United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
J. PAPPERT, J.
lawsuit concerns actions various Defendants allegedly took to
secure the sale of property Plaintiff Abraham Ituah
previously owned at 3842 Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia.
Defendants filed motions to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, res judicata
and Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons below, the Court grants
Defendants' motions and dismisses Ituah's
state-court action that resulted in the sale of Ituah's
property commenced on April 22, 2015, when the City of
Philadelphia filed a real estate tax lien claim against him
in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas pursuant to the
Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Act
(“MCTLA”). (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, at 2, ECF No.
6.) On May 13, 2015, Judge Linda Carpenter issued a rule to
show cause why the property should not be sold at a
sheriff's sale to satisfy delinquent real estate taxes.
(Id.) The property was posted on July 5, 2015 and
the Affadavit of Posting was filed with the court on July 9.
(Id.) The Affadavit of Service of the Posting was
filed with the court on August 4, certifying that all
interested parties had been served by certified and first
class mail on July 20. (Id.) Ituah did not file a
response to the court's May 13 rule, and the court
entered a decree on August 11, 2015 approving a sheriff's
sale of the property.
September 16, 2015, Dimitrios Dimopoulos purchased the
property at the sheriff's sale. (Id.) Ituah
claims he learned of the sale on September 17 from a city
accountant. (Pl.'s Resp., at 4.) On September 21, Ituah
filed a motion to set aside the sale, arguing that he had not
received proper notice. (Id.) He claimed that he had
not seen the postings at the property because it had been
vacant since November 2013 and he had not received notice at
the address where he resided. See Mot. to Set Aside
at 1- 2, City of Philadelphia v. Ituah, No.
1504T0504 (Sep. 21, 2015).
City filed a response on October 13 claiming that it had
complied with the MCTLA's notice requirements under 53
Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7193.2 by posting
notice at the property and mailing a copy of the petition and
rule to Ituah's registered address. See Answer
in Opp'n at 1, 3-4, City of Philadelphia v.
Ituah, No. 1504T0504 (Oct. 13, 2015). Though Ituah
claimed the City failed to send notice to his current
residence, the City explained that he had not registered that
address pursuant to § 7193.1. (Id.) Under the
statute, a party who fails to accurately register his
interest and address pursuant to [§ 7193.1] lacks
standing to complain of improper notice if the city complied
with [§ 7193.2(a)]. See 53 Pa. Stat. and Cons.
Stat. Ann. § 7193.2(b). The City argued that because
Ituah failed to do so and the City complied with §
7193.2(a), he could not complain of improper notice.
(Id. (citing 53 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann.
§ 7193.2(b))). In Ituah's reply, he argued that the
sale should be set aside because the Defendants
“fraudulently obtained the judgment in [his] absence by
failing to properly [notify him] of the action that led to
the sale.” See Reply at 1, City of
Philadelphia v. Ituah, No. 1504T0504 (Oct. 22, 2015).
Judge Carpenter denied Ituah's motion to set aside the
sale on October 26, holding that Defendants had complied with
the statutory notice requirements.
meantime, Defendants were processing the transfer of the deed
to Dimopoulos and/or his corporate designee, Cool Spaces LLC.
The sheriff's deed was acknowledged on October 21, 2015
and recorded on November 14, 2015. See Answer in
Opp'n at 4 (Oct. 13, 2015); Reply to Mot. to Redeem at 4,
City of Philadelphia v. Ituah, No. 1504T0504 (Feb.
24, 2016); Answer in Opp'n to Mot. for Post-Trial Relief
at 3, City of Philadelphia v. Ituah, No. 1504T0504
(Apr. 11, 2016).
filed a motion for reconsideration on November 11, arguing
that the City failed to comply with the statutory notice
requirements because it had not searched the taxpayer
information system to locate the correct address at which to
serve him. See Mot. for Reconsideration at 1-2,
City of Philadelphia v. Ituah, No. 1504T0504 (Nov.
11, 2015). Judge Carpenter denied the motion on November 18.
On December 2, Ituah filed a motion to redeem the premises,
reasserting his argument that the City had fraudulently
obtained the judgment in his absence by “deliberately
fail[ing] to locate [his] mailing address” using tax
records. See Mot. to Redeem at 1-2, City of
Philadelphia v. Ituah, No. 1504T0504 (Dec. 2, 2015).
The City responded on December 22, stating that it “did
not deliberately fail to locate [Ituah's] address”
but rather “it was [Ituah] who failed to accurately
register his address pursuant to 53 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat.
Ann. § 7193.1.” See Reply to Mot. to
Redeem at 2, 4 (Feb. 24, 2016). The City further argued that
the property was not eligible to be redeemed because it had
been vacant for ninety days prior to the sale and the
sheriff's deed had already been acknowledged.
32 of the MTCLA “provides that a petition to redeem
premises cannot be filed for vacant property once the
sheriff's deed has been acknowledged.” City of
Philadelphia v. F.A. Realty Inv'rs Corp., 95 A.3d
377, 388 (Pa. Cmwlth. Ct. 2014); see also 53 Pa.
Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7293(c). In Ituah's
case, the sheriff's deed was acknowledged on October 21,
2015. See Answer in Opp'n at 4 (Oct. 13, 2015);
Reply to Mot. to Redeem at 4 (Feb. 24, 2016); Answer in
Opp'n to Mot. for Post-Trial Relief at 3 (Apr. 11, 2016).
Ituah did not file his petition to redeem until December 2.
Judge Carpenter denied the motion on March 28, 2016 after a
hearing, holding that Ituah had no right of redemption
because the property was vacant for ninety days before the
sale and the sheriff's deed was acknowledged before he
filed his petition. See Order, City of
Philadelphia v. Ituah, No. 1504T0504 (March 28, 2016).
April 1, 2016, Ituah filed a motion for post-trial relief,
contending that Defendants intentionally failed to notify him
of the sale and then deliberately processed the transfer of
the deed “expeditiously” and “without due
process” in order to prevent him from redeeming the
premises. See Mot. for Post-Trial Relief at
¶¶ 1, 3, City of Philadelphia v. Ituah,
No. 1504T0504 (Apr. 1, 2016). Judge Carpenter denied the
motion on April 19. On April 22, Ituah appealed to the
Pennsylvania Superior Court the Judge's March 28 decision
that he had no right to redeem the property. The Superior
Court dismissed the appeal on September 13, 2016. On
September 1, 2016, Ituah filed an Application for Leave to
File a Petition for Allowance of Appeal Nunc Pro
Tunc with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It was denied
on December 29, 2016. See City of Philadelphia v.
Ituah, No. 182-EM-2016, 2016 Pa. LEXIS 2968 (Pa. Dec.
New York resident, Ituah filed this suit pro se on
November 7, 2016 against the City, the Sheriff's
Department, Sheriff Jewell Williams, City Attorney Cynthia
Stavrakis, Dimopoulos and Cool Spaces LLC. (ECF No. 1.)
Construing his pro se pleadings generously, see
Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002), the
Court understands Ituah to be attempting to assert state law
claims for abuse of process and fraudulent misrepresentation.
See (ECF No. 15, at 1; ECF No. 16, at 1-2). In his
Complaint, Ituah reasserts the same arguments he made
unsuccessfully in state court. He contends that his property
was sold “without proper notice from the City of
Philadelphia and Sheriff's Department to Dimitros
Dimopoulos for $34, 500.” (Compl., at 3.) He argues
that Williams “concealed the information [Ituah] needed
to know in order to prevent the sale of the property”
and filed a “false and malicious” affidavit of
service despite the fact that he “never notified
[Ituah] that the sale of [his] property was set for September
16, 2015.” (ECF No. 15, at 4-5.) He then claims that
after the property was sold, Williams “agreed to
transfer the deed quickly” from Dimopoulos to Cool
Spaces without legally processing or paying for the transfer
as required by the City so as to “prevent [Ituah] from
redeeming the property.” (Id.); see
also (Compl., at 3). He contends Williams
“concealed the information and filed [a] fraudulent
affidavit to deceive the judge to enter judgment” in
Dimopoulos's favor. (Id.) Finally, Ituah claims
that Stavrakis organized the sale, masterminded the formation
of Cool Spaces and the quick deed transfer and filed
responses opposing his petitions to set aside the
sheriff's sale and redeem the property. (Id.)
other words, Ituah's suit concerns “the role of the
Defendants [in contributing] to the unfair decision entered
in state court.” (ECF No. 15, at 1.) Defendants
allegedly intentionally “failed to notify [him] about
the judgment to sell the property” and “agreed to
transfer the deed quickly to prevent [him] from redeeming the
property” in order to deprive him of his property
rights without due process and fair notice. (Id. at
5.) He claims that the resulting loss of his property has
caused him serious financial and psychological pain and
forced him to file Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. (Compl., at 4.)
Ituah seeks the return of his property, records reflecting
all of his payments to the City and $100, 000 in compensatory
damages for the psychological pain and financial problems he
has suffered as a result of Defendants' alleged abuse of
process and fraudulent misrepresentation. (Id.)
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits lower federal
courts from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction in a
narrow range of cases already heard in state court. See
Exxon Mobil v. Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Under the doctrine, a losing
state-court party is “barred from seeking what in
substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in
a United States district court, based on [a] claim that the
state judgment itself violates the loser's federal
rights.” Johnson v. De Grandy,512 U.S. 997,
1005-06 (1994). “[T]here are four requirements that
must be met for the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to
apply: (1) the federal plaintiff lost in state court; (2) the
plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state-court
judgments; (3) those judgments were rendered before the
federal suit was filed; and (4) the plaintiff ...