Governmental entities in Texas like school districts, municipalities, hospital districts, and counties rely heavily on property taxes to finance their operations. Mineral interests are real property interests, and when a producing well is drilled the owners of rights to production from the well, both the working interest and the royalty owners, are subject to being levied a property tax on the value of their interests. When those property taxes are not paid, the taxing districts can file suit to foreclose their tax lien securing payment of the tax.
It has become the practice of some taxing districts to hire private law firms to file tax suits to collect taxes. Multiple small delinquent tax accounts are combined into one suit. The attorneys handling the case charge a flat fee per account to handle the matter and are responsible for trying to locate and serve the defendants with the lawsuit. In many cases, the delinquent taxes go back years and the taxing authorities have no current address for the royalty owners. So many named defendants are served by publication notice in a local newspaper or posting notice at the county courthouse. If the defendants do not answer, a default judgment is entered and the sheriff of the county is ordered to sell the royalty interests at a public sale.
Mitchell v. Map Resources, Inc. involves such a delinquent tax sale. In 1998, the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah Independent School District and the Reeves County Hospital District filed suit to foreclose tax liens against a some 673 defendants for delinquent taxes on royalty interests. One of the named defendants was Elizabeth Mitchell. The taxing authorities’ lawyers filed an affidavit seeking the court’s permission to serve the named defendants by posting, saying that each defendants is “either nonresident(s) of the State of Texas, absent from the state or transient,” and that “the names or residences of the owner or owners of the land or lots involved in said suit … are unknown and cannot be ascertained after diligent inquiry ….” Based on that affidavit, the court authorized service of the suit on the defendants by posting notice of the suit at the Reeves County courthouse. The court appointed an attorney ad litem to represent the defendants served by posting who had not appeared or answered. Continue reading →