CAMPBELL PROPERTIES, INC.
RACHAEL DOWE COOK, AND ANY ALL PERSONS HAVING OR CLAIMING ANY LEGAL OR EQUITABLE INTEREST IN HEREINAFTER DESCRIBED LAND SOLD FOR TAXES ON AUGUST 26, 2013, VIZ: PART OF SECTION 4, TOWNSHIP 18 NORTH, RANGE 5 EAST, WARREN COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, TAX PARCEL 005 04 999 001300; PPIN 206; DEED BOOK 1422, PAGE 769 LESS AND EXCEPT THE PORTION OF PROPERTY LYING IN SECTION 3, TOWNSHIP 18 NORTH, RANGE 5 EAST OF THE WARREN COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI LAND RECORDS
OF JUDGMENT: 08/22/2017
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. VICKI R. BARNES TRIAL JUDGE
COURT ATTORNEYS: WILLIAM M. BOST, JR. A. J.
“BUDDY” DEES, JR. KENNETH B. RECTOR
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: KENNETH B. RECTOR
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: A. J. “BUDDY” DEES, JR.
SARAH CUNNINGHAM McMILLIN
WALLER, C.J., MAXWELL AND ISHEE, JJ.
When a property owner fails to timely pay his or her property
taxes, the county will auction off the property for the
amount of unpaid taxes. At that point, the property owner has
two years to redeem the property. If he or she fails to do
so, the property is forfeited to whoever wins the auction.
But for a tax sale to be valid, the chancery clerk must
strictly follow Mississippi Code Section 27-43-3's notice
requirements. These statutory notice procedures further
Mississippi's long-standing policy of protecting
landowners from losing property in tax sales. Specifically, the
statute mandates that when a clerk is unable to notify the
landowner, he or she must diligently search and inquire for a
new or different address to provide notice.
Here, the property owner failed to timely pay his taxes or to
redeem them within two years of the tax sale of his property.
The owner objected to the sale, asserting that he was
deprived of his property without the statutorily required
prior notice. What our review shows is that the chancery
clerk's first notice was returned undelivered. At that
point, by statute, the clerk was required to diligently
search for a different address for the property owner. But
despite having another address readily available in the
county's land records, no notices were ever mailed to
that address before the redemption period ended. Thus, the
clerk's search and inquiry did not strictly comply with
the statute. We must therefore reverse and render.
Facts and Procedural History
In 2006, Alan Osborne bought fifty acres off Highway 3 in
Warren County, Mississippi. In 2012, Osborne failed to timely
pay his property taxes. And on August 26, 2013, his property
was auctioned off for the unpaid taxes to Rachael Cook. When
the redemption period ended on August 26, 2015, Osborne had
not redeemed the property. Several days later, Osborne
visited the chancery courthouse. While paying property taxes
for his employer, Osborne asked about his own property. He
was told by a deputy clerk that the redemption period had
expired. The clerk's office issued Rachael Cook a tax
deed on September 11, 2015, which she filed the same day.
Osborne was unable to negotiate a deal with Cook to obtain
his once-owned property. So Osborne filed a complaint to set
aside the tax sale. In it, he claimed the Warren County
sheriff never personally served him nor did he receive any
notice by certified mail from the clerk's office. Cook
answered and responded with her own counterclaim to confirm
title in herself.
After Osborne's property was sold at auction, the
chancery clerk's office was required to provide him
notice-by personal service, certified or registered mail, and
by newspaper publication-of when his right to redeem the
property would expire. Miss. Code Ann. § 27-43-3 (Rev.
2017). Thus, the clerk's office needed Osborne's
physical and mailing addresses. But when the chancery clerk
sent a "courtesy notice" to Osborne in February
2015 to 8435 Highway 3, C/O P.O. Box 820258, Vicksburg, MS
39182-0258, the notice was returned to the clerk's office
marked "not deliverable as addressed." Despite
this, the clerk continued to use that very same
post-office-box address for every subsequent notice that was
mailed, certified or otherwise.
When the statutory notice sent in March 2015 and personal
service by the sheriff were ineffective, the clerk was
required by statute to perform a diligent search and inquiry
to locate another address for Osborne. The deputy clerk
responsible for redemption notices testified that she
reviewed the tax collector's records. She also testified
that she reviewed court and land records and prior tax sales
for Osborne's address. Still, after doing so, the
clerk's office continued to send future notices to the
same post-office-box address, an address from which the very
first notice-the courtesy notice-was returned "not
deliverable as addressed." This address was continually
used for mailings, though Warren County land records
contained a deed of trust filed March 10, 2011, which listed
Osborne's address at 8435 Highway 3, Redwood, MS 39156.
In fact, the deed conveying the subject property to Osborne
listed the ...