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Jones v. Flowers


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547 U.S. 220 (2006), argued 17 Jan 2006, decided Apr. 26, 2006 by a vote of 5 to 3; Roberts for the Court, Thomas in dissent, joined by Scalia and Kennedy, Alito not participating. A homeowner sued in state court for a determination that the notice provided by the state in connection with the sale of his land for unpaid taxes was insufficient to satisfy the constitutional requirements of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Reversing the state court, the Supreme Court ruled that due process does not require that a property owner receive actual notice before the government sells his or her property for tax delinquency. However, a reasonable effort must be made to apprise the interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections. In this case, the state had merely published a notice in a newspaper after being alerted that notice by certified mail had not been unsuccessfully delivered.

The Court held that when notice of a tax sale via certified mailed is returned unclaimed, the state is required by due process to take additional reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to a landowner before selling the property, if it is practicable to do so. It concluded that there were reasonable steps the state could have taken when the certified letter was returned. The Court suggested that the state could have: (1) sent the notice by regular mail so that a signature was not required, (2) posted the notice on the front door, or (3) addressed the notice letter to “Occupant.” The failure to take additional steps rendered the state's efforts to provide notice insufficient to satisfy due process. The dissenters maintained the state's method of notice was reasonably calculated to reach the property owner, and that there was no due process violation.

(1) sent the notice by regular mail so that a signature was not required, (2) posted the notice on the front door, or (3) addressed the notice letter to “Occupant.” The failure to take additional steps rendered the state's efforts to provide notice insufficient to satisfy due process.

David L. Callies

Subjects: Law.


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