Kirkwood v. Jefferson Cnty., et al, No. 09-15-00296-CV, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 1450 (Tex. App.—Beaumont Feb. 11, 2016, no pet.)
In January 2010, Jefferson County brought an action for unpaid property taxes against Gleason, the owner of certain property, and obtained a default judgment. In August 2010, Gleason sold her property to Kirkwood by warranty deed with an agreement that Kirkwood would be responsible for all delinquent taxes. In March 2013, the County sold the property at a tax sale. Kirkwood filed a petition for bill of review because he was not given notice of the tax sale. The County had provided notice to Gleason, the prior owner, but not to Kirkwood. The County filed motions to dismiss for lacking of standing and lack of jurisdiction. The trial court granted the motions to dismiss, and Kirkwood appealed.
On appeal, Kirkwood claimed the trial court erred in granting the motion to dismiss for lack of standing because he was the property owner at the time of the tax sale and his due process rights were violated by the lack of notice. Kirkwood further argued that the County was on notice of Kirkwood’s ownership because the County had accepted partial payments toward the delinquent taxes from Kirkwood. The court of appeals agreed, holding that Kirkwood could challenge the sale as the owner of the property because his due process rights were violated. While notice to Gleason, the defendant in the delinquent tax suit, would satisfy Texas Property Tax Code § 34.01, Kirkwood was entitled to pursue a cause of action for violation of his due process rights independent of the Property Tax Code.
Kirkwood also argued that the trial court improperly granted the County’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. In its motion, the County argued, and the trial court agreed, that the County was shielded from Kirkwood’s claims by governmental immunity. However, the court of appeals held that governmental immunity could not bar Kirkwood’s claim for equitable relief based on the County’s deprivation of Kirkwood’s due process rights. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s orders dismissing Kirkwood’s suit and remanded the case to the trial court.