We are not attorneys. This is not a legal brief. Internal citations and less relevant portions of the decision are not included. Grammar and punctuation are simplified for easier reading. However, no meanings have been changed.
Most states have statutes which say, in essence, if the taxing authorities comply with state law before selling a property for back taxes, the sale is valid.
Jones v. Flowers
In 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in Jones v. Flowers, 547 U.S. 220 (2006):
- Taxpayers losing property at a tax sale must receive due process.
- Just because the taxing authority complied with state law before a tax sale does not mean the taxpayers received due process.
At page 223:
Before a State may take property and sell it for unpaid taxes, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the government to provide the owner notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case.
At page 230:
This is especially true when, as here, the subject matter concerns such an important and irreversible prospect as the loss of a house.
At page 234:
People must pay their taxes, and the government may hold citizens accountable for tax delinquency by taking their property. But before forcing a citizen to satisfy his debt by forfeiting his property, due process requires the government to provide adequate notice.
At page 239:
In this case, the State is exerting extraordinary power against a property owner—taking and selling a house he owns. It is not too much to insist that the State do a bit more to attempt to let him know about it. The Commissioner’s effort to provide notice to the taxpayer of a tax sale of his house was insufficient to satisfy due process.
Vosilla v. Rosado
Also in 2006, shortly after the Jones decision, the Florida Supreme Court, in Vosilla v. Rosado, 944 So. 2d 289 (Fla. 2006), came to similar conclusions.
At page 291:
We agree that the notice was not reasonably calculated to apprise the owners of the tax deed sale, which is the due process test.
At page 295:
A legal titleholder could challenge the validity of a tax deed based on a lack of notice.
At page 299-300:
The steps undertaken when notifying a titleholder of a tax deed sale of the titleholder’s property must be reasonably calculated to reach the titleholder under the totality of the circumstances.
At page 301:
The notice sent to the taxpayers was not reasonably calculated to apprise them of the tax deed sale.
Delta Property Management
In 2012, the Florida Supreme Court, again, in Delta Property Management, Inc. v. Profile Investments, Inc., 87 So. 3d 765 (Fla. 2012), came to similar conclusions.
At page 772:
The Supreme Court reasoned the government’s knowledge that the normal procedure was ineffective triggered an obligation on the government’s part to take additional steps.
At page 773:
The Clerk had a duty to take additional, reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the legal titleholder before selling the property.
At page 774:
The taxpayer was no better off than if the notice had never been sent. Because the Clerk’s office did not take any additional reasonable steps, the taxpayer is entitled to prevail on its claim that the tax deed is invalid.
Florida Appellate Courts
Florida appellate courts have also followed the reasoning in Jones. Cases include:
- Rodriguez v. Dep’t of Bus. & Prof’l Regulation, 326 So. 3d 796 (Fla. 3d DCA 2021);
- Save A Lot Car Rental, Inc. v. Tri J. Co. Towing & Recovery, 325 So. 3d 285 (Fla. 2d DCA 2021);
- Thompson v. Markham, 164 So. 3d 1289 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015);
- Horne v. Miami-Dade County, 89 So. 3d 987 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012);
- Deutsch v. Global Fin. Servs., LLC, 976 So. 2d 680 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008);
- Patricia Weingarten Assocs., Inc. v. Jocalbro, Inc., 974 So.2d 559 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008);
- Singleton v. Eli B. Inv. Corp., 968 So. 2d 702 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007); and
- Patricia Weingarten Ass. v. Taylor, 936 So.2d 772 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006).
Even before Jones v. Flowers, tax deeds came with risks. As the Court stated in Kovaleski v Tallahassee Title. Co., 391 So. 2d 315 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980):
At page 316:
Acquiring land through tax deeds is risky business, not for the faint-hearted. Unless all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed, the tax deed which emerges from the process is no good.
At page 320:
No tax deed recipient is guaranteed a quiet title by virtue of his deed, and those who deal in tax deeds know that contest and litigation are occupational hazards.
This has been true, historically, in Florida. Back in 1911, in Clark-Ray-Johnson Co. V. Williford, 62 Fla. 453, 459, 56 So. 938, 941 (Fla. 1911), the Florida Supreme Court stated:
An applicant for a tax deed, who takes it when the authority to execute it has not been exercised as required by mandatory provisions of law, does so at his peril.