Void Tax Sale – Section 40-10-76, Ala. Code 1975 – Interest Accrual

Stiff v. Equivest Financial, LLC, [Ms. 1200264, Feb. 25, 2022] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2022). In a plurality opinion, the Court (Mitchell, J.; Wise and Stewart, JJ., concur; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Sellers, and Mendheim, JJ. concur in the result; Shaw and Bryan, JJ., dissent) affirms the Jefferson Circuit Court’s monetary judgment entered in favor of Equivest Financial, LLC, the purchaser of real property at a tax sale subsequently declared invalid. The property owner Mark Stiff argued that “the trial court erred: (1) by awarding Equivest interest on the amount it bid in excess of the delinquent taxes and (2) by awarding Equivest interest that accrued, and by failing to award him costs that he incurred, after he tendered an offer of judgment.” Ms. *2.

Applying the rule that statutes on the same subject must be construed in pari materia, the Court rejects Mark’s arguments:

The “amount” that a court must ascertain under § 40-10-76 [Ala. Code 1975], and on which a delinquent taxpayer must pay interest, includes the excess bid. This interpretation gives effect to all the language in § 40-10-76 and harmonizes it with other provisions in the tax-sale statutes, particularly §§ 40-10-122(a) and 40-10-78. It is also the only plausible interpretation that furthers, rather than frustrates, the tax-sale statutes’ purpose of encouraging participation in tax auctions. In addition, because the amount that Mark proposed to tender in his offer of judgment was not more favorable than the amount rightfully obtained by Equivest, it is clear that Equivest is entitled to interest that accrued [after the offer of judgment], and that Mark is not entitled to court costs that he incurred, after he made the offer of judgment.

Ms. **20-21.

In his dissent joined by Justice Bryan, Justice Shaw concludes that where a tax sale is declared invalid, the purchaser is not entitled to interest under § 40-10-76 on the amount of the bid in excess of the delinquent taxes:

A redemption after a valid tax sale is entirely different from what occurs when there was no valid sale in the first place. There is a logical difference between these scenarios and why the legislature specified in §40-10-122(a) that, when lands are properly sold in a tax sale, the landowner, to regain his or her prior interest, must pay the entire sale price, but did not require in § 40-10-76 that, when there is no tax sale, the landowner be liable for an excess bid, which was not paid as part of a valid sale in the first place. There is no need to import the requirement of § 40-10-122(a) to pay interest on an excess bid made in a valid sale into § 40-10-76, under which the tax sale itself, and thus any bids or payment, were not valid in the first place. Although every word in a statute should be given effect “if possible,” Ex parte Beshears, 669 So. 2d 148, 150 (Ala.1995), I do not believe judicial construction of § 40-10-76 to require it to say something contrary to its plain language is possible in this case.

Ms. **26-27.

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