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08/02/93 CHARLES I. SHEETZ v. DISTRICT COLUMBIA

August 2, 1993

CHARLES I. SHEETZ, ET AL, APPELLANTS
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge)

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Ferren and Schwelb, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

SCHWELB, Associate Judge : Appellants, Charles I. Sheetz and Margareta Anne Miller, co-representatives of the estate of Margaret Parker Sheetz, filed suit in our Superior Court to set aside a tax sale of real property formerly owned by Mrs. Sheetz. They contended that the sale had not been conducted in strict compliance with the requirements of the tax sale statute and regulations. *fn1 The trial Judge granted motions of the District and of the purchasers at the tax sale for summary judgment, concluding that the regulation on which the appellants relied was inconsistent with the applicable statute. We affirm on the ground that the regulation was incorrectly printed in the compilation known as the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR), and that the requirement with which the District allegedly failed to comply was never lawfully in effect.

I.

THE FACTS

This case involves an attempt by appellants to set aside the 1987 and 1988 tax sales of property located at 1420 Potomac Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. The only challenge to the sales by the former owners, whose interests were terminated by the sales, concerns the sufficiency of published notice of the sales. The notices were published once in each of two newspapers of general circulation. The former owners argue that regulations then in effect required two publications of notice in each of the newspapers. In granting summary judgment, the trial Judge held that "as a matter of law, . . . the published notice [of sale] was legally sufficient." [Mem. op. at 4.]

Margaret Parker Sheets, who owned the property at 1420 Potomac Avenue, S.E. at the time, did not pay District of Columbia real estate taxes for tax years 1986 and 1987. The District advertised the 1987 sale (for 1986 taxes) and the 1988 tax sale (for 1987 taxes) by publishing notice of each sale once in two newspapers of general circulation. The District met all other legal requirements for both sales, including mailed notice to the owner regarding each of the sales, and regarding the impending termination of each redemption period.

The former owners contend that the District was required to publish notice of each sale more than once in each of two newspapers of general circulation. They base their argument on 9 DCMR § 316.2 (July 1986), which arguably required more than a single publication of notices of sale. The version of § 316.2 published in the DCMR is substantially different from the version enacted by the Council of the District of Columbia in D.C. Law 5-8, 30 D.C. Reg. 1789 (May 20, 1983). The District's position is that the language enacted by the Council prevails, and that the version of the regulation erroneously published in July 1986 was never legally in effect. We agree with the District.

II.

THE RELEVANT STATUTES AND REGULATIONS

Prior to 1981, there were two daily newspapers in general circulation in the District of Columbia, the Washington Post and the Washington Star. At that time the applicable District of Columbia statute required that publication of notice of a tax sale be effected once in each of two daily newspapers published in the District. D.C. Code § 47-1001 (1973). The pre-Home Rule Council of the District of Columbia had also promulgated a regulation which required in pertinent part, consistently with § 47-1001, that "a notice of sale of such [delinquent tax] property shall he advertised once in two major daily newspapers published in the District of Columbia at least three weeks prior to the day fixed for such sale." D.C. Regulation No. 74-35, 21 D.C. Reg. 1643, 1653 (Dec. 12, 1974).

By 1981, the Washington Star had ceased publication. The Council found it necessary to amend § 47-1001 because, following the demise of the Star, only one major District of Columbia newspaper -- the Post -- was being published on a daily basis. This amendment was accomplished through the enactment of the Newspaper Publication Act of 1981, D.C. Law 4-81. See generally, Report of the Committee on the Judiciary on Bill 4-323, the Newspaper Publication Act of 1981, 29 D.C. Reg. 156 (Oct. 14, 1981). Section 5 of D.C. Law 4-81, now codified at D.C. Code § 1-1621 (1992), provides that

notwithstanding any other provisions of law, any other requirement that the District of Columbia publish notices in 2 daily newspapers shall be satisfied by publication in at least 2 general circulation newspapers, published in the District of Columbia, once every 2 weeks or more frequently.

(Emphasis added). Moreover, since its amendment by Section 5 of D.C. Law 4-81, former D.C. Code § 47-1001, now codified at D.C. Code § 47-1301 (1990), has ...


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