SUBMITTED: July 8, 2019
from the Order of the Superior Court entered March 9, 2018 at
No. 674 WDA 2017, affirming the Order of the Court of Common
Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, entered May 2,
2017 at LT No. 17-000259.
SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY,
discretionary appeal, we address whether a magisterial
district court had jurisdiction over a case proceeding under
the Landlord and Tenant Act,  where the plaintiff was the
purchaser of a property at a sheriff's sale and the
defendants were the property's former owners who refused
to leave, but where the parties did not have a
landlord-tenant relationship. We conclude the court did not
have jurisdiction, and so reverse and remand.
Jacqueline and Charles Reynolds were the owners and occupants
of residential property in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. After
they failed to pay real estate taxes on the property for many
years, Appellee Nissim Assouline purchased the property at a
sheriff's sale in 2015. Although the Reynoldses filed a
petition to set aside the sheriff's sale, the petition
was denied, and that determination was upheld on appeal.
See Bethel Park School District v. Reynolds, 2016 WL
3196682 (Pa. Cmwlth. filed June 9, 2016), appeal
denied, Bethel Park School District v.
Reynolds, 164 A.3d 454 (Pa. 2016) (order), cert.
denied, Reynolds v. Bethel Park School
District, 138 S.Ct. 109 (2017).
as we discuss below, there was not a landlord-tenant
relationship between the parties, on February 1, 2017,
Assouline filed an action, on a standard landlord/tenant
complaint form,  with a magisterial district judge
("MDJ") in Bethel Park, seeking unpaid
"rent" of $12, 000 and possession of the property.
Two weeks later, on February 15, 2017, the MDJ ruled in favor
of Assouline, on a form denominated "NOTICE OF
JUDGMENT/TRANSCRIPT Residential Lease," granting
Assouline possession of the property, as well as a judgment
in the amount of $12, 202.85, representing $12, 000.00 for
"rent in arrears" and $202.85 for filing fees.
the Reynoldses filed a praecipe for writ of
certiorari with the Court of Common Pleas of
Allegheny County; in that court, they filed a specification
of errors, alleging that the MDJ lacked subject matter
jurisdiction to resolve the dispute. They averred that there
was no lease agreement between the parties, that Assouline
was not a landlord, and that, therefore, the MDJ lacked
jurisdiction to entertain an eviction proceeding. The
Reynoldses did not specifically challenge the award of
monetary relief, but explicitly requested that the trial
court strike the order of possession. For his part, in his
response to the specification of errors, Assouline admitted
the Reynoldses' averments that there was no lease
agreement and that he was not a landlord.
single-page order dated May 2, 2017, the trial court denied
relief. The court recognized that there "appears to be
no contention" that there was a landlord-tenant
relationship between the parties. Trial Court Order,
5/2/2017. Nevertheless, the court concluded that
"whether characterized technically as a landlord/tenant
case, trespass case, or simple civil claim wherein the sum
demanded does not exceed $12, 000.00,  the [MDJ] was not
without jurisdiction to enter the February 15, 2017 judgment
for [Assouline]." Id.
Reynoldses appealed to the Superior Court, again challenging
the MDJ's jurisdiction over the matter. In response,
Assouline argued that the MDJ had jurisdiction as a matter
arising under the Landlord and Tenant Act, or as an action in
trespass. The Superior Court affirmed. Assouline v.
Reynolds, 184 A.3d 970 (Pa. Super. 2018).
Superior Court, like the trial court, recognized that the
parties "did not have a formal landlord/tenant
agreement" - indeed, Assouline conceded to the court
that "[t]here exists no landlord tenant relationship
between the parties." Nonetheless, the court determined that
the MDJ had jurisdiction over the proceedings under 42
Pa.C.S. § 1515(a)(2), which grants MDJs jurisdiction
over "[m]atters arising under" the Landlord and
Tenant Act. The court's reasoning in this regard was
based upon several disparate observations. First, the court
noted that, under the Act, "any person who acquires
title to real property by descent or purchase shall be liable
to the same duties and shall have the same rights, powers and
remedies in relation to the property as the person from whom
title was acquired." Assouline, 184 A.3d at 973
(quoting 68 P.S. § 250.104). Second, it observed that,
also under the Act, "[i]n the case of a tenant whose
right of possession is not paramount to that of the purchaser
at a sheriff's or other judicial sale, the latter shall
have the right as a landlord to collect by assumpsit or to
distrain for rent from the date of the acknowledgment of his
deed." Id. (quoting 68 P.S. § 250.304).
Third, the court opined that, even without a lease agreement,
unjust enrichment was an available remedy under the
circumstances. Finally, the court recounted the generic
precept that an ejectment action is a possessory action only,
and, thus, can succeed only when the plaintiff is out of
possession. Id. (quoting Croyle v. Dellape,
832 A.2d 466, 476 (Pa. Super. 2003)).
explaining how these principles combined into a coherent
whole, the court reasoned that, "[t]aking all of these
legal concepts together," they led to the conclusion
that the MDJ had jurisdiction under the Act:
[I]t was previously determined that Assouline has proper
title over the subject property. Thus, he has the right to
possession. Furthermore, [the Reynoldses] were unjustly
enriched when they continued living at the residence in
question without any compensation to Assouline. Hence, there
was a contract implied in fact and Assouline was permitted to
file an action for ejectment and rental arrears in the
magisterial district court, in the same way a landlord would
Id. at 974.
noting, in the alternative, that MDJs have jurisdiction over
civil claims up to $12, 000 under 42 Pa.C.S. §
1515(a)(3), and that a trespass action provides a remedy for
a landowner upon whose property one intentionally remains,
id. (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts §
158), the court determined that the MDJ in this case had
jurisdiction on this basis as well, because "Appellants
remained on the land that was held in possession of
another." Id. Thus, in summing up, the court
stated that the MDJ had jurisdiction "over this trespass
action where the civil claim did not exceed $12, 000.00 and
Assouline was entitled to rent in arrears based upon unjust
enrichment and a contract implied in law." Id.
Reynoldses sought further review from this Court, which we
granted to address the following issue: "Whether the
Superior Court erred in determining that the magisterial
district court had subject matter jurisdiction where the
Appellee filed a landlord tenant action but there was no
landlord and no lease." Assouline v. Reynolds,
201 A.3d 152 (Pa. 2019) (order).
us, the Reynoldses renew their contention that the MDJ lacked
jurisdiction over this matter under the Landlord and Tenant
Act, "where there was no landlord and no lease."
Appellants' Brief at 4. Thus, they assert, the averments
required for a landlord-tenant complaint were unsustainable.
Id. at 14 (citing Pa.R.C.P.M.D.J. 503(C), which
requires, inter alia, that the "plaintiff is
the landlord" ...