PHILADELPHIA – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled on Thursday that a property-related sheriff’s sale conducted by the City Of Philadelphia to collect nearly a decade’s worth of delinquent taxes was lawful.
Affirming the earlier judgment of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the Commonwealth Court found the City could sell Simeon Robinson’s property located on Jefferson Street “free and clear of all liens and encumbrances based upon tax delinquencies, which, together with interest, penalties, and other charges, the trial court deemed to be $9,333.78 at the time it issued the order.”
The matter came before judges James Gardner Colins, Dan Pellegrini and P. Kevin Brobson of the Court, as Brobson wrote the Court’s opinion on the case.
On May 31, 2013, the City filed a Sale Petition to show why Robinson’s property should not be sold free and clear of all liens and encumbrances. The City argued it obtained tax liens for “delinquent taxes and related costs including penalties, interest, and attorneys’ fees, for the years 2003 through 2012 on the property.”
However, Robinson claims that the City “did not strictly comply with the requirements of what is commonly referred to as the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act.”
According to Sections 31.2 and 39.2 of the Act, the City may order property be sold at a sheriff’s sale to obtain judgment for municipal and tax claims, and that the City is required to post a Sale Petition and rule in the most prominent location on the property, and serve the Petition and rule upon the registered owner by first class mail.
On Oct. 10, 2013, Robinson filed an answer and new matter in response to the Sale Petition. In his new matter, Robinson raised questions relating to the Sale Petition on two primary grounds, that the effect of his then-pending claim in the City’s Board of Revision of Taxes in which he claimed the amount of delinquent taxes was erroneous, and that the Sale Petition process was flawed.
Robinson pointed to an initial May 31, 2013, order of the trial court that contained “an erroneous order date” of Oct. 11, 2011 and was purported to have been signed or issued by Judge Paul P. Panepinto. The City did not file an answer to Robinson’s new matter, and Robinson filed a “motion for an on the record objection to the City’s failure to respond to his new matter.”
The trial court’s final April 8, 2014, order declared that “the City’s damages from Robinson’s delinquent taxes totaled $9,333.78” and “that the property should be sold by sheriff’s sale without further advertisement to the highest bidder free and clear of all subordinate liens, encumbrances, claims, mortgages, ground rents, charges, and estates.”
Robinson filed a notice of appeal from that order, discussing four main issues:
-Whether the City properly served Robinson with the Sale Petition and rule;
-Whether the City was required to respond to the new matter Robinson included in his answer to the Sale Petition;
-Whether the clerical error contained in the May 31, 2013 rule returnable order effected the validity of the Sale Petition; and
-Whether “month-to-month property tax accounting fluctuations” Robinson identified resulted from billing methods and do not mean that the calculations are erroneous.
The trial court found Robinson’s claims to be “meritless," according to Brobson.
As to the claim of proper service, the Commonwealth Court determined Robinson appeared in the trial court at the time and place listed on the order, so proper service was effectuated.
Further, the Commonwealth Court ruled an amended order issued by the trial court rendered the clerical error involving Panepinto null and void.
Robinson’s other issue of the trial court allegedly “abusing its discretion” by not considering the City’s lack of response to his new matter in response to the Sale Petition was not considered by the Commonwealth Court.
However, Brobson and his colleagues on the Court expressed “concern” about the original trial court proceedings that took place.
“Indeed, we find it curious, if not troubling, that the City would proceed under the Act to sell real property without attaching to its petition or introducing at hearing evidence of a docketed tax lien(s) on the property in question,” Brobson said.
Brobson said the trial court’s findings of fact, appeared to be based on “a City-generated accounting of what the City contended are the amounts of delinquent taxes and related charges owed with respect to the property.”
“This document, however, was neither offered by the City nor admitted into the record by the trial court as evidence in support of the City’s Sale Petition. The trial court also appears to have given some consideration to a post-hearing communication from the City that, too, was never offered or admitted as evidence. None of these issues, however, have been raised by Robinson. Accordingly, they are not grounds upon which we can reverse or remand,” Brobson stated.
Brobson noted, however, that had this same record of proceedings occurred to another appellant who had secured their own counsel, the outcome appeal of the appeal may be different.
“Based upon our review of the issues we believe Robinson raised and preserved, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion. Accordingly, we will affirm the trial court’s order,” Brobson said.
The appellant represented himself in this matter.
The appellee is represented by Rosario A. Grifo, Paul Chung and David M. Krisch of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, in Phiadelphia.
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case 1763 C.D. 2014
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org