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Jones v. Thompson

August 7, 2008


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB7620-03) (Hon. Melvin R. Wright, Trial Judge).

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

Argued February 7, 2007

Before GLICKMAN*fn1 and FISHER, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee Kirby H. Thompson, voiding a tax deed issued to appellants Elaine Jones and Nathaniel Lewis because of the District of Columbia's failure to strictly comply with the statutory notice requirements. Appellants now ask us to vacate that order and to remand the case for trial. Discerning no legal error, we affirm.

I. The Events Leading to this Appeal

This litigation concerns the validity of a tax deed issued to appellants for the property located at 3018 13th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. ("the Property"). Kirby H. Thompson purchased the Property in 1983, but when he failed to pay his property taxes for the 1999 tax year, the Office of Tax and Revenue ("OTR") of the District of Columbia conducted a tax sale. Appellants successfully bid on the Property on July 21, 2000, and later received a tax sale certificate confirming their winning bid.

As of September 13, 2001, several months after the six-month redemption period expired, Thompson still had not redeemed the Property. On November 19, 2002, OTR sent appellants a "Bill For A Tax Deed," specifying "[a]ll [the] assessments, fees and costs [that] must be satisfied before a tax deed [will be] issued"; appellants paid this bill in full on December 10, 2002. Shortly thereafter, OTR asked the Mayor to execute a tax deed conveying the Property to appellants, and the Mayor's agent did so on January 24, 2003. Appellants recorded this deed on June 13, 2003.

On September 11, 2003, Thompson filed a complaint asking the Superior Court to declare appellants' tax deed "invalid" and to rescind it "as null and void." He claims that the deed is invalid because the District failed to strictly comply with the statutory notice requirements. See (Michael) Jones v. Grieg, 829 A.2d 195, 199 (D.C. 2003) ("If the District does not strictly comply with the relevant statutes and regulations, 'the sale is invalid and must be set aside.'") (internal citations omitted). Specifically, Thompson alleges that: (1) under D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (f)(1) (2001), "[t]he District of Columbia must notify the owner of the upcoming expiration of the redemption period by certified or registered mail at least [thirty] days prior to said expiration"; (2) "[he] never received the Notice"; (3) the District "failed to send the Notice to [him] by certified or registered mail"; and (4) OTR documentation "does not demonstrate that the [District] complied with D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (f)(1) regarding notice of the expiring redemption period." Because appellants obtained title from the District, the validity of their title depends on whether the District complied with its obligations in conducting the tax sale.

Approximately one year later, on September 15, 2004, the Industrial Bank of Washington filed a motion intervene, seeking to protect its security interest in the Property.*fn2

The trial court initially denied this motion, but later reversed its ruling and allowed the Bank to participate. On July 8, 2005, appellants filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against the Bank. Shortly thereafter, Thompson renewed his Motion for Summary Judgment, pointing to the District's failure to present any documentary evidence that the Notice was actually sent by certified or registered mail or, if there was such a mailing, when it occurred. Appellants opposed Thompson's renewed motion, arguing that the record contained sufficient evidence of the District's strict compliance to preclude summary judgment in Thompson's favor.

On October 20, 2005, the trial court held a hearing on these pending motions and made an oral ruling that the tax deed is invalid because "the District did not conduct a proper notification [of Thompson]." The court specifically relied on the District's "own testimony . . . that they didn't have the documents which would show evidence . . . of notification[.]" The court also held appellants' tax deed void because the Bank was entitled to, but did not receive, notice under the relevant statutes. The court then issued a written order granting Thompson's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, denying appellants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, and declaring the tax deed void. Appellants subsequently filed a notice of appeal.*fn3

II. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate only when there are no material facts in issue and when it is clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." CB Richard Ellis Real Estate Servs., Inc. v. Spitz, 950 A.2d 704, 710 (D.C. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "Although we must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, . . . mere conclusory allegations are insufficient to avoid entry of summary judgment." Id., at 710-11. In fact, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." (Carmelita) Jones v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 942 A.2d 1103, 1106 (D.C. 2008) (internal quotation marks and ...

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