COVEY V. TOWN OF SOMERS, 351 U. S. 141 (1956)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Covey v. Town of Somers, 351 U.S. 141 (1956)

Covey v. Town of Somers

No. 380

Argued March 29, 1956

Decided May 7, 1956

351 U.S. 141


Under Article VII-A, Title 3, of the New York Tax Law, a town proceeded to foreclose a lien for delinquent taxes on the real estate of a long-time resident. In accordance with the statute, the taxpayer was given no notice except by mail, posting notice at the post office, and publication in two local newspapers. She filed no answer, judgment of foreclosure was entered, and a deed to her property was delivered to the town. A few days later, she was adjudged insane and committed to a hospital for the insane. Subsequently, appellant was appointed committee of her person and property, and he filed a motion in the trial court where the judgment of foreclosure had been entered to have the default opened, the judgment vacated and the deed set aside. He alleged that, prior to entry of the judgment of foreclosure, the taxpayer was well known by town officials to be financially able to meet her obligations but mentally incompetent to handle her affairs or to understand the meaning of any notice served upon her, and that no attempt had been made to have a committee appointed for her person or property.

Held: assuming the truth of these allegations, the notice provided under the statute was inadequate as applied to this incompetent taxpayer, and the taking of her property would violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 351 U. S. 142-147.

(a) It appears that, in an action to set aside the deed (which is contemplated by the statute), only such irregularities as failure to observe the statutory procedure may be attacked. The state court has recognized the existence of equitable power to entertain a motion to open a default in an in rem tax proceeding, and the State Court of Appeals amended its remittitur in this case to disclose that a constitutional question was presented and necessarily decided on the appeal to that Court. Therefore, the constitutional question is properly before this Court. Pp. 351 U. S. 143-144.

(b) Notice to a person known to be an incompetent and without the protection of a guardian does not measure up to the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 351 U. S. 146-147.

308 N.Y. 798, 941, 125 N.E.2d 862, 127 N.E.2d 90, reversed and remanded.

Page 351 U. S. 142

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