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City of Philadelphia v. Hart

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

January 3, 2020

City of Philadelphia
v.
Darren Hart Appeal of: Omont Wiggins City of Philadelphia, Appellant
v.
Darren Hart

          Argued: November 14, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE ELLEN CEISLER, Judge HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Senior Judge

          OPINION

          P. KEVIN BROBSON, JUDGE

         Appellants City of Philadelphia (City) and Omont Wiggins (Wiggins) appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court), dated January 30, 2018, which granted the amended petition to set aside a tax sale of real property filed by Appellee Darren Hart (Hart). The City conducted the tax sale pursuant to what is commonly referred to as the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act, Act of May 16, 1923, P.L. 207, as amended, 53 P.S. §§ 7101-7505 (MCTLA). For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the trial court's order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We previously summarized the undisputed background facts of this case in our unreported decision Hart v. Bulldawg LLC (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 107 C.D. 2016, filed February 14, 2017) (Hart):[1]

The underlying dispute involves delinquent real estate taxes beginning with the 2011 tax year for property located at 26 Apsley Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the Property). Hart purchased the Property in 2013 for $20, 000.
On July 21, 2014, the City petitioned the trial court for a rule to show cause why the Property should not be sold free and clear of all encumbrances at a sheriff's sale pursuant to the MCTLA for unpaid real estate taxes. On September 18, 2014, the trial court granted the City's petition and issued a rule to show cause why a decree should not be entered permitting the sale of the Property free and clear of all liens and encumbrances. On October 31, 2014, the City filed an affidavit of sheriff's service, stating that the Property had been posted with notice of the petition and rule to show cause. The City also filed an affidavit of service, stating that the petition and rule to show cause had been sent by certified and first class mail to Hart. After receiving no response, the trial court issued a decree on December 31, 2014, permitting the City to sell the Property at a sheriff's sale. On January 29, 2015, the City served Hart with notice of the sheriff's sale. On February 18, 2015, the Property was sold at the sheriff's sale. The only bidder, Bulldawg LLC, purchased the Property for the amount of $1, 100.
On March 10, 2015, Hart filed a petition to set aside the sheriff's sale, alleging he did not receive notice from the posting, first class mail, or certified mail. On March 20, 2015, the sheriff's deed was acknowledged. On March 27, 2015, the City filed an answer to Hart's petition to set aside. The City attached to its answer a certified mail receipt[, ] which indicated that delivery of the petition and rule to show cause was made to Hart's address and included Hart's signature. Then on April 1, 2015, the sheriff's deed reflecting Bulldawg LLC's ownership of the Property was recorded.
On April 13, 2015, Hart amended his petition to set aside the sheriff's sale. In his amended petition, Hart argued first that Bulldawg LLC installed a security gate while trespassing on the Property, preventing Hart from entering the Property. Hart also argued that the fair market value of the Property exceeds $78, 000 and that the bid price of $1, 100 at the sheriff's sale was grossly inadequate. Hart argued that, in light of the trespass and gross inadequacy of the bid price, failure to set aside the sheriff's sale would "constitute a gross miscarriage of equitable justice." In his amended petition to set aside, Hart did not contest notice.
On May 4, 2015, the City filed an answer to Hart's amended petition. The City argued that it would be prejudiced if the sale was set aside and that there was no indication that Hart would pay the delinquent taxes that he failed to pay in the past.
The trial court held a hearing on the amended petition to set aside on June 9, 2015. At the hearing, Hart testified that he was willing to pay the delinquent taxes or enter into a payment plan if the sale was set aside. Hart also reiterated the argument that the bid price was approximately 2% of the fair market value of the Property and, thus, was grossly inadequate. Hart, by his attorney, argued that "for sales less than [10%], that has typically been found to be grossly inadequate." Hart testified that the bulk of the money due was for an unpaid water bill. The City's attorney refuted Hart's contention that this case originated from a water bill and stated that there is a separate procedure for unpaid water bills-thus the matter before the trial court was exclusively a result of delinquent taxes. The City also argued that Hart was not entitled to relief from the sale under the MCTLA.
The trial court's order, dated June 15, 2015, denied Hart's [amended] petition to set aside the tax sale. In an opinion dated October 7, 2015, the trial court reasoned that, despite the low bid price of $1, 100 in comparison to the alleged fair market value of $78, 000 [to $100, 000], Hart did not offer evidence to support the alleged fair market value. Specifically, the trial court noted that while Hart attached supporting documents to his pleadings, Hart did not introduce any evidence at the hearing regarding the alleged gross inadequacy of the bid price compared to the fair market value. The trial court also noted that, pursuant to Rule 3132 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, it was unable to set aside the ...

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