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City of Philadelphia v. Perfetti

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

June 8, 2015

City of Philadelphia
v.
Raymond Perfetti, Appellant

Argued May 6, 2015

Page 397

Appealed from Nos. 110130799, 110130800, 110130801, 110130802. Common Pleas Court of the County of Philadelphia. Ceisler, J.

David Denenberg, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Gerald T. Clark, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge.

OPINION

Page 398

ROBERT SIMPSON, JUDGE

In these consolidated appeals, Raymond Perfetti (Perfetti) appeals from four orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court) that entered judgment in favor of the City of Philadelphia (City), directing Perfetti to pay municipal liens for want of a sufficient affidavit of defense under Section 19 of the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act (MCTLA).[1] Perfetti argues imposing the liens without prior notice or hearing violated his constitutional due process rights as the debt arose from his former tenants' non-payment of gas bills. He asserts the liens constitute a deprivation of property that required notice in sufficient time to allow recovery from his tenants. Upon review, we affirm.

I. Background

Perfetti has owned 1908 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia (the Property) since 1965 and leases commercial and residential units therein. Pursuant to the lease terms, Perfetti's tenants were responsible for paying their own gas bills. The leases did not contain any terms obliging tenants to warrant payment of their gas bills or to grant Perfetti access to their payment histories.

The current matter stems from the failure of some of Perfetti's tenants, stretching back more than a decade, to pay their gas bills. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 37a; see, e.g., Response to Motion for Judgment, Supplemental Reproduced Record (S.R.R.) at B39. Despite non-payment, the City continued to provide gas service to the Property after each tenant vacated the Property.[2] Relevantly, the City did not give notice to Perfetti of his tenants' delinquencies.

On January 14, 2011, the City placed four liens on the Property corresponding to each unpaid gas bill, totaling $1499.36[3] (Liens). The City did not attempt to execute upon the Liens. The City did not notify Perfetti of the Liens. Perfetti discovered the Liens three years later while conducting a title search on the Property. R.R. at 38a. By the time Perfetti discovered the Liens, he was unable to seek contribution from his former tenants through breach of contract actions because the statute of limitations expired. R.R. at 36a.

Shortly after his discovery, Perfetti filed four " Notice[s] to File/Issue Scire Facias" [4] pursuant to the MCTLA. The City then filed praecipes for writs to issue, and

Page 399

the Prothonotary of the trial court issued four writs.[5] In response, Perfetti filed four affidavits of defense. In his affidavits of defense, Perfetti claimed the Liens should be stricken for two reasons: (1) the claims were barred by the statute of limitations; and, (2) the liens were imposed in violation of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The City filed motions for judgment arguing Perfetti's affidavits presented no viable defense or legal authority to challenge the writs. After receiving Perfetti's responses to the City's motions, the trial court held a consolidated hearing on all four Liens. Thereafter, the trial court granted the City's motions for judgment in four orders. Perfetti filed motions for reconsideration, which the trial court denied.

Perfetti appealed the orders. Upon direction by the trial court, he filed a Concise Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b). In its Rule 1925(a) opinion, the trial court addressed Perfetti's constitutional due process arguments. See Tr. Ct., Slip Op., 12/16/14, at 5-6. It noted Perfetti abandoned his argument that the statute of limitations barred the Liens. The trial court reasoned that providing notice prior to filing the Liens was not constitutionally mandated because Perfetti was able to ensure proper payment for gas services that benefited the Property through the terms of the lease.

II. Discussion

The pertinent facts are undisputed. The City imposed the Liens on the Property based on unpaid gas bills incurred by Perfetti's tenants. Perfetti was unaware of the delinquencies, and the City did not interrupt gas service to the Property. Perfetti discovered the Liens approximately three years after the City filed them. He asserted lack of notice and process as defenses to the Liens.

As the material facts are not in dispute, this appeal raises a pure question of law. Therefore, our review is plenary. Pennock v. Lenzi, 882 A.2d 1057 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2005).

Perfetti argues the City violated his constitutional due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by imposing the Liens upon the Property without prior notice or hearing. As such, he challenges the constitutionality of the MCTLA as applied in these circumstances. We begin with a review of the process required by the MCTLA.

A. MCTLA Process

The current procedure for enforcing municipal claims, including in cities of the first class, is set forth in the MCTLA. " The [MCTLA] provides for a specific, detailed and exclusive procedure that must be followed to challenge or collect on a municipal lien ...." City of Phila. v. Manu, 76 A.3d 601, 604 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013). Section 3(a)(1) of the MCTLA authorizes municipalities to file liens on properties that will have priority over all other encumbrances, except taxes, tax liens or tax claims. 53 P.S. § 7106(a)(1); see Shapiro v. Center Twp., Butler Cnty., 159 Pa.Cmwlth. 82, 632 A.2d 994, 997 (1993) (" The assessment and imposition of the lien occur without any form of hearing." ) Once a lien is recorded, a property owner may challenge the municipal lien.

Under Section 16 of the MCTLA, a property owner may dispute a lien by requesting a lienholder to issue a writ of scire facias. ...


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