U.S. Bank v. Greenwalt

Docket Number1146 WDA 2022,J-S14036-23
Decision Date09 November 2023
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court


Appeal from the Order Entered September 1, 2022 In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County Civil Division at No(s) No. 482 of 2022

Benjamin D. Kohler, Esq.




William O. Greenwalt and Patricia Greenwalt (Appellants) appeal from the September 1, 2022 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County (trial court) granting Appellee's motion for summary judgment in this ejectment action. We affirm.

We glean the following facts from the certified record. Following a mortgage foreclosure action instituted by Appellee, it purchased the property at 52 Circle Drive, Irwin, Pennsylvania (the Property) at a sheriff's sale in March of 2020. The deed for the sale was recorded on June 5, 2020. In December of 2021, Appellee served a notice to vacate the Property on Appellants, followed by a complaint in ejectment in February of 2022. Appellants filed a response averring that Appellee had not proven its chain of title in the Property or standing to initiate the action. In all other respects, they admitted the allegations in the complaint.

On May 26, 2022, Appellee filed a motion for summary judgment and supporting brief, which it served on Appellants. It argued that summary judgment was appropriate because it had established ownership of the Property based on the recorded deed, served Appellants a notice to vacate and filed a complaint in ejectment to which Appellants did not raise any cognizable defenses. Thus, it contended it was entitled to immediate possession of the Property.

The trial court issued a scheduling order for argument on the motion on June 6, 2022. Per local rule, Appellee was required to serve the scheduling order, along with its motion for summary judgment and brief, on Appellants within three days. See Westmoreland Civ. P. Rule W1035.2(a)(1)(d). Appellants filed their response to the motion for summary judgment on June 24, 2022. They argued that there was a gap in the chain of title for the Property and that Appellee had no standing to bring the ejectment action. They also argued that the motion should be dismissed because Appellee did not serve the scheduling order or file a certificate of service in violation of the local rule. Appellee subsequently served the scheduling order on Appellants on June 27, 2022, and filed a supplemental brief in response to Appellants' arguments.

Oral argument took place as scheduled in the order on August 31, 2022. The following day, the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and entered judgment for possession of the Property in favor of Appellee. Appellants timely appealed and they and the trial court have complied with Pa. R.A.P. 1925.[1]

Appellants raise two issues on appeal.[2] First, they contend that Appellee has not established chain of title in the Property or standing to bring the action against them. Second, they argue that the trial court was required to dismiss the motion for summary judgment based on Appellee's failure to comply with the local rule regarding service of the scheduling order. No relief is due.

"Summary judgment is appropriate only in those cases where the record clearly demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Atcovitz v. Gulph Mills Tennis Club, Inc., 812 A.2d 1218, 1221 (Pa. 2002); Pa. R.C.P. No. 1035.2. When considering a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must construe all facts of record and make all reasonable inferences in the light that most favors the non-moving party. See Toy v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 928 A.2d 186, 195 (Pa. 2007). Any question as to whether there is a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party. Id. For the purposes of summary judgment, the record includes pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits and expert reports. Pa. R. Civ. P. 1035.1, 1035.4.

In their first claim, Appellants contend that a gap in Appellee's chain of title is fatal to its ejectment claim:

[Appellee] has a gap in the chain of title. The mortgage was originally in the name of The CIT Group/Consumer Finance and was assigned to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (hereinafter known as MERS). Then [Appellee] filed the Complaint in Mortgage Foreclosure, purchased the property at Sheriff's Sale and filed the Complaint in Ejectment. No assignment was ever recorded from MERS to the Mortgage Company.

Appellants' Brief at 6. The precise basis for Appellants' argument is difficult to discern, but, citing to non-binding precedent from myriad foreign jurisdictions, they appear to argue that Appellee lacked standing to initiate the action.[3]

We have summarized the law governing ejectment actions as follows:

Ejectment is an action filed by a plaintiff who does not possess the land but has a right to possess it, against a defendant who has actual possession. Ejectment is a possessory action only, and can succeed only if the plaintiff is out of possession, and the plaintiff has a present right to immediate possession. . . .
Therefore, to prevail in an ejectment action, the plaintiff must show title at the commencement of the action and can recover, if at all, only on the strength of his own title, not because of weakness or deficiency of title in the defendant. If a plaintiff in ejectment has presented at trial prima facie evidence that it has title to the property at issue, the burden then shifts to the defendant, unless the plaintiff's proof necessarily defeats the plaintiff's claim of title. Conversely, if the plaintiff's claimed chain of title is faulty, the plaintiff has not shown a prima facie case, and the plaintiff's ejectment case fails.

Becker v. Wishard, 202 A.3d 718, 721-22 (Pa. Super. 2019) (citations omitted; cleaned up). "This rule places upon the plaintiff the burden of proving a prima facie title, which proof is sufficient until a better title is shown in the adverse party." Hallman v. Turns, 482 A.2d 1284, 1287 (Pa. Super. 1984). An acknowledged and recorded deed from a sheriff's sale establishes a right of possession for the purchaser. See Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Long, 934 A.2d 76, 80 (Pa. Super. 2007) (collecting cases).

Here, Appellee met its burden of establishing prima facie evidence of its title to the Property and immediate right of possession through its properly recorded deed obtained via sheriff's sale following the mortgage foreclosure proceedings. The deed was attached to the complaint in ejectment and the motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the burden of disproving Appellee's right of possession shifted to Appellants. Becker, supra. Appellants have not carried this burden. They provided no evidence, documentary or otherwise, of a gap in the chain of title in any of their pleadings in the trial court. Rather, their response to Appellee's motion for summary judgment contained a bare allegation that such a gap existed. These allegations are insufficient to rebut Appellee's claim of title to the Property as established by the sheriff's deed, and the trial court did not err in concluding no genuine issue of material fact existed as to Appellee's right of possession of the Property.

Moreover, even if a gap in the chain of title existed, it is undisputed that Appellants cannot establish their own title in the Property. Hallman, supra. In their verified answer, they admitted to the allegation in Appellee's complaint that they occupy the Property "without right" and "without claim of title." See Answer to Complaint in Ejectment, 3/28/22, at ¶ 2; Complaint in Ejectment, 2/9/22, at ¶ 2. As a result, they cannot claim their right of possession is superior to Appellee's, as deedholder to the Property.

Next, Appellants argue that the trial court was required to dismiss Appellee's motion based on its noncompliance with local rule W1035.2(a) governing motions for summary judgment. The rule provides in relevant part:

(d)Within three (3) days of receipt of the Scheduling Order from the judge assigned to the case, the moving party shall serve copies of the Motion for Summary Judgment, the Scheduling Order and the Brief on every other party or attorney of record.
(e)The moving party shall file with the Prothonotary a certificate of service of the Motion, Brief and Scheduling Order. A copy of the certificate of service shall be mailed or delivered to the judge assigned to the case.

Westmoreland Civ. P. Rule W1035.2(a)(1)(d)-(e). "Failure of the moving party to comply with the requirements of this rule shall result in the dismissal of the Motion." Westmoreland Civ. P. Rule W1035.2(a)(3)(a).

Notwithstanding the mandatory nature of the language of the Rule, "[i]t is axiomatic that if a...

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