Jones v. Flowers

547 U.S. 220, 126 S. Ct. 1708 (2006)

 

RULE:

Due process does not require that a property owner receive actual notice before the government may take his property for unpaid taxes. Rather, the United States Supreme Court has stated that due process requires the government to provide notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.

FACTS:

The owner purchased a house and lived in it until he separated from his wife. He paid his mortgage each month for 30 years and the mortgage company paid his property taxes. After the mortgage was paid off, the property taxes went unpaid, and the property was certified as delinquent. Two notices, one for the tax delinquency and the other for an impending tax sale, were sent by certified letter to the address, but both were returned unclaimed. The Court held that as mailed notice of a tax sale was returned unclaimed, the State should have taken additional reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the property owner before selling his property since it was practicable to do so. Although Ark. Code Ann. § 26-35-705 provided strong support for the argument that mailing a certified letter to the owner was reasonably calculated to reach him, it did not alter the reasonableness of doing nothing more when the notice was promptly returned unclaimed.

ISSUE:

When notice of a tax sale is mailed to the owner and returned undelivered, must the government take additional reasonable steps to provide notice before taking the owner's property?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The Court held that as mailed notice of a tax sale was returned unclaimed, the State should have taken additional reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the property owner before selling his property since it was practicable to do so. Although the State may have made a reasonable calculation of how to reach the property owner, it had good reason to suspect when the notice was returned that the owner was no better off than if the notice had never been sent. Although Ark. Code Ann. § 26-35-705 provided strong support for the argument that mailing a certified letter to the owner was reasonably calculated to reach him, it did not alter the reasonableness of doing nothing more when the notice was promptly returned unclaimed.

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