In re City of Pittsburgh Treasurer's Sale of Properties for Delinquent Taxes, 110119 PACCA, 897 C.D. 2017

Docket Nº:897 C.D. 2017
Opinion Judge:CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, JUDGE.
Party Name:In Re: City of Pittsburgh Treasurer's Sale of Properties for Delinquent Taxes - October 25, 2013 v. City of Pittsburgh and Beth Cronin Henrieta Pisztora, Mary Alice Sturm and Stephen W. Sturm, husband and wife, Gregory J. Walsh and Marianne B. Walsh Appeal of: Henrieta Pisztora, Mary Alice Sturm, Stephen W. Sturm, Gregory J. Walsh and Marianne ...
Judge Panel:BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge COHN JUBELIRER JUDGE Pre...
Case Date:November 01, 2019
Court:Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
 
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In Re: City of Pittsburgh Treasurer's Sale of Properties for Delinquent Taxes - October 25, 2013

Henrieta Pisztora, Mary Alice Sturm and Stephen W. Sturm, husband and wife, Gregory J. Walsh and Marianne B. Walsh

v.

City of Pittsburgh and Beth Cronin

Appeal of: Henrieta Pisztora, Mary Alice Sturm, Stephen W. Sturm, Gregory J. Walsh and Marianne B. Walsh

No. 897 C.D. 2017

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 1, 2019

OPINION NOT REPORTED

Argued: May 8, 2019

BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge [1] HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, JUDGE.

Henrieta Pisztora, Mary Alice Sturm, Stephen W. Sturm, Gregory J. Walsh, and Marianne B. Walsh (collectively, Appellants) appeal from a June 7, 2017 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) dismissing Appellants' case. To the extent the trial court dismissed Appellants' case as untimely, we affirm.

This case involves a treasurer's sale, in which the City of Pittsburgh (City), pursuant to the Second Class City Treasurer's Sale and Collection Act2(Treasurer's Sale Act), sold a private street and private alleyway that had been laid out in a plan of lots to Beth Cronin (Cronin) due to unpaid real estate taxes.3 The facts of this case are largely drawn from the Stipulation of Facts entered into by the parties, except where otherwise indicated. See Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 1081a-87a.

FACTUAL HISTORY

On or about March 24, 1930, husband and wife John J. Coyne and Mary Coyne filed the Coyne Plan of Lots (Coyne Plan) with the City, which subdivided 2.5 acres into 28 lots (Coyne Terrace). Stipulation of Facts ¶ 7, R.R. at 1083a; Coyne Plan, R.R. at 1018a. Coyne Terrace is bisected by a 40-foot-wide private road. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 8, R.R. at 1083a. The private road is marked "private" on the Coyne Plan. See Coyne Plan, R.R. at 1018a. The Coyne Plan also includes a 10-foot by 90.53-foot alleyway (Private Alleyway). Stipulation of Facts ¶¶ 9 & 12, R.R. at 1083a-84a. The Coyne Plan shows that the Private Alleyway, which abuts the southeastern part of the private road, was only accessible from the private road. See Coyne Plan, R.R. at 1018a.

"On August 11, 1948, City Ordinance 334 opened the section of Coyne Terrace from Lydia Street to a point 97.46 [feet] west of Winterburn Avenue," thereby making this section a public street.4 Stipulation of Facts ¶ 10, R.R. at 1083a-84a. "The remainder of Coyne Terrace remained a [p]rivate [s]treet." Stipulation of Facts ¶ 11, R.R. at 1084a. The City never accepted the remainder of the private road (which remainder is referred to herein as the Private Street) and the Private Alleyway for public use.5 Stipulation of Facts ¶ 16, R.R. at 1084a. (The Private Street and the Private Alleyway are sometimes collectively referred to herein as the Subject Property.)

Appellants are owners of lots within the Coyne Plan. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 13, R.R. at 1084a. Appellant Henrieta Pisztora (Pisztora) owns and resides at 4144 Winterburn Avenue. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 1, R.R. at 1082a. Appellants Stephen W. Sturm and Mary Alice Sturm (together, Sturms) own and reside at 4146 Winterburn Avenue. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 2, R.R. at 1083a. Appellants Gregory J. Walsh and Marianne B. Walsh (together, Walshes) own and reside at 542 Coyne Terrace. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 3, R.R. at 1083a. Pisztora's property abuts both the Private Street and the Private Alleyway. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 14, R.R. at 1084a. (Pisztora's parcel apparently is adjacent to the Private Street to the south.) The properties of the other Appellants "are adjacent to and/or abut the Private Alley[w]ay." Stipulation of Facts ¶ 15, R.R. at 1084a. Cronin owns and resides at 4136 Winterburn Avenue. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 6, R.R. at 1083a. (Cronin's parcel apparently is adjacent to the Private Street to the north.)

On October 25, 2013, pursuant to the Treasurer's Sale Act, the City exposed the entire Subject Property for sale at a treasurer's sale. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 17, R.R. at 1084a. Prior to the sale, the City sent written notice of the treasurer's sale to individuals with the names John Coyne or Mary Coyne.6 Stipulation of Facts ¶ 18, R.R. at 1084a. The City did not send written notice of the treasurer's sale to Appellants. Stipulation of Facts ¶ 19, R.R. at 1084a. At the treasurer's sale on October 25, 2013, Cronin purchased the Subject Property. See Original Record (O.R.) Item 2, Return of Sale at 4.

More than two years later, on or about December 30, 2015, Appellants served a Petition for Rule to Show Cause (Petition) on the City and Cronin seeking to void the treasurer's sale of the Subject Property and to strike the deed the City issued to Cronin. Petition ¶ 26 & Wherefore Clause, R.R. at 1009a-10a; 12/30/15 Trial Court Docket Entry, R.R. at 1395a. Despite the Subject Property being marked "private," Appellants alleged that the Subject Property was laid out on the Coyne Plan to be dedicated for public use, but that the City never accepted the dedication. Petition ¶ 16, R.R. at 1008a. Relying on section 1 of the Act of May 9, 1889, P.L. 173, 36 P.S. § 1961 (Section 1961), Appellants alleged that because the City did not accept the Subject Property for public use within 21 years after it was laid out on the Coyne Plan, Appellants, as abutting landowners, "were and are entitled to take legal title to the center line of the [Private Street and Private Alleyway], which abut their respective properties."7 Petition ¶¶ 14-19, R.R. at 1008a-09a. Section 102 of the Treasurer's Sale Act defines an interested party as "[a] person who has an interest of record in the property." 53 P.S. § 27102. Appellants claimed that as "interested parties" and legal title owners of the Private Street and/or the Private Alleyway, 8 the City was required to give Appellants notice of the treasurer's sale of the Subject Property by written certified mail. Petition ¶¶ 21-22 & 25, R.R. at 1009a. Appellants alleged that the City failed to provide such notice, and consequently, the treasurer's sale of the Subject Property was void and the deed to Cronin should be stricken. Petition ¶¶ 22, 24 & 26, R.R. at 1009a. Appellants further alleged that due process of law, as guaranteed by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, requires at a minimum that as owners of land, Appellants were entitled to actual notice of the treasurer's sale before they forfeited their interest in the Subject Property and that the City did not take reasonable efforts to effect actual notice. Petition ¶ 23, R.R. at 1009a.

On January 5, 2016, the trial court issued a Rule upon all parties to show cause why the treasurer's sale of the Subject Property on October 25, 2013 should be deemed void and the deed issued to Cronin stricken. 1/5/16 Trial Court Docket Entry, R.R. at 1459a. The City and Cronin each answered and filed New Matter, which the City subsequently amended, R.R. at 1024a-42a, and Appellants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. R.R. at 1189a-1215a.

On May 12, 2017, the City and Cronin each filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of the case for, among other things, lack of jurisdiction. R.R. at 1281a-92a & 1393a. The City argued that under Section 303 of the Treasurer's Sale Act, 53 P.S. § 27303, Appellants had 30 days from the date of the treasurer's sale to appeal the sale; Appellants failed to do so, so the trial court was without jurisdiction to hear the appeal. City's Motion to Dismiss ¶¶ 17 & 19, R.R. at 1289a. The City further noted that Appellants failed to avail themselves of an appeal nunc pro tunc and asserted that Appellants were not entitled to nunc pro tunc relief, as Appellants did not proceed with reasonable diligence in prosecuting their appeal. City's Motion to Dismiss ¶¶ 18-25, R.R. at 1289a-90a. In particular, the City claimed Pisztora knew of the treasurer's sale by at least August 1, 2014, when she retained counsel and sent a letter to Cronin. City's Motion to Dismiss ¶ 22, R.R. at 1290a. The City and Cronin claimed that the other Appellants signed a petition on November 15, 2014, requesting that the City rescind the treasurer's sale of the Subject Property. City's Motion to Dismiss ¶ 23, R.R. at 1290a. Additionally, the City alleged that Appellants Pisztora and Stephen Sturm were interviewed by television reporter Andy Sheehan regarding this matter on July 21, 2015. City's Motion to Dismiss ¶ 24, R.R. at 1290a; see Trial Court Opinion at 4 (referring to television station interview). Yet, the City points out that none of Appellants filed an appeal or sought nunc pro tunc relief.

In opposition to the...

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