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Taylor v. City of Fort Smith

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 3, 2014

PHILLIP J. TAYLOR, APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF FORT SMITH and JUDITH MILLER, SEBASTIAN COUNTY TAX COLLECTOR, APPELLEES

Page 37

APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT. NO. CIV-2011-1418. HONORABLE STEPHEN TABOR, JUDGE.

Phillip J. Taylor, for appellant.

Daily & Woods, P.L.L.C., by: Robert R. Briggs, for appellee.

WYNNE and HIXSON, JJ., agree.

OPINION

Page 38

WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge.

Phillip Taylor appeals from an order refusing to remove a lien on his property, and from other related orders. We affirm in part and dismiss in part.

In 2011, Taylor purchased a lot in the City of Fort Smith. Several years earlier, a fire had occurred on the property, and the owners, Larry and Danielle Tobler, did not remove the burned-out structure. The City cleaned up the lot on April 26, 2005, at a cost of $3,147.52. Pursuant to statute,[1] the City acquired a lien on the property for its costs.

When the lien remained unsatisfied after more than a year, the City invoked the enforcement provisions of Arkansas Code Annotated section 14-54-904(a).[2] That statute allowed the City to either sue the Toblers in court or certify the lien to the County Tax Collector, who would collect the amount due as a tax delinquency.[3]

The City chose the second option, passing an ordinance in November 2006 that certified the Tobler lien (and several other liens) to the Sebastian County Tax Collector. The Collector received the certification in December 2006 or January 2007.

For reasons unknown, the Collector did not record the lien for several years. The City eventually informed the Collector of the omission, and the Collector added the lien amount to the tax books in May 2010. The Collector then sent a tax invoice to Larry Tobler, who did not pay the bill.[4]

On April 4, 2011, appellant Phillip Taylor purchased the property from Larry Tobler. Taylor was aware at the time of his purchase that the City's lien appeared as a cloud on the property's title. Taylor soon asked the City to release the lien on the ground that it had " expired," citing an eighteen-month statute of limitations contained in section 14-54-904(a). The City refused, and Taylor filed suit, seeking a declaration that the clean-up lien was time barred.

Following a bench trial, the circuit court ruled that section 14-54-904(a) contained two options for enforcing a municipal clean-up lien: (1) filing suit in court, to which an eighteen-month limitation period applied; and (2) certifying the lien to the County Tax Collector, which, the court implied, was not subject to the eighteen-month deadline.[5] Because the City utilized the second method and certified the lien to the Tax Collector, the court refused to ...


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