A former property owner’s claim that Louisiana ad valorem property tax sales were null and void was timely made and the owner sufficiently established that genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether the sheriff provided notice of the tax delinquencies and the tax sales to the record property owner as required by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Such failure would render the tax sales entirely null and void. Accordingly, the Louisiana Supreme Court found summary judgment to quiet tax titles in favor of the tax purchaser was not warranted. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the tax purchaser over the objection and claim by the former property owner and the record mortgagee that the tax sales were null and void because they were conducted without affording due process of law to the record property owner and mortgagee. The 14th Amendment provides that deprivation of property by adjudication must be preceded by notice and opportunity to be heard. Article VII of the Louisiana Constitution requires the tax collector to provide written notice of the tax delinquency and the tax sale, sent by certified mail return receipt requested, to all owners of record of any interest in the property, alerting each record owner of the immovable property that the owner’s failure to pay the taxes within 20 days will result in the sale of the property. When a tax purchaser sues to quiet a tax title, the purchaser puts that title at issue, and the former owner may use any defense sufficient to defeat the tax title. A tax deed by a tax collector is prima facie evidence that a valid sale was made. Therefore, a former property owner must then carry the burden of proving any defects in the tax adjudication proceedings. If the former property owner offers evidence sufficient to rebut the presumption of regularity, the burden then shifts to the tax purchaser to prove that all requisites for a valid tax sale were met. In the instant case, there was no evidence that the record property owner was ever provided written or printed notice by the sheriff of either the tax delinquencies or the tax sales involving the three subject tracts. The sheriff admitted he did not send any written or printed notices, whether by certified mail or ordinary mail, and he did not make personal or domiciliary service of the notices to the taxpayer at the address of its agent for service of process. As such, the due process rights of the former property owner were violated. Genuine issues of material fact remain regarding whether the sheriff provided written or printed notice to the property owner in compliance with state law in effect at the time, the state constitution, and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the federal constitution. Consequently, the former property owner raised a credible claim that the tax purchaser did not overcome, that it was denied due process of law, and that this rendered the tax sales null and void in their entirety. The failure to provide notice to a record property owner is a violation of the due process owed to the property owner, and a resulting tax sale is null and void in its entirety. Because the tax sales were apparently of no legal force or effect, the reconventional demand to annul the tax sales for lack of due process was timely before the trial court. In addition, the former property owner sufficiently established that the sheriff failed to provide notice of the tax delinquencies and the tax sales to the former property owner as required. As a result, summary judgment in favor of the tax purchaser to quiet the tax titles was not supported by the record. The trial court’s ruling granting summary judgment and quieting title was reversed, and the matter was remanded to that court for further proceedings.
Smitko v. Gulf South Shrimp, Inc., Louisiana Supreme Court, No. 2011-C-2566, July 2, 2012 , ¶202-466