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City of Philadelphia v. Jones

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 20, 2019

City of Philadelphia
v.
Rasheen Jones, Appellant

          Submitted: August 23, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge, HONORABLE ELLEN CEISLER, Judge.

          OPINION

          ANNE E. COVEY, JUDGE.

         Rasheen Jones (Jones) appeals, pro se, [1] from the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court's (trial court) June 14, 2018 order denying his Petition to Open, Strike, Stay or Set Aside Sheriff's Sale and Deed Arising From Tax Sale (Petition). Jones essentially presents two issues for this Court's review: (1) whether the trial court erred by concluding that the City of Philadelphia (City) properly served him with notice before selling his property located at 1225 West Hazzard Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19133 (Property) at sheriff's sale; and (2) whether the trial court erred by concluding that the notice requirements in Section 39.2 of what is commonly referred to as the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act (MCTLA)[2]satisfied his due process rights.[3] The City presents two additional issues: (3) whether the trial court had jurisdiction to consider Jones's claims; and (4) whether Jones had standing to challenge notice. After review, we affirm.

         Background

         The facts of this case are undisputed. Jones has owned the Property since 2012. On December 27, 2016, the City filed a Petition for Rule to Show Cause Why the Property Should Not Be Sold Free and Clear of All Liens and Encumbrances (Tax Claim) in the trial court against Jones for the Property's $2, 633.65 in unpaid real estate taxes, penalties, interest, fees and costs. See Original Record (O.R.) Item 2. Attached to the Tax Claim was a tax information certificate (TIC) listing Jones as the Property's owner, and reflecting that Jones's deed address was P.O. Box 14132, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19101 (Record Address).[4] See Amended Reproduced Record (R.R.)[5] at C-12 - C-13. Attached to the TIC and incorporated therein by reference was the City's "MC Open Judgment Index" (Index) listing numerous claims against 10 City properties owned by a "Rasheen Jones." R.R. at C-14 - C-21. On the same date, the trial court entered a rule returnable (Rule) for a February 27, 2017 hearing and ordered the City to serve the Tax Claim upon Jones in accordance with Section 39.2 of the MCTLA. See O.R. Item 2 at 11.

         On February 7, 2017, the City filed an affidavit evidencing that the Tax Claim and the Rule were served on January 26, 2017 by regular (first class) and certified mail, return receipt requested to Jones at: (1) the Record Address; (2) P.O. Box 14132, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19138;[6] and (3) the Property.[7] See R.R. at A-8. On February 23, 2017, the City filed an affidavit reflecting that the Tax Claim and the Rule were posted on the Property's front door on January 24, 2017. See R.R. at A-10. The mailings were returned to the City as undeliverable. Jones did not respond to the Tax Claim or appear at the February 27, 2017 hearing.

         The trial court held the hearing on February 27, 2017, and entered an Assessment of Damages Order and Decree Ordering that the Property be Sold at Sheriff's Sale (Decree).[8] See R.R. at A-12 - A-15. The sheriff's sale was scheduled for May 16, 2017. On April 13, 2017, the City filed an affidavit reflecting that it sent the Decree and sheriff's sale notice by regular mail to Jones at: (1) the Record Address; (2) P.O. Box 14132, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19138; and (3) the Property.[9] See R.R. at A-17 - A-19.

         On June 2, 2017, because there were no bids, the City continued the May 16, 2017 sheriff's sale until June 20, 2017. See R.R. at A-21. On June 20, 2017, Credit Medics purchased the Property at sheriff's sale for $8, 500.00. See O.R. Item 9 at 13. Credit Medics subsequently assigned the Property to Ione Drummond Williams (Williams), who completed the sale, and the sheriff acknowledged the deed on July 12, 2017. See R.R. at A-1 - A-6.

         Jones filed the Petition on January 31, 2018, claiming therein that he never resided at the Property, that he did not receive notice at the Property or by mail, that the Record Address "was terminated at the time of the attempted service[, ]" and that his correct address is 6443 Malvern Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19151 (Malvern Avenue Address). R.R. at B-3. Jones asserted that, since his Malvern Avenue Address was on record with the City relative to his business license and other properties for which he receives tax notices, if the City had taken reasonable additional steps to locate him, it would have discovered that address. The City responded to the Petition the same day, declaring that it properly served the Tax Claim on Jones pursuant to the MCTLA, that Jones failed to update his address with the City's Office of Property Assessment, and that the Petition was late-filed. On February 23, 2018, the trial court issued a rule returnable for an April 4, 2018 hearing. See O.R. Items 10, 14. At Jones's request, the hearing was rescheduled for April 19, 2018. See O.R. Items 11-13.

         At the April 19, 2018 hearing, the City argued that the MCTLA requires only that it send notice to the address on the TIC, which the City did in this case. The City also stated that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because Jones filed the Petition more than three months late. Jones's counsel countered that, since the TIC upon which the City relied referenced "JUDGMENTS: (8 pages) See Attached[, ]" the City was obligated to send Jones notice at all of the addresses listed on the Index, which included the Malvern Avenue Address. R.R. at C-12. On April 19, 2018, the trial court continued the hearing to June 14, 2018. See O.R. Item 15.

         On June 14, 2018, the parties reiterated their arguments, and the City added that since Jones failed to ensure that his Malvern Avenue Address was accurately registered pursuant to Section 39.1 of the MCTLA, [10] he lacked standing under the MCTLA to object. Jones presented a copy of the Index, his Commercial Activity License reflecting the Malvern Avenue Address, see R.R. at C-23, and the valuation history for the Malvern Avenue Address. See R.R. at C-25. That same day, the trial court denied the Petition.[11] See R.R. at F-1. On July 13, 2018, Jones timely appealed from the trial court's order to this Court.[12] The trial court filed its opinion on September 24, 2018, stating therein that it denied the Petition because it was untimely filed, Jones lacked standing to challenge notice, the City properly served Jones, and the MCTLA does not violate Jones's constitutional rights. See R.R. at F-2 - F-17.

         Discussion

         1. Timeliness

         Section 39.3 of the MCTLA[13] directs:

All parties wishing to contest the validity of any sale conducted pursuant to [S]ection 31.2 of [the MCTLA (relating to City tax claims)[14], including the sufficiency of any notice, and any party claiming to have an interest in the premises which was not discharged by the sale must file a petition seeking to overturn the sale or to establish the interest within three months of the acknowledgment of the deed to the premises by the sheriff.

53 P.S. § 7193.3 (emphasis added).

         In the instant matter, the sheriff acknowledged the deed on July 12, 2017. Pursuant to Section 39.3 of the MCTLA, Jones had until October 12, 2017 to timely file the Petition. Jones filed his Petition on January 31, 2018, more than six months after the sheriff's acknowledgement. Because the Petition was not timely filed, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to act.

         2. Standing [15]

Initially, standing is expressly defined and limited by [S]ection[] 39.2(a) and (b) of the MCTLA, see Petty v. Hosp[.] Serv[.] Ass[']n of N[e.] P[a.], . . . 23 A.3d 1004, 1008 ([Pa.] 2011) ('[S]tanding . . . is governed by the statute itself'), which set[s] forth the only notice requirements 'before a court may enter a decree ordering a tax sale.' 53 P.S. § 7193.2(b).

U.S. Nat'l Bank Ass'n v. United Hands Cmty. Land Tr., 129 A.3d 627, 637 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015). Section 39.2(b) of the MCTLA provides:

No party whose interest did not appear on a title search, title insurance policy or [TIC] or who failed to accurately register his interest and address . . . shall have standing to complain of improper notice if the [C]ity shall have complied with subsection (a) of this section. This provision shall not apply if the mortgage or interest was otherwise properly recorded in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds and the document contains a current address sufficient to satisfy the notice requirements of this section. Notwithstanding any other requirement set forth in this [MCTLA] or any other law to the contrary, the notice required by subsection (a) of this section shall constitute the only notice required before a court may enter a decree ordering a tax sale.

53 P.S. § 7193.2(b) (emphasis added). Therefore, in order to assess whether Jones had standing, this Court must first determine that the City strictly complied with Section 39.2(a) of the MCTLA.

         Section 39.2(a) of the MCTLA states, in pertinent part:

In cities of the first class, [16] notice of a rule to show cause why a property should not be sold free and clear of all encumbrances . . . shall be served by the claimant upon owners, mortgagees, holders of ground rents, liens and charges or estates of whatsoever kind as follows:
(1) By posting a true and correct copy of the petition and rule on the most public part of the property;
(2) By mailing by first class mail to the address registered by any interested party pursuant to [S]ection 39.1 of [the MCTLA] a true and correct copy of the petition and rule; and
(3) By reviewing a title search, title insurance policy or [TIC] that identifies interested parties of record who have not registered their addresses . . ., the [C]ity shall mail by first class mail and either by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by registered mail to such addresses as appear on the respective ...

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