 1990. (Id.). On August 19, 1985, John D. Haynie died intestate. (Id.). Letters of Administration were likewise granted to Haynie on December 16, 1985 as Administratrix of the John Haynie Estate. (Id.). Patterson and John Haynie had owned, as tenants in common, the property located at 7225 Susquehanna Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15208 (the "Property"). (Id.). Thus, the Property -- initially owned by two tenants in common -- came under the control of one party -- i.e., Administratrix Haynie. The attorney is the same for both estates. (Docket No. 9-1 at ¶ 6).

On March 23, 2011, Counsel for Plaintiffs received Notice of Pending Treasurer‟s Sale of the Susquehanna Street property ("Notice"). (Id.). The Notice was only addressed to the Patterson Estate, and not the Haynie Estate. (Id. at 1-2). A statement of taxes due was attached to the Notice. (Id. at ¶ 7). The statement showed taxes due on the Property from 1992 to 2010. (Id.). On July 29, 2011, a Treasurer‟s Sale was held. (Id.). The Property, however, was not sold at the Treasurer‟s Sale. (Docket Nos. 9-1 at ¶ 11). In fact, the Allegheny County Assessment website corroborates the fact that no recent sale has been recorded for the Property.*fn2

Plaintiffs claim that Defendants‟ offer to sell the property violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 8). They bring this claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at ¶¶9-11).

b.Arguments on the Motion

Defendants argue that the complaint fails to adequately establish that this Court has jurisdiction, and that it should thus be dismissed under Federal Rule 12(b)(1). (Docket No. 10 at 2). Alternatively, Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate here because there is no genuine issue of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Id. at 3). These arguments are based largely on the fact that the Property was not sold. (See id. at 4). Plaintiffs respond that the complaint adequately pleads a "tak[ing]" for three reasons: (1) the Haynie Estate was not provided notice of the sale; (2) neither Estate was provided an opportunity for a hearing; and (3) Defendants failed to provide notice to Counsel of delinquent taxes for the period between 1992 and 2010. (Docket No. 12 at ¶ 9). Plaintiffs seem to argue that these alleged procedural inadequacies are sufficient to demonstrate a violation of the Due Process Clause, even if the Property was not sold.

II.Legal Standards

a.Rule 12(b)(1)*fn3 -- Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges a court's subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). "At issue in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is the court's very power to hear the case." Judkins v. HT Window Fashions Corp., 514 F.Supp.2d 753, 759 (W.D.Pa.2007) (quoting Mortensen v. First Federal Savings & Loan Association, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir.1977)). As the party asserting that jurisdiction exists, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that his or her claims are properly before the court. Development Finance Corp. v. Alpha Housing & Health Care, 54 F.3d 156, 158 (3d Cir.1995). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a court must determine whether the attack on its jurisdiction is a facial attack or a factual attack. A facial attack challenges the sufficiency of the plaintiff's pleadings on jurisdictional grounds. Petruska v. Gannon University, 462 F.3d 294, 302, n. 3 (3d Cir.2006). When considering a facial attack, a court must accept the allegations contained in the plaintiff's complaint as true. Id. A factual attack on the court's jurisdiction must be treated differently. Id. When considering a factual attack, the court does not attach a presumption of truthfulness to the plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts does not preclude the court from deciding for itself whether jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims can be properly exercised. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891.

b.Rule 56 -- Summary Judgment

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).*fn4 Pursuant to Rule 56, the Court must enter summary judgment against the party "who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A motion for summary judgment will only be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact, i.e., if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). The mere existence of some disputed facts is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 ...

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