Jones v. Flowers

547 U.S. 220 (2006)


Jones (P) purchased a house and lived in it with his wife until they separated in 1993. P then moved into an apartment in Little Rock, and his wife continued to live in the home. P paid his mortgage each month for 30 years, and the mortgage company paid the property taxes. After Jones paid off his mortgage in 1997, the property taxes went unpaid, and the property was certified as delinquent. In April 2000, Wilcox (D1), the Commissioner of State Lands, attempted to notify P of his tax delinquency, and his right to redeem the property. D1 mailed a certified letter to Jones at the house address. The post office returned the unopened packet to the Commissioner marked “‘unclaimed.’” Two years later, D1 published a notice of public sale in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. No bids were submitted, which permitted the State to negotiate a private sale of the property. Linda Flowers (D) submitted a purchase offer. D1 mailed another certified letter to Jones at the North Bryan Street address, attempting to notify him that his house would be sold if he did not pay his taxes. It too was returned marked “unclaimed.” D purchased the house, which the parties stipulated in the trial court had a fair market value of $80,000, for $21,042.15. Immediately after the 30-day period for post-sale redemption passed, D had an unlawful detainer notice delivered to the property. The notice was served on P's daughter, who contacted P and notified him of the tax sale. P filed a lawsuit in Arkansas state court against Ds, alleging that D1’s failure to provide notice of the tax sale and of P's right to redeem resulted in the taking of his property without due process. Ds moved for summary judgment on the ground that the two unclaimed letters sent by the Commissioner were a constitutionally adequate attempt at notice. Ds were granted summary judgment. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. It noted that due process does not require actual notice, see Dusenbery v. United States, 534 U. S. 161, 170 (2002), and it held that attempting to provide notice by certified mail satisfied due process in the circumstances presented. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.