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Bush v. Philadelphia Revelopment

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2019

GERALD BUSH, Plaintiff,
v.
PHILADELPHIA REDEVELOPMENT, AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          C. DARNELL JONES, II, J.

         Plaintiff Gerald Bush brings the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged illegal taking of his purported residence located at 5108 Chester Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the “Property”). More specifically, Plaintiff has set forth federal claims under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, 5 U.S.C. § 552 of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 26 U.S.C. § 6323 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Tax Code”), 28 U.S.C. § 2409 of the Quiet Title Act, and 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Plaintiff has also raised claims under Pennsylvania state law for fraud, breach of contract, violation of Rule 3113 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, and violation of 42 Pa.C.S. § 5527.3, seeking compensation for lost property, reimbursement for work completed by him on the Property, and deprivation of his civil rights (ECF No. 2, p.8).[1]

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Emergency Petition for a Preliminary Injunction (the “Emergency Petition”) (ECF Nos. 17, 20, 21), Defendants Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, Christi M. Jackson, and Robert Labrum's (collectively, the “Defendants”) Opposition thereto (ECF No. 27), Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Motion to Dismiss”) (ECF No. 26), and Plaintiff's Opposition thereto (ECF No. 29). For the reasons set forth below, the Court shall deny the Emergency Petition and grant the Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims and this case shall be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's Complaint is a compilation of documents including: (1) filings in various actions initiated in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, (2) excerpts from statutes, (3) a form letter including an account statement from Philadelphia Gas Works for the Property from January 1, 2002 through October 11, 2018, [2] (4) a form letter from PECO Customer Service confirming the establishment of an account by Plaintiff on April 1, 2001, (5) valuations of the Property from 2013 until 2019 from an online website, (6) correspondence directed to Plaintiff's attention demanding that he vacate the Property, (7) correspondence regarding Plaintiff's attempt to seek what he would deem an appropriate resolution of the alleged illegal taking of the Property, and (8) correspondence pertaining to Plaintiff's Right-to-Know request for documents under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know-Law, 65 P.S. §§ 67.101, et seq. (See ECF Nos. 1, 3, 4, 9). Given Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court has done its best to distill what could reasonably be construed as factual allegations from these documents and construed them in Plaintiff's favor.

         However, given Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, or Alternatively, for Failure to State a Claim (“Motion to Dismiss”) the Court will also set forth the facts as presented by Defendant because it is Plaintiff's burden to establish jurisdiction.

         A. Plaintiff's Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff allegedly obtained possession of the Property pursuant to an agreement between he and the City of Philadelphia under an abandonment/abatement program. (ECF No. 4, p. 2).[3] Plaintiff claims he spent $66, 000 to purchase the Property. (Id.).[4] Plaintiff also claims there is an email confirming his purchase or the City of Philadelphia's “promise of ownership, ” and he alleges that he:

had an agreement with the City of Philadelphia abandonment/abatement program and was assured ownership through this agreement[.] . . . The extent and nature of the agreement is in the form of an e-mail dated June 1, 2018 to Gregory Heller of the PRA. The contract is in electronic form due to the file room not being able to locate the contract that was made in 2002 or 2003. . . .

(ECF No. 4, pp. 8-9; see also ECF No. 3, p. 2).[5] Plaintiff has identified the relevant email as being from Paulette Adams, Director of Community Development in the Office of Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, to Greggory Heller, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, written on June 1, 2018 with a subject line of “5108 Chester Avenue, ” wherein Ms. Adams stated:[6]

I need to resolve the situation with this property. Mr. Gerald Bush has been in this property for 14 years. Sandy Hayes, my predecessor, worked with Mr. Bush through the abandonment/abatement program. He was assured ownership through this arrangement.”

         (ECF No. 4, p. 4). Later that day, Mr. Heller responded: “Let me look into this and get back to you early next week.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff asserts that in addition to the emails between Ms. Adams and Mr. Heller (the “Adams/Heller Email”), additional evidence of his ownership of the Property includes the fact that he has maintained, improved, repaired, and renovated the Property for the past seventeen (see ECF No. 4, p. 9) or eighteen years and has paid other expenses on the Property. (ECF No. 4, p. 18; see also ECF No. 9, p. 3). However, Plaintiff also alleges that he took these actions pursuant to a contract entered into by him in 2003 with Sandy Hayes, Councilwoman Blackwell, and Ms. Adams, wherein he agreed to make all necessary repairs on the Property.[7] (ECF No. 3, p. 3; see also ECF No. 9, p. 3). After completing work under this alleged agreement for fourteen years, Plaintiff claims he unsuccessfully sought reimbursement for his efforts, but it is not clear from whom. (See ECF No. 9, p. 3).

         Finally, Plaintiff claims that despite his alleged ownership of the Property, Defendants have attempted to have him vacate the Property since May 27, 2009, without any legal basis. (See ECF Nos. 4, pp. 11-16, 23). At some point, which was not made clear by Plaintiff, he claims that the City of Philadelphia or Defendant PRA filed a “false petition in order to take property [sic] from the plaintiff, ” namely, the residence located at 5108 Chester Ave, Philadelphia, PA. (ECF No. 4, pp. 1-2).[8] Plaintiff also claims that Defendant PRA also interfered with his agreement with the City of Philadelphia/City Council - whether for the sale of the Property or for reimbursement for the work he performed on the Property is unclear - and that the City of Philadelphia/City Council breached the agreement by trying to sell the Property to another individual, as evidenced by a letter of support from Ms. Blackwell to Mr. Heller regarding the application of a Ms. Atema Addy to acquire the Property. (ECF No. 9, p. 6; see also ECF No. 3, p. 4).[9] According to Plaintiff, these alleged actions constitute fraud, or at least, a failure to adequately investigate the ownership of the Property. (ECF No. 4, p. 2).[10]

         B. Defendants' Factual Allegations

         Defendant PRA claims to have owned the Property since April 14, 2003 when it filed a Declaration of Taking pursuant to former Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code, 26 P.S. §§1-101, et seq., as amended (“Declaration of Taking”), which was supported by an affidavit by Herbert E. Wetzel, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority's Executive Director. (ECF No. 26-1, p. 2; ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A). Defendant PRA's Declaration of Taking afforded it a fee simple interest in the Property and other areas identified as blighted and condemned pursuant to Resolution No. 17, 168, which was passed by Defendant PRA on April 8, 2003. (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, ¶¶ 3, 4, 6; see also pp. 5-9). Defendant PRA also filed a Notice of Condemnation in accordance with § 404 of the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code, which was executed by Nicholas Dema, Jr., Defendant PRA's then Director of Housing, and Mr. Wetzel.

         According to the documents supporting the Declaration of Taking, as of April 14, 2003 Michael James was the owner, condemnee, or grantor of the Property to Defendant PRA. (ECF No. 26-2, p. 17). Mr. James came into ownership of the Property on October 17, 2001 when the deed for the Property he purchased from Troy Prater for $40, 000, was recorded by the Commissioner of Records for the City of Philadelphia. (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. C). A search of the website for the Recorder of Deeds shows that Mr. Prater had owned the Property since September 3, 1997 and Plaintiff was not among one of the owners prior to that date.[11] (ECF No. 26-1, p. 3; see also ECF No. 26-2, Ex. D).

         According to Defendants, despite Defendant PRA being the record fee holder of the Property since April 14, 2003, Plaintiff, “[w]ithout the [Defendant PRA's] knowledge, consent, or permission, . . . trespassed on the Property, [and] has allegedly been performing repairs on the Property.” (ECF No. 26-1, p. 3). Defendants also believe that Plaintiff has been renting the Property for some unknown amount of time due to contact by one of Plaintiff's alleged tenants in the Spring of 2018, stating she'd been locked out of the Property by Plaintiff and was being denied access to her belongings. (ECF No. 26-1, p. 3). Since May 27, 2009 Defendant PRA has sent multiple notices to Plaintiff demanding that he vacate the Property, but he not only refuses to comply, he “interferes with the [Defendant PRA's] entry into the Property.” (ECF No. 26-1, p. 3).

         C. Procedural History

         1. State Court Actions

         On April 14, 2003, Defendant PRA initiated an eminent domain action in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, No. 030401046 (the “Eminent Domain Action”), by filing a Declaration of Taking. (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A at 2-3). In support, Defendant PRA: (1) set forth in the Declaration of Taking the name and address of the condemnor; (2) identified §§ 9(i) and 12 of the Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Law of May 24, 1945, P.L. 991, as amended and supplemented, which authorized the condemnation of the Property (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, at 2); (3) filed Resolution No. 17, 168 (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, at 5) authorizing the Declaration of Taking; (4) explained that the purpose of the taking was to “acquire and replan the blighted area” described in the attached Ex. A for commercial, residential, and related uses (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, at 2-3); (5) filed a Notice of Condemnation and Condemnation Plan stating where the condemned area was located and could be inspected (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, at 3; Ex. B); (6) described the nature of the title acquired as “an absolute and fee simple title, including all easements, rights-of-way, and the real property interests of whatever nature” (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, at 3); and (7) filed a Bond securing just compensation for the Property (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A, at 10-11).

         Several years later, on October 15, 2018, Plaintiff filed an action to quiet title in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Defendant PRA due to an alleged fraudulent conveyance; No. 181001778. (ECF No. 26-2, Exs. G, H). In a sworn complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he “spent 16 years repairing an abandoned property” located at 5018 Chester Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and that Defendant PRA “refuse[d] to pay for labor cost for 16 years.” (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. G at 2-3). Plaintiff alleged that Ms. Adams and Councilwoman Blackwell had proof of his work that included pictures. (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. G at 3). As relief, Plaintiff claimed that he “want[ed] title due to 16 years of labor.” (Id.).

         Defendant PRA responded by filing a counterclaim against Plaintiff seeking an injunction, ejectment order, and monetary damages. (ECF No. 26-1, p. 4; see also ECF No. 26-2, Ex. H at 64-65). Defendant also filed a Petition for Preliminary Injunction, but Plaintiff discontinued the action on December 3, 2018 before a hearing on the Preliminary Injunction could be held. (ECF No. 26-1, pp. 4-5; see also ECF No. 26-2, Ex. H at 65-66).

         On January 9, 2019, Defendant PRA filed a Petition for Possession in the Eminent Domain Action. In re: Redevelopment Authority of City of Philadelphia, No. 030401046, Control No. 10911572 (Phila. Ct. Comm. Pleas, April Term, 2003). The Honorable Edward C. Wright issued an Order on March 6, 2019 authorizing Defendant PRA to file a writ of possession for the Property, directing service of the writ by the Sheriff of Philadelphia County, and directing delivery of the Property to Defendant PRA “as soon as possible after service of the writ of possession.” (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. A at 69). Two days later Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the March 6th Order that Judge Wright denied after a hearing attended by both Plaintiff and Defendant PRA. (ECF No. 26-1, p. 5; see also ECF No. 26-2, Ex. J). On July 3, 2019, Defendant PRA filed a Praecipe for Writ of Possession of the Property. In re: Redevelopment Authority of City of Philadelphia, No. 030401046, Docket Entry dated July 3, 2019.

         Prior to Defendant PRA filing its Praecipe for Writ of Possession, Plaintiff filed two actions against Defendant PRA in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. First, on May 20, 2019, Plaintiff filed a contract enforcement action; No. 190502059 (the “Contract Enforcement Action”). (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. K). In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that the Adams/Heller Email constituted an enforceable contract with the “housing and development” office within the City Council and that the Declaration of Taking filed by Defendant PRA, No. 030401046, was invalid because he was not afforded reasonable notice of a hearing on the matter or an opportunity to be heard. (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. K at 75-76).

         Defendant PRA filed preliminary objections to the Complaint (ECF No. 18, p. 171); see also In re: Redevelopment Authority of City of Philadelphia, No. 190502059, Docket Entry dated June 10, 2019. In the Preliminary Objections, Defendant PRA argued that it has owned the Property since filing its Declaration of Taking on April 14, 2003 and Plaintiff has been a trespasser since that date. (ECF No. 18, pp. 172-73). Defendant PRA asserted that it sent notices to the Property demanding that Plaintiff vacate the premises from May 2009 through November 2018, but Plaintiff refused to comply and interfered with Defendant PRA's ability to enter the Property. (ECF No. 18, pp. 173). Finally, Defendant PRA asserted that it had never entered into an Agreement with Plaintiff and the only means by which it could enter into any type of “redevelopment agreement” required compliance with Pennsylvania's Urban Redevelopment Law, including, in part, obtaining plan approvals by the Defendant PRA's Board and the City of Philadelphia. (ECF No. 18, pp. 175). None of Plaintiff's allegations included compliance with this law. (Id.). The Honorable Arnold L. New sustained the Preliminary Objections and dismissed the Complaint with prejudice. (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. M).

         Second, on the same date, May 20, 2019, Plaintiff also filed an action to quiet title due to an alleged fraudulent conveyance; No. 190501957 (the “Quiet Title Action”). (ECF No. 26-2, Ex. L). His claims were the exact same as those set forth in the Contract Enforcement Action. (Compare ECF No. 26-2, K, with ECF No. 26-2, Ex. L). On June 10, 2019, Defendant PRA filed Preliminary Objections to this Complaint raising the same objections set forth in the Contract Enforcement Action. In re: Redevelopment Authority of City of Philadelphia, No. 190501957, Docket Entry dated June 10, 2019. By Order dated July 8, 2019, the Honorable Paula Patrick sustained the ...


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