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Tax Sale

Stiff v. Equivest Financial, LLC, [Ms. 1181051, June 26, 2020] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2020). In a plurality decision, the Court (Mitchell, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin and Stewart, JJ., concur; Sellers, J., concurs in the result; Shaw, Wise, Bryan, and Mendheim, JJ., dissent) reverses the Jefferson Circuit Court’s judgment refusing to set aside a tax sale of Stiff’s property that was sold at a tax sale that took place inside the Bessemer courthouse instead of “in front of the door of the courthouse” as required by § 40-10-15, Ala. Code 1975. “When an appeal focuses on the application of the law to undisputed facts, we apply a de novo standard of review.” Ms. *4, citing Carter v. City of Haleyville, 669 So. 2d 812, 815 (Ala. 1995).

The opinion concludes that the irregularity in the sale renders it void:

The tax-sale statutes include detailed instructions on the manner in which a tax sale must be held: “Such sales [of land for taxes] shall be made in front of the door of the courthouse of the county at public outcry, to the highest bidder for cash, between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., and shall continue from day to day until all the real estate embraced in the decree has been sold.” § 40-10-15. Jefferson County ignored one of those requirements – the location of the tax sale – with no apparent excuse. Despite that, Equivest argues “that the holding of the tax sale indoors rather than outdoors [in front of] the courthouse substantially complies with the requirements of Section 40-10-15.” Equivest’s brief at 15. This is essentially an argument that the statute’s sale-location requirement is a minor technicality that is not essential to the objectives of the tax-sale statutes. We disagree – the sale-location requirement plays an important role, and a county may not disregard it for convenience.

Ms.*7.

Justice Bryan’s dissent (joined by Justices Shaw, Wise, and Mendheim) would have affirmed the circuit court’s judgment as “substantially compliant with the statutory requirements….” Ms. *19.

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