The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that a woman whose Ooltewah home was sold at a back tax sale without her knowledge should get title to the house back.
Chancellor Pam Fleenor had dismissed a suit filed by Linda Owens.
However, the Appeals Court directed the chancellor to declare the sale of the property to Kenneth Stiner Sr. void.
The Appeals Court said Ms. Owens never received proper notice from the county that her house was being sold for unpaid back taxes.
Ms. Owens said the first she learned about the sale was when the new "owner" showed up at her house. He had bought the substantial house at 9210 Dexter Lane for $42,000.
The Appeals Court noted that the county never sent a notice to 9210 Dexter Lane, but to other nearby addresses - mainly to a vacant lot.
The Appeals Court said, "Turning to the record, it is undisputed that Ms. Owens never received personal service. She also never received service by mail because both mailed summonses were returned to the County. Furthermore, neither summons was mailed to her correct address. The address listed on the deed for Ms. Owens’s property is “9410 Dexter Lane.” Her deed also states that tax bills shall be sent to the same address. Additionally, the tax bill for 2011 states the “Taxpayer Mailing Address” as “9410 Dexter LN.” Furthermore, Ms. Owens testified by affidavit that she never contacted the assessor’s office requesting that mail be sent to any address other than “9410 Dexter Lane.” Despite this information, the first summons was sent via certified mail to “09410 Dexter LN” and was returned to the County as: “Not Deliverable as Addressed, Unable to Forward.”
"After unsuccessful service of the first summons, the County unilaterally changed Ms. Owens’s address to “9412 Dexter LN” and again attempted to serve her at that address via certified mail. The second summons was returned to the County and read: “Return to Sender, No Such Number.” In her affidavit, Ms. Owens testified that she never received or rejected any mailings related to the property tax lawsuit. Despite being notified by the post office that “no such number” existed for “9412 Dexter LN,” Deputy Bowman attempted to personally serve Ms. Owens with the third summons at “9412 Dexter LN.” Deputy Bowman indicated on his return that he did not serve Ms. Owens and that “9412 Dexter LN” was a vacant lot. The County never attempted service at “9410 Dexter Lane,” Ms. Owens’s actual address. The County failed to serve Ms. Owens either personally or by mail."
The opinion, written by Judge Kenny Armstrong, says, "For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the trial court’s order. The case is remanded with instructions to the trial court to set aside the sale of Ms. Owens’s property and declare her the fee simple owner, and for such further proceedings as may be necessary and are consistent with this opinion. Costs of the appeal are assessed against the Appellee, Kenneth Stiner, Sr., for all of which execution may issue if necessary."
Ms. Owens was represented by attorneys John Konvalinka, Mark Litchford and Hollie Floberg.