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Indiana Court of Appeals Orders Tax Deed to be Set Aside

27A05-1211-MI-593, rejected the trial court's denial of a petition to set aside a tax deed.  The July 25, 2013 opinion was based on the county auditor's failure to comply with a statutory notice requirement set out in I.C. § 6-1.1-24-4.  

Specifically, the statute requires notice of an impending tax sale to be sent to the property owner of record at the address listed for the property owner in the county's records first by certified mail.  If the return receipt is not signed and returned, the auditor is then required to send duplicate notice to the same address by first class mail.  Lastly, if both mailings are returned due to a bad address, the auditor is required to search its records for an accurate or complete address.  

In this instance the auditor was not aware of the failed mailings and did not search its records for an alternative address.  The trial court nevertheless denied the petition to set aside the sale because of an error in the county's records that would likely have precluded the county from obtaining an accurate address.  The Court of Appeals rejected the trial court's analysis and ordered the trial court to set aside the tax sale, stating:

When both pre-tax sale notices are returned due to an incorrect or insufficient address, both due process and        I.C. § 6-1.1-24-4 require further action from the auditor. The statute prescribes the specific action the auditor must take in such a case—the auditor’s office must search its records for a more accurate or complete address. Whether a search of the auditor’s records would have produced an alternate address and resulted in Farmers Mutual receiving actual notice in this case is not the salient question; rather, the question is whether the auditor’s office performed the duties imposed by the statute. 

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