COA on rehearing lets stand ruling setting aside tax deed

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected multiple arguments regarding its prior decision involving the LaPorte County auditor’s failure to check records that would have revealed the address of a Michigan City property owner whose land was sold without notice for back taxes.

After a granting petition for rehearing for the limited purpose of answering three arguments, the Indiana Court of Appeals declined Tuesday to reconsider its original opinion in Indiana Land Trust Company F/K/A Lake County Trust Company Tr #4340 v. Xl Investment Properties, Llc, et al., 18A-MI-02150.

In a June opinion, the appellate court reversed and remanded a trial court’s denial of Indiana Land Trust Company, f/k/a Lake County Trust Company TR #4340’s motion to set aside a tax deed and quiet title judgment issued to XL Investment Properties. Trust 4340 had argued the trial court erroneously determined that the motion to set aside was untimely filed and the tax sale notice process employed by the LaPorte County Auditor was statutorily and constitutionally insufficient.

The appellate court had then concluded the trial court erred in finding the motion to set aside was untimely. It also found the auditor was required to search its records for a better address for Trust 4340 after the certified mail notice was returned as not deliverable.

Answering the questions posed by the appellees on rehearing, the appellate court first clarified that the record was not wholly clear as to whether Trust 4340 provided a current tax notice address for the property to the auditor in a timely fashion.

“That does not change the result, however, as the fact that an address search would be difficult or futile does not relieve the Auditor from its constitutional obligations,” Judge John Baker wrote for the court.

Next, it found the appellees incorrect in their statement that the appellate court “determined as a matter of fact that the Certified Mail Notice was undeliverable rather than refused[.]” Instead, the appellate court noted that it had plainly acknowledged a conflict between the official Post Office label, which indicate[d] that the mail was not deliverable, and the notation stating refused in handwriting.

“We determined as a matter of law that given such a conflict, ‘the official Post Office stamp and label must control.’ This holding does not conflict with or otherwise override the trial court’s lone finding on this issue, which was simply that ‘[t]he certified mail was returned to the Auditor and marked with a handwritten ‘Refused,’” Baker wrote.

Finally, the appellate court declined to vacate its opinion to permit the Indiana Attorney General to intervene in the case, finding Indiana Code section 34-33.1-1-1(a) does not apply. It therefore denied the petition for rehearing in all other respects.

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