UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
decided: June 9, 1976.
HAROLD T. LONG AND WANDA E. LONG, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
HUBERT ANDERSON AND THOMAS SMITH, AND LOUISE L. GOODMAN, COUNTY AUDITOR, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP 73-C-582 CALE J. HOLDER, Judge.
Swygert, Sprecher, and Tone, Circuit Judges.
SWYGERT, Circuit Judge.
This diversity action was brought by plaintiffs-appellants Harold T. Long and Wanda E. Long against defendants-appellees Hubert Anderson, Thomas Smith, and Monroe County, Indiana, Auditor Louise L. Goodman.*fn1 The Longs sought to quiet title against a tax deed issued to defendants Anderson and Smith in a lot located in the Geode Triangle Subdivision in Salt Creek Township. The question on appeal is the validity of this tax deed. The district court held the county auditor and county treasurer had sufficiently complied with the Indiana statutory requirements in their efforts to collect the taxes assessed against the real estate and in selling it at a tax sale. On that premise, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had not been deprived of their constitutional right to due process and that therefore they were not entitled to prevail in their quiet title action.
In light of Indiana case law, we hold that the district court erroneously ruled there had been sufficient compliance with the statutory provisions. Accordingly, we reverse.
The district court decided the case by summary judgment, the facts being undisputed. Harold and Wanda Long purchased the property in question on November 11, 1966 and had a warranty deed to the real estate recorded with the Monroe County Recorder on November 18, 1968.
Indiana law, I.C. 6-1-27-8, Burns Ann. Stat. 64-758, requires the auditor to keep a transfer book in which he "Shall enter a description, for the purpose of taxation . . ." of all lands that have been conveyed by deed. " With the date of the conveyance, names of parties, and the post-office address of the grantee or grantees, and he shall endorse on such deed or instrument of conveyance the words 'duly entered for taxation . . . '"*fn2 In the instant case the auditor stamped the plaintiffs' deed, "duly entered for taxation," but did not enter their address in the transfer book as required by the statute.
At the time of their purchase of the real estate the Longs were not residents of the State of Indiana; in fact, they have not resided in the state since July 1966. Although the auditor was not furnished with the grantees' address at the time the transfer was entered on the books, there were a number of sources from which their address could have been obtained. I.C. 6-1-52-2, Burns Ann. Stat. 64-2057, directs that tax statements shall be sent to the "last known address" of the person liable for the taxes.*fn3 Because the auditor's transfer book did not reflect plaintiffs' last known address, the tax statements were sent to the vacant lot. Naturally, the statements were returned undelivered by the United States Postal Service. As a result the plaintiffs did not pay the taxes assessed against the property during the period of their ownership.
In accordance with I.C. 6-1-56-1, Burns Ann. Stat. 64-2255, the Longs' property became eligible to be sold at public auction for delinquent taxes. In July 1971, purporting to comply with I.C. 6-1-56-3, Burns Ann. Stat. 64-2257, the auditor placed in the mail a certified notice of the tax sale to the Longs.*fn4 The notice was addressed to the plaintiffs at Rural Route 8, Bloomington, Indiana, where the vacant lot was located. The notice was not delivered and was returned to the auditor.*fn5 The delinquent taxes amounted to $38.57. The real estate was advertised for $66.14 and was sold at public auction to Anderson and Smith for $160.00.
Purporting to comply with I.C. 6-1-57-5, Burns Ann. Stat. 64-2280, the auditor mailed two notices to the plaintiffs advising them of their redemption rights.*fn6 One notice was addressed to the plaintiffs at Bloomington, Indiana, and the other to General Delivery, Nashville, Indiana. Both notices were returned by the United States Postal Service for lack of a proper address. In due course the tax deed was issued, and in November 1973 plaintiffs filed their quiet title action.
The trial court found that the auditor "complied with I.C. 6-1-27-8 as best she could under circumstances in which neither the grantors nor grantees supplied a proper address for the grantees."*fn7 The court further found that:
the plaintiff did not provide the Treasurer or the Auditor with their home address. In light of this fact, it is sufficient compliance that the tax statements were mailed to the address of the property being taxed . . .. The Auditor also complied with the requirements of I.C. 6-1-56-2, Burns Indiana Statutes Annotated 64-2256 and I.C. 6-1-56-3, Burns Indiana Statutes Annotated [64-2257] which prescribe the appropriate notice requirements.
We cannot agree with the trial judge that there was sufficient compliance with I.C. 6-1-27-8. In our opinion there was no compliance whatsoever. Moreover, this noncompliance was the primary reason for the failure to comply with the remaining pertinent provisions of the Indiana statutes: I.C. 6-1-52-2, I.C. 6-1-56-3, and I.C. 6-1-57-5. The auditor improperly stamped the warranty deed "duly entered for taxation" before obtaining the address of the grantees, thus starting the chain of events that led to the tax sale.
Equitable considerations as to good faith efforts to comply with the statutes have no bearing in this situation. The Indiana cases make clear that noncompliance with any of the steps that precede a tax sale is fatal to the validity of the tax deed. In Gradison v. Logan, 135 Ind. App. 185, 188, 190 N.E.2d 29, 30 (1963), the court said, "Statutes governing tax sales and the steps leading up to them must be substantially complied with before an owner may be deprived of his property by such a sale." In an earlier case, Allen v. Gilkison, 76 Ind. App. 233, 240, 132 N.E. 12, 14 (1921), the Indiana Appellate Court said, "It is well settled that in order for a tax deed to be effective to convey title, it must appear that every step required by law to be taken, from the listing of the land for taxation to the delivery of the deed, has been regularly taken."
Another case which stresses that the statutory requirements must be strictly adhered to is Cebrat v. Baranowski, 123 Ind. App. 491, 112 N.E.2d 231 (1953). There a tax deed was found fatally defective because the county treasurer had failed to make the statutory demand for payment of the delinquent taxes prior to the tax sale. The court held the tax sale defective and the deed void even though the owner was aware of his tax delinquency and his redemption rights. The holders of the tax deed argued that the owner's failure to redeem from the sale after he had acquired actual knowledge, dispensed with the necessity of the treasurer making the statutory demand. The court rejected the argument saying:
To make a tax deed effective to convey a title, the sale and matters preliminary thereto must be had in accordance with the statute, and each step required to be performed must be taken. If any one essential act has been omitted or improperly performed, the sale will be held noneffectual and insufficient to convey title to the purchaser. Smith v. Swisher, 1941, 109 Ind. App. 654, 36 N.E. 2d 945, and cases cited therein.
The omission by the County Treasurer to make demand upon delinquent taxpayers in the manner provided by the statute renders a tax deed noneffectual and insufficient to convey title. 112 N.E.2d at 232.
There are additional Indiana decisions that support the foregoing pronouncements: Langford v. DeArmond, 137 Ind. App. 439, 208 N.E.2d 692 (1965); Burton v. Martin Oil Service, 295 F.2d 679 (7th Cir. 1961); Creighton v. Schafer, 117 Ind. App. 518, 72 N.E.2d 360 (1947); and Smith v. Swisher, 109 Ind. App. 654, 36 N.E.2d 945 (1941).
For the reasons we have outlined, the tax deed issued to defendants Anderson and Smith is void as a matter of law. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is reversed with direction to enter judgment for the plaintiffs.