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Indiana Supreme Court Affirms Denial Of Owner's Motion To Set Aside Tax Deed

Ind. Land Tr. Co. v. XL Inv. Props., LLC, 155 N.E.3d 1177 (Ind. 2020) is a thorough and definitive opinion by our state's highest court regarding whether a county auditor provided adequate notice to a landowner of an Indiana tax sale.  As is typical, these tax sale cases are fact sensitive and legally complicated, and frankly are difficult to summarize in a standard-size blog post.  Please read the entire opinion if you're confronted with a similar problem.  For purposes of today's post, I'll simply quote Justice David's introduction, which really says it all: 

Before the State sells a delinquent property, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the owner of the property be given adequate notice reasonably calculated to inform him or her of the impending tax sale. While actual notice is not required, the government must attempt notice in a way desirous of actually informing the property owner that a tax sale is looming. If the government becomes aware that its notice attempt was unsuccessful—such as through the return of certified mail—it must take additional reasonable steps to notify the owner of the property if practical to do so.

In this case, property taxes went unpaid on a vacant property from 2009 to 2015 resulting in over $230,000 in outstanding tax liability. The county auditor—through a third-party service—sent simultaneous notice of an impending tax sale via certified letter and first-class mail to the tax sale notice address listed on the deed for the property. The owner of the property, however, had moved from its original address several times and never updated its tax address for the property with the county auditor. The certified letter came back as undeliverable, but the first-class mail was never returned. After a skip-trace search was performed for a better address and notice was published in the local newspaper, the property eventually sold and a tax deed was issued to the purchaser. The original owner was ultimately notified of the sale when the purchaser filed a quiet title action and searched for a registered agent. The original owner then moved to set aside the tax deed due to insufficient notice.

The central question before our Court today is whether the LaPorte County Auditor gave adequate notice reasonably calculated to inform Indiana Land Trust Company of the impending tax sale of the property. As a corollary question, we also confront whether the Auditor was required under the circumstances of this case to search its own records for a better tax sale notice address when the notice sent via certified mail was returned as undeliverable. We find the Auditor provided adequate notice and was not required to search its internal records. We therefore affirm the trial court's denial of Indiana Land Trust's motion to set aside the tax deed.

The Court held that, under the facts of the case, the auditor "provided notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise [the owner] of the pendency of the action and afforded them an opportunity to present their objections."  

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My practice includes representing parties in connection with contested tax sales. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@dinsmore.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.