Before Steadman, Glickman, and Washington, Associate Judges
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Rafael Diaz, Trial Judge)
Denise Caldwell, as the personal representative of the Estate of Eugene Caldwell, sued to set aside a tax deed issued to Associated Estates following the expiration of the statutory period allowed for redemption of property sold for failure to pay taxes. The trial court awarded summary judgment to Ms. Caldwell and voided the deed on the ground that the District of Columbia had failed to send by registered or certified mail a notice of the expiring redemption period to the record owner of the property, as the District was required to do by law. The court ruled that this failure could not be cured by a showing that Ms. Caldwell had actual knowledge of the Estate's redemption rights. The court conditioned reversion of the property to the Estate on repayment to Associated Estates of amounts it had paid for taxes and conveyance of the deed. The court refused to require the Estate to reimburse Associated Estates for expenditures that it had made to maintain and improve the property on the ground that such reimbursement was not authorized by the tax sale statute.
We affirm the trial court's award of summary judgment. We hold that actual notice of the imminent expiration of the statutory redemption period does not cure, or render harmless, the District's material failure to give notice in the manner required by law. In addition, we hold that in the absence of statutory authorization, a tax sale purchaser ordinarily is not entitled to be reimbursed for its maintenance and improvement expenditures when its tax deed is declared invalid. While equitable principles may entitle the tax sale purchaser to such reimbursement in some circumstances, those circumstances are not present in this case.
There is no dispute as to the material facts. Eugene Caldwell died in June 1995. Denise Caldwell was appointed to be the personal representative of his estate. At the time of his death, Eugene Caldwell owned real property located at 4312 3rd Street, N.W. in the District of Columbia. The following year, the District of Columbia asserted a lien against that property for unpaid 1995 taxes. The District acquired the lien itself at a sale held in July 1996, and later that year it packaged the lien with a large number of other delinquent tax liens and sold them in bulk to an entity known as the District TLC Trust 1996. See D.C. Code §§ 47-1303, 1303.04 (a), (b) (2001). The sale was evidenced by a tax lien certificate, which is required to recite the name of the record owner and the full amount of the lien, including penalties, interest, and costs accrued as of the date of the sale for each property. See D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (d). On August 13, 1997, the District TLC Trust sold the tax lien on the 4312 3rd Street property to Associated Estates for $1,119.51, the amount of the lien. *fn1 See D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (i).
Before a tax deed of ownership for the 4312 3rd Street property could be issued to Associated Estates, the District was required to notify the record owner of the property of the statutory right to redeem the property by paying the purchase price for the tax lien (with interest). See D.C. Code §§ 47-1303.04 (f)(1), -1304, -1306 (2001). This notice was required to be furnished "by registered or certified mail . . . at least 30 days in advance of expiration of the redemption period." D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (f)(1) (2001); see also 9 DCMR. § 317.3 (1998). Accordingly, on September 9, 1997, in purported compliance with these statutory requirements, the District sent a notice addressed to Eugene Caldwell at 4312 3rd Street, N.W., advising him that his statutory right to redeem the property would expire in thirty days. The District sent this notice, however, by what the parties have termed "regular" mail, not by registered or certified mail. The District did not send a redemption notice to Ms. Caldwell. *fn2
Ms. Caldwell did not seek to redeem the 4312 3rd Street property before the redemption period expired on October 9, 1997. Associated Estates then paid the District an additional $1,842.82, representing taxes assessed against the property for tax years 1996 and 1997. *fn3 The following month, on November 14, 1997, the District issued to Associated Estates a tax deed for the 4312 3rd Street property. Over the next several months, from November 1997 to August 1998, Associated Estates made over $20,000 worth of repairs and improvements to the property in anticipation of reselling it for a profit.
Ms. Caldwell learned of the issuance of the tax deed to Associated Estates in December 1997. Acting in her capacity as the personal representative of Eugene Caldwell's Estate, she sued the District in January 1998 to void the deed. She added Associated Estates as a defendant in early February 1998. *fn4
The trial court granted summary judgment to Ms. Caldwell and voided the tax deed on the ground that the District had failed to send notice of the imminent expiration of the redemption period by registered or certified mail, as required by law. The court ordered reversion of the 4312 3rd Street property to Eugene Caldwell's Estate, on condition that Associated Estates be reimbursed what it had paid in taxes and for conveyance of the property, with interest at the rate of 6% per annum. The court ruled that Associated Estates did not have a right to be reimbursed for its expenditures to maintain and improve the property.
Summary judgment is granted properly if no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See, e.g., Nader v. de Toledano, 408 A.2d 31, 41-42 (D.C. 1979). Associated Estates contends that it was improper for the trial court to grant summary judgment in this case, despite the District's failure to send notice of the expiring redemption period by registered or certified mail, because there existed a genuine issue as to whether Ms. Caldwell had actual notice of her redemption rights. Specifically, Associated Estates sought the opportunity to prove that Ms. Caldwell had complete control of and access to the 4312 3rd Street property, and that she received the notice that the District sent to Eugene Caldwell at that address by "regular" mail. In addition, Associated ...