MICHAEL G. BREAKEY, ET AL.
SEQUATCHIE COUNTY, TENNESSEE, ET AL.
Assigned on Briefs April 3, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Sequatchie County No. 2414
Jeffrey F. Stewart, Judge.
/taxpayers filed suit against Sequatchie County, seeking to
set aside the tax sale of their property. As grounds,
Appellees alleged that they were not afforded due process and
were never notified of the delinquent tax action. The trial
court ruled in favor of the taxpayers and set aside the tax
sale due to lack of notice sufficient to provide due process.
Sequatchie County appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court is Affirmed and Remanded.
L. Upchurch, Pikeville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Sequatchie County, Tennessee.
Alexander K. McVeagh and Logan C. Threadgill, Chattanooga,
Tennessee, for the appellees Michael G. Breakey and Angela L.
Keith Davis, Dunlap, Tennessee, for the appellees, Rayburn D.
Layne and Rhonda L. Layne.
Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Charles D. Susano, Jr. and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.
2003, Michael G. Breakey and Angela L. Breakey (together
"Appellees") purchased approximately 10.8 acres of
unimproved land in Sequatchie County, Tennessee
("Appellant"). As an officer of the United States
Air Force ("USAF"), Mr. Breakey was stationed in
various locations, both within the United States and abroad.
As the Breakeys relocated to various locations, they would
notify the Sequatchie County Trustee's Office of their
new address. The Appellees timely paid their taxes from 2004
through 2007. In August 2007, when Mr. Breakey retired from
the USAF, the Breakeys moved from Shalimar, Florida to
Sequatchie County mailed its tax notices in October 2007, the
mail was forwarded to the Breakeys in Chattanooga. Mr.
Breakey testified that he promptly paid his 2007 property
taxes and that he enclosed a change of address with his tax
payment. Although Sequatchie County disputed that Mr. Breakey
included a change of address notification with his 2007
payment, the County sent a receipt for the payment to Mr.
Breakey at his Chattanooga address. Additionally, the County
trustee, Mr. Larry Lockhart (Trustee) testified that his
office kept a copy of the Breakeys' check, which listed
their Chattanooga address, in the County's files for two
years after the check was received. The evidence showed that,
from 2008 through 2012, Sequatchie County continued to mail
notices of the tax bill to the Breakeys at their former
address in Shalimar, Florida. The Breakeys never received
these notices. Instead, the notices were returned to the
Sequatchie County trustee's office marked "Return to
Sender - Not Deliverable as Addressed- Unable to
Forward." Because the Breakeys had not paid the assessed
taxes for the years 2008, 2009, and 2010, Sequatchie County
initiated delinquent tax proceedings.
Sequatchie County trustee referred the delinquent taxes to
the Clerk & Master to enforce the tax lien and to collect
the unpaid taxes in accordance with standard procedures. The
Clerk & Master filed suit on behalf of Sequatchie County
and issued process through the Secretary of State to the
Breakeys' Shalimar, Florida address. Each notice and
process was returned by the Secretary of State as "not
deliverable as addressed" or "attempted not
known." After process was returned, the Clerk &
Master obtained orders of publication and published notice
for four consecutive weeks in the Dunlap Tribune,
which is the local newspaper in Sequatchie County. Default
judgment was entered against Mr. and Mrs. Breakey in the
delinquent tax actions, and a tax sale was held on January
24, 2013. The Clerk and Master sent a letter via registered
mail to the Breakeys at the Shalimar, Florida address,
notifying them of the sale scheduled for January 24, 2013.
This letter was also returned as undeliverable.
February 2012, Mr. Breakey found a website, which was
maintained by the State of Tennessee; the website permitted
users to pay 2011 property taxes by credit card. Mr. Breakey
testified that once he made his payment, the webpage receipt
showed zero dollars due and owing (the receipt was
specifically for the tax year 2011). Unbeknownst to Mr.
Breakey, there were delinquent tax actions pending for tax
years 2008 and 2009 at the time he paid his 2011 taxes. It is
unclear whether the website would allow Mr. Breakey to access
taxes that were due and owing from previous years. Sequatchie
County provided the tax payment report received from the
statewide website. The report contains all of the payments
made for property taxes in Sequatchie County from January 1,
2012 through March 1, 2012, including Mr. Breakey's
payment of property taxes for 2011. The report does not