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Scoville Street Corp. v. District TLC Trust

September 2, 2004

SCOVILLE STREET CORPORATION, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT TLC TRUST, 1996,ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA3714-01) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge).

Before Wagner, Chief Judge and Farrell and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued June 10, 2004

This case involves a challenge to a tax deed issued by the District of Columbia government under D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (2001), after an agent of appellant Scoville Street Corporation ("Scoville") disclaimed any interest in the underlying property, and a default judgment was entered in behalf of appellee District TLC Trust, 1996 ("District TLC"). Scoville, which later sought to reclaim the property in question by bringing an action against District TLC and others, including the District of Columbia government, appeals from the trial court's order granting judgment in its lawsuit to appellees District TLC, et al., on their motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the court treated as a motion for summary judgment. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record on appeal shows that Scoville previously owned property located at 421 Massachusetts Avenue and 423 Massachusetts Avenue, in the Northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia. Scoville was once solely owned by Jerry Sills. During Jerry Sills' sole ownership, municipal liens were placed against both properties due to nonpayment of taxes for tax years 1992 through 1995. As a result of the unpaid liens, the properties were bid off and sold to the District of Columbia, which assigned its tax liens on both properties to District TLC in October 1996. Both tax lien certificates representing the assignments were recorded on November 20, 1996.

After Jerry Sills died in January 1996, his son, Kevin Sills, eventually became the manager of Scoville's properties. On March 6 and 7, 1997, Scoville was sent notice by certified mail that it had thirty days in which to pay the delinquent taxes and to redeem the respective properties, or to face foreclosure. When the taxes were not paid, District TLC filed separate but virtually identical civil actions against Scoville on June 4, 1997, seeking to foreclose on the tax liens for both properties, and to preclude Scoville "from all equity of redemption in and to" the properties.*fn2 Scoville did not lodge an answer to the complaint relating to the property at 423 Massachusetts Avenue that is the subject of the case before us. Rather, Kevin Sills, as agent for Scoville, filed a disclaimer in August 1997, which states in relevant part:

Defendant Kevin Sills, authorized agent on behalf of Scoville . . ., hereby disclaims any and all rights, title, interest, lien or claim in or to the described real property that is the subject matter of this pleading [423 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.], and hereby declares that he will not defend said defendant in this action.

Further, Defendant Scoville . . . prays the Court enters a decree accordingly without any cost against [it].

Kevin Sills signed a disclaimer not only for the property at 423 Massachusetts Avenue, but also for the property at 421 Massachusetts Avenue. Prior to signing the disclaimers, he had performed a title search, and honestly believed that Scoville had no title to either property. However, he learned just prior to the trial court's March 1998 order that Scoville remained the record owner of the property at 421 Massachusetts Avenue. In April 1998, after Kevin Sills learned of the mistake regarding 421 Massachusetts Avenue, the parties filed a consent motion to strike the disclaimer. Subsequently, District TLC filed a motion for default judgment which was granted in March 1998 by the trial court. In its March 1998 order, the trial court declared that Scoville was "barred and foreclosed of and from all equity and right of redemption in and to the [p]roperty," and further, that District TLC "shall . . . have the sole right to seek a [t]ax [d]eed for the [p]roperty. . . ." District TLC received the deed on March 24, 1998, but did not record it until February 14, 2001. In January 2001, prior to District TLC's recordation of the deed, Kevin Sills learned through the Urban Fund that Scoville remained the record owner of 423 Massachusetts Avenue.

On May 15, 2001, approximately three months after the tax deed for 423 Massachusetts Avenue was recorded, Scoville brought suit against District TLC and others, including the District of Columbia government, seeking to "set aside" the tax deed. Paragraph 12 of Scoville's complaint alleged that it had "mistakenly disclaimed any interest in and to the [p]roperty," and paragraph 13 asserted that: "Such mistake relates to the death of the prior owner of [Scoville], the succession to the ownership of [Scoville] by the current owner thereof and a complete confusion as to the title to the [p]roperty." Three days after filing its lawsuit against District TLC, Scoville and District TLC settled the latter's lawsuit pertaining to 421 Massachusetts Avenue.

In the action filed by Scoville against it, District TLC moved for judgment on the pleadings on December 21, 2001; and Scoville filed an opposition. About one month later, on January 10, 2002, Scoville filed a motion to enforce an alleged settlement agreement which it claimed had been agreed to orally by the parties. Scoville maintained that the alleged oral agreement did not violate the Statute of Frauds. In addition, Scoville requested "discovery and [] an evidentiary hearing on [its] [m]otion." On February 14, 2003, the trial court denied Scoville's motion to enforce settlement agreement; granted District TLC's motion for judgment on the pleadings, treating it as a motion for summary judgment; and dismissed Scoville's complaint with prejudice. Scoville filed a timely appeal.

ANALYSIS

Scoville first argues that the trial court "committed reversible error" because it treated District TLC's motion for judgment on the pleadings as one for summary judgment but without giving Scoville "the opportunity to supplement the record to be considered by [it]." In seeking judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (c), District TLC referenced Scoville's complaint, the amended answer of the defendants, and the exhibits attached to the amended answer. These exhibits included the March 6 and 7, 1997 certified mail letters to Scoville containing notices as to the amount of delinquent taxes then due on the respective Massachusetts Avenue properties and the time period for redemption (thirty days); District TLC's complaints against Scoville pertaining to the Massachusetts Avenue properties; the results of a title search relating to the Massachusetts Avenue properties in question showing the recording of a tax lien certificate for each property on November 20, 1996; a copy of Kevin Sills' August 1997 disclaimer and the dismissal of District TLC's lawsuit against Scoville with regard to the 423 Massachusetts Avenue property; and the trial court's March 1998 order granting District TLC's motion for default judgment with respect to its lawsuit against Scoville, as to the 423 Massachusetts Avenue property. Attached to Scoville's opposition to District TLC's motion for judgment on the pleadings were affidavits from Kevin Sills regarding his disclaimer of interest in the property at 423 Massachusetts Avenue, and his subsequent contract for the sale of that property, and from Karl Rice, ...


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