Notice of the tax sale auction.

by Chris on February 16, 2012

Previous posts have raised the question of what constitutes “proper” notice, sufficient to validate a tax sale. See Drury v. Watkins; Giordano v. Riverbend Rentals; DeSalvo v. Roussel; Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams. The test of whether a tax sale is valid is not contingent upon whether a debtor actually received notice, but whether the state complied with due process in its attempt to give notice. This has been interpreted as meaning that notice must be “reasonably calculated, under all circumstances, to apprise entrusted parties of pendency of action and afford them opportunity to present their objections.” The U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the reasonableness standard in Dusenbery v. U.S. where the court opined “the Due Process Clause does not require such heroic efforts by the Government; it requires only that the Government’s effort be “reasonably calculated” to apprise a party of the pendency of the action.

Several cases illustrate the nuanced character of the issue of notification. For instance, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal, in Goodwin v. Newsome, held that notice was properly made even though the certified mail was returned with the signature of a woman who had sometimes acted as the unofficial postmaster for her neighbors. Before trial the woman passed away, and thus she was unable to give testimony that the notice was actually delivered. In DeSalvo v. Roussel, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a tax sale where notice was sent by certified mail to the taxpayers’ address on city tax rolls and a thirteen-year-old boy signed as addressee, even though the taxpayers never received the notice and one taxpayer no longer lived at the address.

Although the court has provided specific definitions of what constitutes sufficient notice and who is the proper party to notify, these cases illustrate that even with these definitions the answer is never obvious.
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