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Taxation – Real Property – Delinquency Sale – Notice – Rent-to-Own

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//March 16, 2022

Taxation – Real Property – Delinquency Sale – Notice – Rent-to-Own

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//March 16, 2022

Although appellant alleges that she had an oral contract with her uncle to buy the Kingstree house in which she was living and that she had made some property tax payments in the past, since her uncle was the record owner, the respondent-taxing officials fulfilled their duties by sending notice of the tax deficiency to the uncle at his address in Columbia. Even if respondents failed to post notice on the property itself (after their certified mailing to the uncle was returned unclaimed), the public duty doctrine bars appellant’s claim against them.

We affirm summary judgment for respondents.

A tax execution is not issued against the property, it is issued against the defaulting taxpayer.

Appellant argues respondents violated S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-40(a) by mailing notices to her uncle’s mailing address rather than the property’s physical address. However, § 12-51-40(a) requires the officer to mail notice of the tax sale “to the defaulting taxpayer and to a grantee of record…” Appellant was never a defaulting taxpayer or a grantee of record of the property.

Appellant testified that her uncle was responsible for paying the property’s taxes and conceded she was never a grantee of record. County records indicated the uncle was the only defaulting taxpayer and grantee of record for the property. Consequently, appellant was not entitled to received mailed notice under § 12-51-40(a).

S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-40(c) requires the officer to post notice of the tax sale on the delinquent property if the certified mail required under § 12-51-40(b) is returned as undelivered. § 12-51-40(c). Ordinarily, under the public duty doctrine, public officials are not liable to individuals for their negligence in discharging public duties because the duty is owed to the public at large rather than to anyone individually. However, our supreme court has recognized exceptions to the public duty doctrine for statutes that create a special duty to particular individuals.

As a notice provision, § 12-51-40 creates a special duty. However, the special-duty exception to § 12-51-40 arises only in cases where the delinquent taxpayer asserts that he provided the county his correct address and the county failed to use that address.

Appellant was never the defaulting taxpayer or a grantee of record for the property. Although she occasionally paid the property’s taxes in lieu of her regular payment to her uncle at his request, she conceded that her uncle was responsible for paying the property’s taxes.

The record includes a 2002 tax receipt bearing a handwritten note, allegedly written by the uncle, saying appellant was the owner and taxpayer for the property. This note does not raise even a scintilla of evidence that appellant was an identifiable taxpayer. The record contained no indication that respondents were in possession or even aware of the annotated tax bill. Moreover, the annotation did not contain a mailing address, the property’s tax bills for the following eight years were sent to the uncle and paid in his name, the uncle denied writing the note, and his name is spelled wrong twice in the note.

Because the uncle remained the only record taxpayer, owner and grantee, respondents did not owe appellant a special duty under § 12-51-40.


Scott v. McAlister (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-013-22, 12 pp.) (Aphrodite Konduros, J.) Appealed from Williamsburg County Circuit Court (George McFaddin, J.) Dwight Christopher Moore for appellant; William Jenkinson and William Evan Reynolds for respondents. S.C. App.

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