Two unusual cases have recently been decided by the El Paso Court of Appeals, both arising out of the same underlying facts. Both deal with a tax foreclosure on royalty interests.
In the late 1990s an attorney and two mineral buyers got together and proposed to taxing districts to handle tax foreclosure suits for delinquent taxes on royalty interests. The tax foreclosures named a large set of defendants who were served by posting notice of the suit at the courthouse. Texas law allows notice of suit by posting or publication where the plaintiff has tried diligently to locate the defendant and has been unable to do so. The two mineral buyers, Joe Hughes and Duke Edwards, searched the tax records for owners with delinquent taxes, and the lawyer proposed to represent the taxing districts in foreclosing the tax liens. The lawyer’s fee was paid out of the proceeds from the sheriff sale of the royalty interests foreclosed on. Hughes and Edwards were hired to try to locate the delinquent royalty owners so they could be served with the tax suit. For those they could not locate, they provided testimony in the foreclosure suit that they diligently looked for the missing owners and were unable to find them, so the court would authorize service by posting. Hughes and Edwards received an “abstractor’s fee” for each “unlocatable” owner for whom they searched. At the sheriff sale, Duke and Edwards bid on and purchased some of the royalty interests sold.
In Mitchell v. Map Resources, No. 08-17-00155-CV, the El Paso Court of Appeals addressed an appeal of a suit by the Mitchells seeking to set aside a 1999 judgment for taxes and the sale of their interest in royalties. The case resulted in three opinions: the majority opinion by Justice Gina Palafox, a concurring opinion by Justice Alley, and a dissenting opinion by Justice Rodriguez. The court refused to set aside the sale.