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Archuleta v. U.S. Liens, LLC

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 26, 2018

JULIAN S. ARCHULETA, Defendant Below, Petitioner
US LIENS, LLC, Plaintiff Below, Respondent

          Submitted: April 10, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Berkeley County Honorable Christopher C. Wilkes, Judge Civil Action No. 15-C-407

          Tammy M. McWilliams, Trump & Trump, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorney for Petitioner.

          Christopher P. Stroech, Arnold & Bailey, Charles Town, West Virginia, Attorney for Respondent.


         1. Noncompliance with the mandatory requirements of W.Va. Code § 11A-3-19 (2010) (Repl. Vol. 2017) is a jurisdictional defect not subject to curative measures.

         2. West Virginia Code § 11A-3-19 (2010) (Repl. Vol. 2017) provides that a property owner must be served notice of the right to redeem property as outlined under W.Va. Code § 11A-3-22 (2013) (Repl. Vol. 2017), and that failure to provide notice in the manner required will result in the tax purchaser of the property losing all benefits of the purchase.

         3. West Virginia Code § 11A-3-22(d) (2013) (Repl. Vol. 2017) provides that, in order to comply with the redemption notice requirements for Class II property, in addition to other notice requirements set forth in W.Va. Code § 11A-3-22, notice must also be addressed to "Occupant" and mailed to the property.


          DAVIS JUSTICE.

         This is an appeal by Petitioner, Julian S. Archuleta (defendant below), from a summary judgment order of the Circuit Court of Berkeley County. The circuit court's order vested title to Petitioner's home to the Respondent, U.S. Liens, LLC (plaintiff below). In this appeal, the Petitioner contends that she was entitled to summary judgment because there was no material issue of fact in dispute regarding the Respondent's failure to comply with all of the requirements for providing her notice of the right to redeem her home. After a careful review of the briefs, the appendix record, and listening to the oral arguments of the parties, I.


         The record indicates that the Petitioner, who is in her seventies, and her father purchased a home in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1994. The home was subject to a mortgage. It appears that the lender required the Petitioner and her father to make monthly payments for property taxes into an escrow account for the life of the loan. The lender was ultimately responsible for paying property taxes from the escrow account. The Petitioner's father died in 2003, after which title to the property vested in Petitioner by right of survivorship. The mortgage was satisfied in 2012. Once the loan was satisfied the lender was no longer responsible for paying property taxes.

         After the termination of the tax escrow account, the Petitioner failed to pay her property taxes for the year 2012. As a result of the 2012 taxes not having been paid, the Sheriff of Berkeley County held an auction on November 19, 2013, to sell the tax lien on the Petitioner's home. The Respondent purchased the tax lien on the property at the auction. It appears that during the first few months of 2015, the Respondent, through the West Virginia State Auditor, unsuccessfully attempted to have the Petitioner notified, [1] by mail [2] and newspaper publications, [3] of her right to redeem the property. On April 1, 2015, a deed to the property was conveyed to the Respondent by a State Auditor appointee. Thereafter, on July 23, 2015, the Respondent filed the instant proceeding in circuit court to quiet title to the property.[4]

         The Petitioner filed an answer and counterclaim to the petition to quiet title.[5]In her response, the Petitioner asserted that in January 2015 she was hospitalized in Arlington, Virginia. [6] The hospital eventually released her to a nursing facility in Arlington. The Petitioner was not able to return to her home in Martinsburg until April 2015. The Petitioner further alleged that the Respondent failed to comply with all of the statutory requirements for providing her with notice of the right to redeem her home. Specifically, the Petitioner alleged that the Respondent failed to comply with W.Va. Code § 11A-3-22(d) (2013) (Repl. Vol. 2017), by addressing a notice to redeem to "Occupant" and sending it by first class mail to her home.

         Both parties eventually moved for summary judgment. By order entered May 9, 2017, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Respondent. The circuit court's order acknowledged that the Petitioner was recovering from health problems in Virginia during the period of time the Respondent attempted to provide her with notice to redeem the property. However, the order held that the Petitioner's incapacitation "does not toll the redemption deadline." The order also concluded that, although the notice to "Occupant" mailing was not complied with, the Petitioner "would not have received any additional notice had a . . . first class letter been delivered to her under a pseudonym." The circuit court ultimately concluded that the Respondent substantially complied with the redemption notice requirements. This appeal followed.



         This proceeding was brought from a summary judgment order of the circuit court. We have held that "[a] circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo." Syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). We have also held that

[s]ummaryjudgment is appropriate if, from the totality of the evidence presented, the record could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.

Syl. pt. 2, Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995). We will apply these standards to our analysis of this appeal.



         The Petitioner contends that the circuit court's summaryjudgment order should be reversed, because the evidence clearly showed that the Respondent failed to have a notice addressed to "Occupant, " and mailed to her home as required by W.Va. Code § 11A-3-22(d). The Respondent concedes that it failed to comply with the "Occupant" notice requirement. However, the Respondent argues that it provided the West Virginia State Auditor with the address of the property, and that it was the duty of the State Auditor to send out a notice of redemption addressed to the "Occupant" of the address given. The Respondent further argues that it should not be held responsible for the State Auditor's failure to comply with W.Va. Code § 11A-3-22(d).

         To start, we note that the Legislature has carved out detailed statutes that regulate every aspect of the sale of real property for delinquent taxes and the redemption of such property. See W.Va. Code § 11A-3-1 et seq. We have previously observed that "this area of the law has undergone significant change in the last several years, with each change increasing the protections afforded the delinquent land owner." Mingo Cty. Redev. Auth. v. Green, 207 W.Va. 486, 491, 534 S.E.2d 40, 45 (2000). Many of the changes in this area of the law took place after a decision by the United States Supreme Court recognized certain constitutional due process notice requirements for owners of real property subject to delinquent tax sales. See Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791, 800, 103 S.Ct. 2706, 2712, 77 L.Ed.2d 180 (1983) ("Notice by mail or other means as certain to ensure actual notice is a minimum constitutional precondition to a proceeding which will adversely affect the . . . property interests of ...

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