Who Owes The Taxes After An Indiana Tax Sale, And When?

Lesson. As a tax sale buyer, be prepared to pay the real estate taxes that accrue in the year of the sale.

Case cite. Picket Fence v. Davis, 109 N.E.3d 1021 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) (pdf)

Legal issue. Whether a tax sale buyer owes real estate taxes that accrue in the year of the sale.

Vital facts. The following chronology is important:

10/26/15: Treasurer’s Tax Sale
(The subject property did not sell because there was no “minimum bid.” Thus, the County acquired a lien on the property.)

4/8/16: County Commissioners’ Certificate Sale
(The property “sold,” meaning that the buyer purchased a “certificate” for the property.)

8/22/16: Petition for Tax Deed
(Following the submission of the required statutory notices, the buyer sought a court order for the issuance of a tax deed.)

9/26/16: Order for Deed
(The trial court directed the County to execute and deliver a tax deed to the buyer.)

Procedural history. Following the order for deed, a dispute arose between the buyer and the County regarding whether the buyer was responsible for real estate taxes accruing on or after January 2015, the year of the Treasurer’s Tax Sale. The trial court ruled in favor of the County. The buyer appealed.

Key rules. Indiana counties assess taxes each year, but those taxes do not become due and payable until May and November of the following year. For example, if in 2019 the Boone County Assessor determines that my wife and I owe $1000 in taxes for our home, the Boone County Treasurer will not collect the $1000 until 2020 (May, $500 and November, $500).

Another Indiana tax sale feature illustrated by Picket Fence is that, if a property does not initially sell for a statutory minimum amount, then the property slides to the county for a second tax sale, which does not require a minimum bid. The Court’s opinion describes this process in detail and includes summaries of the testimony of two experts that testified in the case.

The Indiana Court of Appeals rightly focused on the provisions in the tax sale statute [Indiana Code 6-1.1-25-4(f) and 4(j)] that specifically dealt with the payment of taxes by a sale purchaser. The Court explained why the “sale” referenced in those subsections refers to the Treasurer’s Tax Sale, and not the County Commissioners’ Certificate Sale, as it relates to when taxes should be payable by the new owner.

Holding. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision and concluded that the buyer must pay the real estate taxes that accrued the year of the Treasurer’s Tax Sale, including the taxes that accrued before the date of the County Commissioners’ Certificate Sale.

Policy/rationale. The buyer in Picket Fence argued that he should not be on the hook for the 2015 taxes due in 2016 or the first installment of the 2016 taxes due in 2017. The rationale for the buyer’s argument was that he did not actually become the owner until 2016. The County, on the other hand, asserted that the operative “sale” was the Treasurer’s Tax Sale in October of 2015 and that the buyer was thus obligated to pay the taxes that accrued in 2015. While I’m not entirely sure what’s ultimately fair here, the Court properly zeroed in on the key statutory sections and logically followed the language as written by the legislature. Of perhaps some solace to the buyer was that he did not owe any taxes due and payable in 2015 (the 2014 taxes). He only owed taxes that accrued in 2015, payable in 2016.

Related posts.

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Mortgage loan servicers and title insurance companies sometimes engage me to handle tax sale-related disputes. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


Indiana General Assembly: Nothing Cooking This Year

My understanding is that there is no currently-pending legislation that would directly impact Indiana's foreclosure-related laws.  At one point, there was debate about sheriff's sale notices, but a Senate panel voted down the sheriff's sale notification bill.  Whether that bill might come back to life remains to be seen.  If anything develops at the end of this year's session, I'll make a point to post about it.

New post coming next week.  Time has gotten away from me this week....


Perplexing Result In “Bona Fide Mortgagee” Case

Lesson. The bona fide mortgagee defense, where a lender claims priority in title over another lender or an owner, may be a difficult on which to win on summary judgment. These cases can be somewhat fact sensitive. If filing an MSJ, dot i’s and cross t’s for all the necessary undisputed facts.

Case cite. Chmiel v. US Bank, 109 N.E.3d 398 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether the assignee of a mortgage was a “bone fide mortgagee,” such that the assignee’s lien was valid and enforceable.

Vital facts. The thirty-page Chmiel opinion arises out of a quiet title dispute and is chock full of facts and legal issues. For purposes of this post, there was a dispute between an individual, who I will call “Son,” and the assignee of a mortgage loan, which I will call “Mortgagee.” Another character in this story is the Son’s mother (“Mom”). Here’s what happened:

1991: Mom deeded her real estate to Son subject to her life estate, meaning that Mom basically owned the property until her death at which point title passed to Son.

2005: Son purportedly deeded his residual interest in the real estate back to Mom, and Mom then got a mortgage loan secured by the property.

2007: Son wrote a letter to Mom’s mortgage lender/servicer at the time and disputed the validity of the 2005 deed. Specifically, Son claimed that his signature on the deed was forged and that, to the extent the mortgage loan was valid, it was only secured by Mom’s life estate interest and not Son’s residual ownership interest. In other words, Son claimed that the mortgage was invalid or, at best, the mortgage was only valid as to Mom during Mom’s lifetime.

2009: Son wrote a second letter to the mortgage lender/servicer at the time.

2010: Son wrote a third letter to the mortgage lender/servicer at the time. (The servicer and holder of the mortgage loan changed over the years). This time, the mortgage servicer simply acknowledged receipt of the letter.

2011: Mom defaulted under the mortgage loan. MERS, as nominee of the mortgage lender, executed an assignment of mortgage to Mortgagee, which initiated foreclosure proceedings. Son intervened in the case and claimed that the 2005 deed was forged. Mom later filed bankruptcy, which stayed the foreclosure, and a Chapter 13 Plan was approved.

2015: Mom died, and the Plan payments stopped.

Procedural history. In 2016, Son filed the instant quiet title action to, among other things, terminate Mortgagee’s lien. Mortgagee counterclaimed to foreclose its mortgage. The trial court granted summary judgment for Mortgagee, and Son appealed.

Key rules. To qualify as a bona fide mortgagee, one must purchase in good faith, for valuable consideration, and without notice of outstanding rights of others. Indiana law recognizes both constructive and actual notice. Notice is actual when “it has been directly and personally given to the person to be notified.” Further, in Indiana, actual notice may be implied or inferred from “the fact that the person charged had means of obtaining knowledge that he did not use.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found there to be genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Mortgagee was a bona fide mortgagee – in other words, whether its mortgage was valid and enforceable. The Court therefore sent the case back for a trial.

Policy/rationale. Son contested the “consideration” and “notice” elements of Mortgagee’s defense. Regarding consideration, the Court found that, although the original lender received money/consideration from Mom for the mortgage, “Mortgagee did not designate any evidence of the consideration it gave for the assignment” of the loan. Mortgagee, or rather its servicer, didn’t help its cause when it answered discovery actually denying, apparently on technical terms, that it gave consideration.

As to notice, Son asserted that Mortgagee received actual notice of his forgery claims before Mortgagee became the assignee of the loan. Specifically, Son pointed out that, in the bankruptcy case, the mortgage servicer (as an agent of the mortgagee/holder of the loan) received his 2010 letter - before MERS assigned the mortgage to Mortgagee. Thus, there was a question of fact as to whether Mortgagee, via its loan servicer, had actual notice of Son’s rights/interests before Mortgagee acquired the loan.

Honestly, I struggle with the Court’s analysis and, frankly, disagree with its conclusion on the bona fide mortgagee issue. The result (denial of summary judgment) may have been correct simply because of the factual density of the case. Nevertheless, to me, the Court’s stated rationale focused on the incorrect time frame. The Court examined the circumstances surrounding the loan assignment transaction, as opposed to the facts associated with the original loan closing. The opinion identified no evidence that, in 2005, the original lender/mortgagee had any reason to believe that the recorded 2005 deed was invalid. In other words, the original lender had to be a bone fide mortgagee. To me, the 2005 closing was the operative moment, not what the assignee paid or knew years later. My view is that the assignee should step into the shoes of the original assignor and possess all its rights and defenses. Case closed. The opinion did not address my theory one way or the other, however, so admittedly I may be missing something. Please email me or post a comment below if you have any insights.

Related posts.

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I represent judgment creditors and lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in lien priority and title claim disputes. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


Lender Moves For Default Judgment Only To See Its Foreclosure Case Dismissed

Lesson. Technical inconsistencies between the promissory note and the mortgage may not doom the enforcement of the loan.

Case cite. U.S. Bank Trust v. Spurgeon, 99 N.E.3d 671 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether a mortgage still can be valid despite the document’s lack of clarity as to the names of the borrowers and the mortgagors.

Vital facts. Plaintiff Lender filed a mortgage foreclosure action seeking an in rem judgment against a Trust. Mr. Forrest Spurgeon, individually, executed the promissory note. He and Delphine Spurgeon, as trustees of the Trust, executed the mortgage to secure the note. The Trust owned the mortgaged real estate but did not sign the note. Only Forrest executed the note.

Procedural history. The Lender filed a motion for default judgment after the Trust failed to appear in the case. Remarkably, the trial judge not only denied the Lender’s motion but dismissed the Lender’s case altogether. The court had a problem with the fact that the mortgage defined the “borrower” as being the Trust, whereas the note defined the borrower as being Forrest. Since the Lender failed to file a note executed by the trustees on behalf of the Trust, but instead relied only on the note executed by Forrest, the trial court on its own volition found that the Lender failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Lender appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Key rules. The Spurgeon opinion has a nice summary of Indiana’s rules of contract construction and interpretation. (Notes and mortgages are both contracts.) The outcome of Spurgeon was driven by the Court of Appeals’ application of those rules, which largely are designed to harmonize the language and ascertain the intention of the parties – even in the face of inconsistencies in the wording.

One other important rule is that “one person may furnish collateral or grant a mortgage on the person’s real property to secure the loan of another.” This person is known as a surety. Thus, the name of the borrower in the note and the name of the mortgagor in the mortgage do not necessarily need to be the same for the mortgage to be valid.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the Lender’s case and instructed the trial court to grant the Lender’s motion for default judgment.

Policy/rationale. The Court concluded that the misuse of the word “borrower” in the mortgage did not render the mortgage invalid or unenforceable. There were a number of factors in the Court’s decision, principal among them being: (1) the dates of the note and mortgage were the same, (2) the mortgage referred to a loan amount that mirrored that in the note, (3) the maturity dates in the contracts were identical, (4) the lender was the same in both documents, and (5) the Trust owned the subject real estate at the time of the loan. The Court said that it “is clear from the language of the Mortgage that the Trust, as mortgagor, has granted a security interest in the property held in its name to secure the payment of the debt owed by Forrest Spurgeon pursuant to the Note.” Also significant was that, despite being served with a summons and complaint, the Trust did not appear in the action to contest the Lender’s claims.

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing lenders and their loan servicers in contested mortgage foreclosure actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


Court of Appeals Reduces Appeal Bond In Indiana Foreclosure Case

Lesson. In Indiana, a defendant mortgagor generally will be required to post a bond in order to stay a sheriff’s sale during its appeal of an adverse foreclosure decree. Without a bond and a corresponding order of stay, the sheriff’s sale can occur, and the mortgagor (owner) can lose the real estate even if the mortgagor ultimately prevails on appeal. But the amount of the bond will not be the full value of the property, and trial courts have discretion when setting the bond amount.

Case cite. Brooks v. Bank of Geneva, 97 N.E.3d 647 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018); reaffirmed, 103 N.E.3d 197 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018).

Legal issue. Whether the amount of the appeal bond set by the trial court should have been reduced.

Vital facts. The Brooks case was the subject of my 3/6/19 post: Indiana Court Releases Mortgage On Parents' Farmland Based On Material Alteration Of Kids' Loan. Click for a summary of the facts. Importantly, the judgment against the parents/mortgagors was in rem only, meaning that they were not personally liable for the judgment amount. Only their farmland was at risk.

Procedural history. My prior post details the procedural history of the litigation. For today’s purposes, what is important is that the trial court compelled the parents, who lost at the trial court level and appealed, to post a bond of $285,000 in order to stay execution of the judgment during the appeal. The parents immediately requested the Court of Appeals to reduce the amount of the bond.

Key Rules.

Both the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure and the Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure speak to appeal bonds. See, Appellate Rule 18 and Trial Rule 62(D)(2). The appellate rule basically is that a bond is not required for an appeal but is required to stay execution during an appeal. Since a sheriff’s sale is a form of “execution,” the defendant/mortgagor generally must post some kind of bond to prevent the sale. The trial rule, on the other hand, provides the guidelines for setting the amount of the bond, and a key consideration in a foreclosure case is that the bond “secure the amount recovered for the use and detention of the property, the costs of the action, costs on appeal, interests and damages for delay.” 

Indiana case law holds that, in a foreclosure case, the bond can include amounts for the “use” of the real estate during the appeal and “damages for delay.” “Use” generally is measured by the fair rental value. “Damages for delay” has included “things such as waste or depreciation.”   

All that being said, trial courts have discretion in determing the amount of the bond and will not be reversed absent abuse of that discretion.   

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reduced the bond amount to $25,000.

Policy/rationale. The trial court set the bond at $285,000 based upon the value of the mortgaged property of $250,000, plus attorney fees and interest. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not follow the rules and guidelines above. The Court found that the bank offered no evidence of rental value, while the parents asserted that the farmland could not generate any rental income during the winter months when the appeal was pending. Further, apparently there was no information in the record indicating that either depreciation or waste would occur. The Court based its determination of the bond on (1) the bank’s $15,000 estimate of appellate attorney fees and (2) $10,000 in potential interest during the length of the appeal [8% on the $250,000 property value].

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My practice includes representing lenders, borrowers and guarantors in contested commercial mortgage foreclosure cases. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


Indiana Court Releases Mortgage On Parents' Farmland Based On Material Alteration Of Kids' Loan

Lesson. Sometimes a lender will loan money to a borrower that is secured with collateral, such as a mortgage, pledged by a third party. These third parties are known as sureties. If a lender materially changes the terms of the original loan without the knowledge or consent of the surety, then the surety’s collateral will be released.

Case cite. Brooks v. Bank of Geneva, 97 N.E.3d 647 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018); reaffirmed, 103 N.E.3d 197 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether a mortgage pledged by third parties was released when the terms of the borrower’s loan were altered.

Vital facts. A bank granted a loan to a married couple (borrowers) for their dairy farm.  The couple gave the bank a mortgage on real estate they owned.  For the purpose of partially securing the couple’s debt, the wife’s parents also granted a mortgage to the bank on farmland they owned. Importantly, the parents were not personally liable for the underlying debt. 

Over the next year or so, the bank issued four other loans to the borrowers that were secured by their own real estate. The parents were unaware of these additional loans. About a year after that, the bank, again without the parents’ knowledge, agreed to change the terms of the original promissory note to permit semi-annual payments instead of monthly payments. Over the following couple of years, the borrowers began selling off their mortgaged real estate, as well as their farm equipment and cattle, to pay off the four loans that were not secured by the parents’ real estate. The sale proceeds “greatly exceeded” the amount of the original note secured in part by the parents’ farmland. Subsequently, the borrowers defaulted under the original note.

Procedural history. The bank filed a collection lawsuit against both the borrowers and the parents and specifically sought to foreclose on the parents’ farmland. The bank filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The court decreed that the parents’ property should be sold to satisfy the borrowers’ debt. The parents appealed.

Key rules. One who mortgages his land to secure the debt of another is a “surety” to the debtor (the borrower). Indiana law is well settled that a surety’s collateral “is released by any action of the creditor [the lender] which would release a surety, such as the extension of the time of the payment of the debt, the acceptance of a renewal note, or the release of other security.”

A surety is similar to a guarantor. In Indiana, if a borrower and lender “make a material alteration in the underlying obligation without the consent of the guarantor, the guarantor is discharged from further liability.” The test for “material alternation” is “one that changes the legal identity of the debtor’s contract, substantially increases the risk of loss to the guarantor, or places the guarantor in a different position.”

The nature of the “alteration” is irrelevant and can even benefit the surety. If the alteration entails “either a change in the physical document or a change in the terms of the contract between the debtor and creditor that creates a different duty of performance on the part of the debtor,” then such change will be deemed material and will discharge the surety from liability.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment for the bank and, in doing so, found that the parents’ mortgage had been released. The Court reaffirmed its opinion on rehearing.

Policy/rationale. The Court reasoned that the bank materially altered the subject promissory note two ways and did so without the parents’ knowledge or consent:

    First, the payment terms went from monthly to semi-annually. Even though the accommodation may have helped the borrowers’ cash flow and did not change the amount of the debt, the parents were entitled to know about it and protect themselves accordingly.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bank had released the borrowers’ mortgage on four other parcels of land. By doing so, the bank placed the parents “in a much more perilous position” as the holders of the only remaining real estate to secure the loan.

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing lenders, borrowers and guarantors in contested commercial mortgage foreclosure cases. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.