The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a trial court’s reasoning in denying a petition to set aside a tax deed that a county auditor was excused of the duties imposed under statute because compliance wouldn’t have resulted in a property owner actually receiving notice of a tax sale.
In Farmers Mutual Insurance Company of Grant and Blackford Counties v. M Jewell, LLC, Auditor of Grant County, Indiana and Treasurer of Grant County, Indiana, 27A05-1211-MI-593, Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. of Grant and Blackford Counties appealed the denial of its motion to set aside a tax deed issued to M. Jewell LLC on farm property Farmers Mutual was delinquent in paying taxes on. The auditor’s records on the property incorrectly listed Farmers Mutual’s name, and the company did not update its mailing address with the auditor when its P.O. Box was closed.
The auditor sent by certified mail and first class mail notices of the tax sale on the property to Farmers Mutual, but those came back undelivered. The auditor’s office did not then perform a search for a possible address for the company, as required under I.C. 6-1.1-24-4.
The trial court noted that the auditor had not carried out the duties imposed under statute, but determined that the failure was excusable because compliance with the statute would not have resulted in Farmers Mutual actually receiving notice.
“Putting aside the question of whether the auditor’s office would have discovered an alternate address for Farmers Mutual had it performed the requisite search, we cannot agree that noncompliance with the statute’s requirement that the auditor’s office search its records may be excused if it is later determined that such a search would have been fruitless,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote.
The trial court also concluded that Farmers Mutual was not entitled to have the tax deed set aside due to its failure to comply with its statutory obligation to notify the auditor’s office of its correct address.
“Indeed, if we were to adopt such an approach, the requirement that the auditor’s office search its records for a more accurate or complete address in the event that the pre-tax sale notices are returned due to an incorrect or insufficient address would be meaningless; this is so because the very fact that the mailings have been returned means, in most cases, that the property owner has failed to provide a correct address,” the judge continued.
The COA ordered the lower court to grant Farmers Mutual’s petition.