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Equivest Financial, LLC v. Ravenel

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

February 14, 2018

Equivest Financial, LLC, Respondent,
Mary B. Ravenel and AAA Plumbing, Inc., Defendants, Of Whom Mary B. Ravenel is the Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-002257

          Heard October 10, 2017

         Appeal From Charleston County R. Markley Dennis, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.

          Bruce Alan Berlinsky, of Charleston, for Appellant.

          Steven R. Anderson, of Law Office of Steven R. Anderson, and James B. Richardson, Jr., both of Columbia, for Respondent.

          KONDUROS, J.

         In this action to quiet title to a property sold at a tax sale, Mary Ravenel appeals the trial court's finding the tax sale of her property valid. Ravenel contends (1) the trial court erred in failing to take testimony; (2) the tax sale was void because the property was not levied, advertised, and sold in the name of the true owner; (3) judicial estoppel does not apply because Ravenel was not a party to the previous action; and (4) the delinquent tax collector did not comply with statutory requirements in sending notice to Ravenel. We affirm as modified.


         The subject real property is a home and land originally purchased by Ravenel on October 22, 2001. While Ravenel purchased five lots in total, only the lot on which she built her home was sold at the tax sale and is the subject of this appeal. Ravenel conveyed all five lots to her daughter and son, Lashanda Ravenel and Henry Lee Ravenel II, (collectively, Children) via a deed dated November 6, 2007, for the stated consideration of "$5, love and affection." On November 7, 2007, Ravenel filed for bankruptcy and did not indicate the recent conveyance on her sworn schedules.

         Ravenel recorded the deed but never delivered the deed to Children, nor told them about the conveyance. Subsequently, the property taxes on the home became delinquent for the year 2007. The Charleston County Delinquent Tax Collector (DTC) first sent an execution notice to Children by regular mail, dated April 7, 2008, at the address given on the deed conveying the property to Children. This notice informed Children if the amount due was not paid, an official notice of levy would be mailed to them, the property would be advertised in the Charleston Post & Courier, a sign would be placed on the property announcing it would be sold due to nonpayment of taxes, and finally, the property would be sold.

         When the 2007 taxes remained unpaid, the DTC levied upon the property by way of a levy notice sent by certified mail to Children's address dated May 22, 2008. This notice was returned unclaimed to the DTC on May 24, marked "Return to Sender, Unable to Forward." A sign was placed on the property on August 1, 2008, announcing the property was to be sold due to the nonpayment of taxes. The property was advertised in the local newspaper on August 15, 22, and 29, 2008. The DTC then sent the Final Notice of Property Redemption, also by certified mail, one to each of Children and one to them jointly, all of which were returned marked "Return to Sender/Unable to Forward" on October 26, 2009. The DTC then sent a courtesy copy of this notice by regular mail. After receiving the courtesy redemption letter, which was addressed to Children, Ravenel called the DTC to try and redeem the property. DTC informed Ravenel that in order to save the property, she would have to pay the redemption amount of $27, 849.06, which she did not pay.

         When the taxes remained unpaid, the property was sold at the tax sale on November 3, 2008, to Equifunding. Notices of redemption were sent to Children but were returned to the DTC unclaimed. These notices were addressed to Children at the address given in the deed conveying the property to them. This address was the same post office box shown as the address on the deed conveying the property to Ravenel. This post office box belonged to Ravenel's mother, who would collect the mail and bring it to her daughter. Because the property was not redeemed, a tax deed was delivered to Equifunding. Equifunding thereby conveyed the subject real property to Equivest Financial, LLC in a deed recorded on October 4, 2010.

         In 2010, Children brought an action to quiet title to set aside the tax deed. In her testimony, Ravenel provided the reason for the transfer of the property to Children was to protect the assets from her creditors. The Master-in-Equity found the tax sale was valid and Ravenel had not delivered the deed to Children. The master found Ravenel's conveyance to Children was in violation of the Statute of Elizabeth, as she intended to defraud her creditors, and thus found the deed to the children was void and of no effect. Children appealed to this court, which affirmed the decision of the master on the grounds that Ravenel had not delivered the deed to Children. Equivest Fin., LLC v. Scarborough, Op. No. 2013-UP-495 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Dec. 23, 2013).

         Thereafter, Equivest commenced the present action to quiet title as to Ravenel because she was not a party to the first action. The trial court held Ravenel was judicially estopped from claiming she did not receive notice of the tax sale, as she was the one who attempted to fraudulently convey the property. The court further held the two-year statute of limitations applied, making the tax sale incontestable. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD ...

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