January 16, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: County Treasurer Must Exercise Due Diligence When Notice Returned Undelivered

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wells Fargo Bank Financial Colorado, Inc. v. Olivas on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

TaxationSale of Tax LiensTax DeedNoticeDiligent Inquiry.

Buyers signed a deed of trust with Wells Fargo Financial Colorado, Inc. (WFFC) to secure a mortgage and an open-end deed of trust to Wells Fargo Financial Bank (WFFB) to secure a line of credit. Beginning in 2008, buyers failed to pay both the monthly mortgage installments to WFFC and the property taxes on their house. WFFC did not pay the taxes after September 2009, and Housman paid the 2009 taxes on October 20, 2010, when the Treasurer, Olivas, sold a tax lien on the house by public auction. Housman also paid taxes on the property for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2013, Housman applied for a tax deed. In early January 2014, the Treasurer took steps pursuant to C.R.S. § 39-11-128 to notify all parties with an interest in the property of an impending issuance of a tax deed and a right to redeem. The notice to WFFC was returned as undeliverable as addressed. The notice to WFFB was not returned to the Treasurer. Believing that he had provided the required notice because one Wells Fargo entity had received the notice, the Treasurer issued Housman a tax deed on May 28, 2014. Housman sold the property to Moran a few weeks later, and Housman continued to hold a deed of trust on the property. In May 2015, WFFC filed a complaint for declaratory relief seeking to void the tax deed to Housman, the special warranty deed from Housman to Moran, and the deed of trust held by Housman. WFFC moved for summary judgment, and Housman and Moran cross-moved for summary judgment asserting, among other things, that WFFC’s complaint should be barred by laches. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, concluding that Housman’s tax deed was valid.

On appeal, WFFC contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants. A reasonably diligent treasurer should know that secured parties on different deeds of trust that secure different loan amounts, with different names and addresses, may not be so closely affiliated that notice to one may be assumed to effect notice to the other. The Treasurer failed, as a matter of law, to perform his statutory duty to exercise reasonable diligence in seeking an alternative address for WFFC. When notice is defective because it was given without the diligent inquiry required by law, the tax deed is voidable.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings on the affirmative defense of laches. If the court concludes that laches does not bar WFFC’s claims, it shall address the request for declaratory relief. If recovery of the land conveyed by the tax deed is effected by this suit, the court shall consider whether C.R.S. § 39-12-101 applies.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Treasurer Should Use Diligent Efforts to Notify Occupant of Property Tax Deed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Red Flower, Inc. v. McKown on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

Kevin McKown owned 320 acres of farmland in rural Baca County. From 2004 to 2011, he had an oral sharecrop agreement with Don Lohrey to farm the property. Lohrey visited the property every week or two to check on his crops, but he lived about ten miles away. McKown failed to pay his county property taxes, and the county treasurer sold tax liens for the real property and the mineral rights. Red Flower bought the liens in November 2007. In August 2010, Red Flower applied for treasurer’s deeds. The treasurer unsuccessfully attempted to notify McKown and published notice in the local paper in September 2010. In December 2010, she issued the deeds to Red Flower.

The following year, Red Flower filed a C.R.C.P. 105 action to quiet title to the property. McKown appeared and defended on the grounds that the tax liens were defective due to insufficient notice to himself and Lohrey. The district court determined the treasurer had made a diligent inquiry to find McKown, and a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling, but remanded for determination of whether the treasurer had complied with the separate requirement to notify the property’s occupant, Lohrey. On remand, the district court struggled with the statutory language, and ultimately concluded that the treasurer’s notice to Lohrey was deficient and the tax deeds were void.

Red Flower appealed, arguing that the district court’s construction cannot be squared with the language or intent of the statutory scheme. The court of appeals agreed with Red Flower that the district court’s reasoning was incorrect as to the mineral deed. After analyzing C.R.S. § 39-11-128, the court concluded that it was illogical to require the treasurer to put forth more effort to locate the occupant of the property than the property owner. The court, however, noted that it was presumed that the occupant of the property could be found on the property. The court found that the district court correctly concluded that treasurer need not conduct “diligent inquiry” to determine the location of the occupant, but it erred in determining that the treasurer had some limitless duty to locate the occupant. The court instead may simply serve notice to occupants at the property. Because Lohrey was not an actual occupant of the property, but the parties stipulated to his occupancy, the court of appeals remanded for a determination of whether the treasurer made a “diligent inquiry” as to his whereabouts before conveying the mineral deed.

As to the real property deeds, the court of appeals found an error in publication. The court noted that the statute requires publication once a week for three weeks, and publication must take place not more than five months nor less than three months before the tax deeds may issue. Because the tax deeds issued less than three months after publication, the notice was deficient. The court declined to say the deeds were void, since the taxing authority had jurisdiction to issue them, but instead determined the deeds were voidable. The court affirmed summary judgment to McKown as to the real property deed.

The court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.