On January 28, 2013, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in City of Reading v. Zeiber, No. 995 C.D. 2012 (Cmwlth. Ct., Jan. 28, 2012), reversed an order of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas denying a Petition to Set Aside Sheriff’s Sale of Real Property (the “Petition”) filed by Janice Lee Zeiber (“Ms. Zeiber”). 

This matter stemmed from a tax lien filed by the City of Reading (the “City”) at 427 North 12th Street, Reading, Pennsylvania (the “Property”) on June 18, 2007.  After approximately four years, the Trial Court issued an order directing that the Property be sold at Sheriff’s sale, which was later scheduled for September 9, 2011.  Prior to the anticipated Sheriff’s sale, the City sent Ms. Zeiber a copy of the Court’s decree ordering the Property’s sale, along with the details of the time, place and date of sale as is required by Section 39.2(c) of the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Act (“MCTLA”).    

When the day of the Sheriff’s sale came, however, Berks County experienced historic flooding that forced the Sheriff’s sale to be postponed.  On September 9, 2011, the Sheriffs made a public announcement and posting about the postponement of the sale, but did not state the date upon which the sale would be rescheduled.  Shortly thereafter, the sale was rescheduled for October 7, 2011.  Although the City posted the time and place of the rescheduled Sheriff’s sale of the Property on its website, Ms. Zeiber was not notified of the sale details by a posting at her property, by first class mail, or by personal service.  Ultimately, the Property sold at Sheriff’s sale on October 7, 2011. 

On November 7, 2011, Ms. Zeiber filed the Petition.  The Trial Court denied the Petition reasoning that the procedural requirements of Section 39.2(c) of the MCTLA had been satisfied for the sale on September 9, 2011, and therefore the City had adhered to the MCTLA for the actual sale on October 7, 2011. 

The Commonwealth Court agreed that the City adhered to the MCTLA’s requirements with respect to the September 9, 2011, anticipated sale.  The Commonwealth Court further found that having complied with the MCTLA with respect to the first attempt to sell the Property, the City was not required to do so again when the sale was continued.  Instead, the Commonwealth Court found that the City failed to adhere to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 3129.3(b).  Rule 3129.3 (b) requires, among other things, that if a Sheriff’s sale is stayed, continued, postponed or adjourned to a date certain within one hundred and thirty days of the scheduled sale, notice of which sale was given as provided by Rule 3129.2, and public announcement thereof, including the new date, is made to the bidders assembled at the time and place fixed for the sale, no new notice will be required.  The record was clear that the Sheriffs did not announce the new date of the sale at the time of postponing on September 9, 2011. 

The Commonwealth Court also found that Rule 3129.3(b) is designed to protect the rights and interests of both debtors such as Ms. Zeiber, and potential bidders at the Sheriff’s sale.  Accordingly, based on the technicalities Ms. Zieber raised on appeal, and with a little help from a flood, the Commonwealth Court reversed the Trial Court’s denial of the Petition.