Tax Lien Foreclosure & Attorney's Fees - The Supreme Court Weighs In

The Arizona Supreme Court just weighed in on the issue of attorney's fees in tax lien foreclosure cases.  Under Arizona Revised Statutes section 42-18206 (2010), a tax lien purchaser is entitled to a judgment for costs and reasonable attorney fees if the delinquent taxpayer redeems the lien after the purchaser commences a foreclosure action.  After years of litigation, the Arizona Supreme Court held that a tax lien purchaser is only entitled to reasonable attorney fees incurred before the tax lien is redeemed and a certificate of redemption issues.

Under Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 42-18206 (2010), a tax lien purchaser is entitled to a judgment for costs and reasonable attorney fees if the delinquent taxpayer redeems the lien after the purchaser commences a foreclosure action. We hold that a tax lien purchaser is only entitled to reasonable attorney fees incurred before the lien is redeemed and a certificate of redemption issues.

 

Under Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 42-18206 (2010), a tax lien purchaser is entitled to a judgment for costs and reasonable attorney fees if the delinquent taxpayer redeems the lien after the purchaser commences a foreclosure action. We hold that a tax lien purchaser is only entitled to reasonable attorney fees incurred before the lien is redeemed and a certificate of redemption issues.

 

The court of appeals noted that this statute neither places a "temporal limit" on recoverable fees nor limits eligibility for fees "to certain matters and not others."  The Arizona Supreme Court noted though although the legislature did not expressly place temporal and subject matter restrictions in the text of A.R.S. § 42-18206, such restrictions are apparent from the context of the statutes governing tax lien redemption.

The Court went on to say that A.R.S. § 42-18206 protects against a loss to the purchaser from pre-redemption litigation, but it does not ensure a profit. Nor should it subsidize unlimited litigation to contest redemption in pursuit of that profit.

In its most foreceful reasoning, the Court stated: "Thus, interpreting § 42-18206 to allow post-redemption fees and costs skews the statute to subsidize unsuccessful litigation. Such a reading creates an incentive for protracted and potentially meritless litigation. It allows tax lien purchasers to coerce landowners otherwise able to redeem to forfeit their property by the threat of continued litigation conducted at the landowners' expense. We discern neither a legislative intent nor any sound policy reason to award fees for a losing argument, especially when doing so encourages protracted litigation, discourages redemption, and interferes with litigants' and the courts' interests in finality."

Though this decision does not undercut the basic protections afforded tax lien purchasers in the statutory scheme, unfortunately, this decision does leave tax lien purchasers slightly exposed to the costs associated with having to file for a judgment after a property owner redeems and refuses or is unable to pay the costs and fees incurred by the tax lien purchaser.  A strict reading of this opinion seems to indicate that seeking a tax lien holder seeking a judgment after a redemption, for failure to pay the pre-redemption costs and fees incurred, will not be recoverable.  

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Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Tax Lien certificates - August 9, 2011 5:55 AM

Very interesting post and a great resource to first time tax lien sale investors.

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