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12/04/90 ROSCOE L. JONES v. DISTRICT COLUMBIA

December 4, 1990

ROSCOE L. JONES, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., Motions Judge

Steadman, Schwelb and Wagner, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

After appellants failed for several years to pay real estate taxes on an apartment building in northwest Washington, D.C. which they then owned, the property was sold at a tax sale. Appellants filed suit in the Superior Court to set aside the sale, alleging that there had been a number of constitutional and other short-comings in the proceedings. The District filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the motions Judge. We affirm.

I

Appellants challenge the constitutionality of the District's statutory scheme governing tax sales of real property. See D.C. Code §§ 47-1301, -1319 (1990). Relying on Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791, 77 L. Ed. 2d 180, 103 S. Ct. 2706 (1983), in which the Supreme Court invalidated a comparable scheme *fn1 in the State of Indiana, they claim that the sale was unconstitutional because the holders of mortgages on the property did not receive adequate notice.

In Mennonite, however, the complaining parties were the mortgagees, who claimed that they had been denied the notice which they had a constitutional right to receive. In the present case, appellants' complaint relates to the lack of notice to third parties who are strangers to the suit. Appellants have proffered no facts in their opposition to the District's motion for summary judgment which would support the notion that they would have received any concrete benefit if notice had been provided to the mortgagees prior to the tax sale. In the absence of injury to themselves fairly traceable to the alleged constitutional violation, appellants lack standing to complain of it; they cannot assert the constitutional rights of parties not in privity with them, *fn2 who have articulated no grievance. United States v. Payner, 447 U.S. 727, 731-32, 65 L. Ed. 2d 468, 100 S. Ct. 2439 (1980); Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 112-18, 49 L. Ed. 2d 826, 96 S. Ct. 2868 (1976). Accordingly, we agree with the motions Judge that appellants lack standing to assert this claim.

II

Notice of the tax sale in this case was published once in each of two newspapers, the Washington Post and the Afro-American. Appellants claim that the sale was defective because the applicable statute and regulation should have been construed to require two publications in each newspaper. We disagree.

The applicable statutory provision which contains the publication requirement is D.C. Code § 47-1301 (1990). That section reads in pertinent part as follows:

Appellants contend that the words "published in the District, once every 2 weeks or more frequently" refer to the notice, rather than to the newspapers in which the notice is published, and that the statute therefore requires a total of four publications. This syntactically strained construction is at odds with the regulation in effect at the time of publication and with pertinent legislative history.

The sale was advertised in 1984. At that time the applicable regulation, 9 DCMR § 316.2 (1984), specified that

the notice of sale . . . shall be advertised once in two (2) general circulation newspapers published once every (2) weeks or more frequently.

(Emphasis added). The italicized language leaves no doubt that a single publication in each of two newspapers is adequate.

Since § 47-1301, quoted above, provides that the notice of sale is to be advertised "according to regulations prescribed by the Council of the District of Columbia," and since the advertising here complied with the regulation then in effect, we have no doubt that it also complied with the statute. This is not a case like Tenants of 738 Longfellow St., N.W. v. District of Columbia Rental Housing Comm'n, 575 ...


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