LARRY D. VAUGHT, Chief Judge.
Appellant Ed Morris appeals the trial court's order dismissing his complaint seeking to set aside the limited warranty deed acquired by separate appellee LandNPulaski, LLC, following the tax sale of his property and quieting title to the subject property in his favor. Morris contends that notice of the tax sale did not
Morris was the record owner of real property located at 2425 Whispering Pines Road in Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas. There was no dispute that, at all times relevant to this cause, 2425 Whispering Pines Road was Morris's correct address and that he actually resided at that address.
Morris failed to pay real-property taxes for the year 2000, and on March 26, 2003, his property was certified to the State of Arkansas in the care of separate appellee Commissioner of State Lands. The Commissioner, on June 5, 2003, sent a notice, via certified mail, to Morris at 2425 Whispering Pines Road advising that taxes on the property were delinquent, he could redeem the property, and the property would be offered for sale on July 7, 2005. The notice was returned to the Commissioner marked, "unclaimed." On February 9, 2005, the Commissioner mailed a second notice to Morris at the same address, via certified mail, containing the same information. This notice was also returned to the Commissioner marked, "unclaimed." In June 2005, the Commissioner published notice of the sale in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
On July 7, 2005, the Commissioner sold Morris's property to LandNPulaski at a public auction. Four days later, on July 11, 2005, the Commissioner mailed a third notice to Morris, via regular mail, notifying him that his property had been sold and advising him how to redeem it. This notice was not returned to the Commissioner. On August 12, 2005, a limited warranty deed was issued, transferring title to 2425 Whispering Pines Road to LandNPulaski.
On October 12, 2005, Morris sued the Commissioner, LandNPulaski, and the Pulaski County Assessor,
At trial, Morris testified that he did not receive any of the notices sent by the Commissioner. He testified that some time in September 2005, he went to the office of the Pulaski County Assessor to pay his realty taxes. He was sent to the Commissioner's office, where he was informed that his property had been sold to LandNPulaski at a public auction to satisfy delinquent taxes. Morris testified that this was the first notice that he received that his property had been subject to a tax sale. Morris immediately drove to the office of LandNPulaski and met with its associate, John Ryles. Ryles testified that when he met with Morris in September 2005, Morris admitted that he received the Commissioner's July 11, 2005 notice, but he waited too long to file the necessary paperwork to redeem his property.
In its order dismissing Morris's complaint and quieting title in the subject property in LandNPulaski, the trial court stated that it did not believe Morris's testimony that he did not receive the three notices. The trial court did believe the testimony of Ryles who said that Morris admitted receiving the July 11, 2005 notice. The trial court found that the Commissioner's notices were reasonably calculated to apprise Morris of the pendency of the action and afforded him an opportunity to present his objections. The trial court
We first address whether the Commissioner complied with the notice requirements set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated section 26-37-301. The issue of notice given to the owner of tax-delinquent land is a matter of statutory interpretation. Mays v. St. Pat Properties, LLC, 357 Ark. 482, 182 S.W.3d 84 (2004). We review issues of statutory interpretation de novo, as it is for this court to decide what a statute means. Id. In this respect, we are not bound by the trial court's decision; however, in the absence of a showing that the trial court erred, its interpretation will be accepted as correct on appeal. Id.
In construing a statute, it is the court's duty to construe it just as it reads. Jones v. Double "D" Properties, Inc., 352 Ark. 39, 98 S.W.3d 405 (2003). When we construe a statute, we look first at the plain language of the statute and give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. Id. If the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no need to resort to rules of statutory construction. Id.
In cases involving redemption of tax-delinquent lands, strict compliance with the requirement of notice of the tax sale is required before an owner can be deprived of his or her property. Citifinancial Mortgage Co., Inc. v. Matthews, 372 Ark. 167, 271 S.W.3d 501 (2008). The applicable statute, Arkansas Code Annotated section 26-37-301, provided the following regarding notice:
Ark.Code Ann. § 26-37-301(a)(1) and (b).
The plain language of section 26-37-301 only requires notice to the property owner "by certified mail." Arkansas appellate courts have confirmed this and have further held that the statute does not require actual notice to the property owner. Double "D" Properties, Inc., supra (holding that the notice statute only required that the Commissioner notify the property owner at the owner's last known address by certified mail and that the Commissioner complied with this requirement even though notice was returned marked "unclaimed"
We must next determine whether the Commissioner's notice met federal due-process requirements. The Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, applicable to Arkansas through the Fourteenth Amendment, states: "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. A fundamental requirement of due process in proceedings where the government seeks to deprive property from its owner is "notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections." Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314, 70 S.Ct. 652, 94 L.Ed. 865 (1950). "Due process does not require that a property owner receive actual notice before the government may take his property." Jones v. Flowers, 547 U.S. 220, 226, 126 S.Ct. 1708, 164 L.Ed.2d 415 (2006). However, the means employed to notify interested parties must be more than a mere gesture; they must be means that one who actually desires to inform the interested parties might reasonably employ to accomplish actual notice. Mullane, 339 U.S. at 315, 70 S.Ct. 652. As such, when mailed notice of a tax sale is returned unclaimed, the Commissioner must take additional reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the property owner before selling his property, if it is practicable to do so. Flowers, supra.
In the case at bar, when faced with the return of the two pre-sale notices marked, "unclaimed," the Commissioner sold Morris's property. However, after the sale of the property, but before the title of Morris's property was actually transferred to LandNPulaski, the Commissioner sent a third notice to Morris, via regular mail. This third notice, which was not returned to the Commissioner, advised Morris that his property had been sold and that "in order to cancel the sale and retain the ownership of the parcel, all taxes, penalties, interest and fees must be paid in full before 8/6/2005." The notice further provided that:
This third notice clearly demonstrated that even after the sale, had Morris acted in a timely fashion, he could have taken the necessary steps to redeem his property.
Morris incorrectly asserts that reversal is warranted because the factual scenario in his case is "precisely the factual scenario at issue in Flowers." There, the Land Commissioner of the State of Arkansas, pursuant to section 26-37-301, mailed notice, by certified mail, to Jones to advise that he had not paid taxes and that if he did not pay, the property would be sold at a public auction. While Jones was the property owner, he did not live on the property at the time the notice was mailed. The notice was returned marked, "unclaimed." The Commissioner also published notice of the delinquency and the pending public sale in the newspaper. No bids were submitted at the auction. Thereafter, a private sale was negotiated with Flowers. Before the private sale took place, the Commissioner mailed another notice, via certified mail, to Jones. It too was returned marked, "unclaimed." When Flowers instituted an unlawful-detainer action against Jones, he filed a state-court action, alleging that the Commissioner failed to provide adequate notice of the tax sale and that his due-process rights were violated. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Flowers, finding that the Commissioner satisfied the requirements of the applicable statute and that the notice provided met due-process requirements. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, Jones v. Flowers, 359 Ark. 443, 198 S.W.3d 520 (2004), and the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.
The Supreme Court held that when notice of a tax sale, sent certified mail, is returned unclaimed, due process dictates that the Commissioner take additional reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the property owner of the action, if it is practicable to do so. Flowers, 547 U.S. at 226, 126 S.Ct. 1708. The Court stated that in this circumstance, the Commissioner took no additional reasonable steps to provide notice to Jones; therefore, the notice was insufficient to satisfy due-process requirements. The Court reversed and remanded the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Id. at 239, 126 S.Ct. 1708.
There are significant factual distinctions between Morris's case and Flowers. The Commissioner in Flowers did not take any steps to provide notice beyond the two pre-sale certified letters and publication in the local newspaper when he knew that the
In sum, we hold that the Commissioner strictly complied with the notice requirements set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated section 26-37-301 and that the notice provided by the Commissioner met federal due-process constraints.
MARSHALL and BAKER, JJ., agree.