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August 9, 1983


From the Circuit Court of St. Louis County; Civil Appeal; Judge Richard T. Enright.

Motion for Rehearing Overruled, Transfer Denied September 15, 1983.

Before Stewart, P.j., Crandall, Stephan, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephan

Defendants appeal a judgment rendering invalid a land tax sale for nonpayment of real property taxes. We affirm.

Plaintiff, Treva Brewen, bought the property at issue with her husband, Rolla Brewen, in 1954. Mr. Brewen died in 1973. The property is located at what is now 18626 Olive Street Road in Chesterfield, St. Louis County. The 1954 deed in the names of Treva and Rolla Brewen described the property as being comprised of two contiguous parcels, one 1.42 acres and another 1 acre in size. The deed of trust on the property was held by First National Bank until 1974. Until that time, the bank received and paid out of an escrow account all the real property taxes on the property. The Bank each year received three separate real property tax bills for the Brewen property since, for some reason, the Assessor's office had divided the Brewen land into three taxable portions and assigned different locator numbers to each. In 1974 the deed of trust was repaid, and the Bank asked the Collector that tax bills no longer be sent to it. It was at this point that an error was made by the Collector's office. The Collector's office noted an address for only the one acre portion of the property on which the Brewen house was located. The other two portions were categorized by the Collector's office as non-mailable and were entered into the data processing system as such. Thereafter, no bills were mailed for those parcels.

For the years 1975-79, Mrs. Brewen received a single real property tax bill. She believed that the single bill was for her entire property, and each year she paid the bill. Notices of sale for non-payment of real property taxes were first published in the St. Louis Countian, a newspaper of general circulation, in 1978 for delinquent taxes for the years 1975, 1976, and 1977. There were no bidders at this sale nor at the 1979 sale which added 1978 as a delinquent year. The 1978 and 1979 notices both listed the property as two parcels and named Treva Brewen and Rolla Brewen as owners.

On November 14, 1979 Treva Brewen quitclaimed the entire property to her children, Carol, Ronnie, and James Brewen, plaintiffs herein, reserving a life estate in herself. This deed bore the address of the property and was recorded.

In July 1980 the notices for the third and final sale were published in the St. Louis Countian. The notices named only Treva Brewen and still described two parcels composed of 1 and .42 acres for which a total of $290.24 and $100.54 respectively in real property taxes for 1975-79 were due.

In August 1980 defendant Bernard Feinstein purchased the property at the foreclosure sale for a total price of $4,970. At Feinstein's direction, two Collector's deeds were executed in the name of Elbert Ewing. At trial, Feinstein testified that Elbert Ewing was his "nominee." Mr. Feinstein, who described himself as "a real estate dealer," explained that, with respect to subsequent sales, "it is so much easier as far as the sale to, to represent someone else. You have more leeway in negotiation . . ." The parties stipulated at trial that Feinstein, not Elbert Ewing, was the "actual owner" of the property. In September 1980 an unrecorded quitclaim deed conveyed the property from Elbert Ewing to Bernard Feinstein and his wife Beatrice Feinstein.

When Mrs. Brewen discovered in September that her property had been sold for taxes she brought this action, joined by her children, to set aside the foreclosure sale as invalid and she tendered the total bid price to the court. The trial court entered judgment for the plaintiffs holding that the sale was invalid and the Collector's deeds and any subsequent conveyances were void.

Defendants' first allegation of error attacks the trial court's ruling that the 1980 notices of sale were insufficient since they failed to include the names of the Brewen children who were record owners by virtue of the 1979 quitclaim deed from Mrs. Brewen. At the outset we note that we give deference to the trial court's finding that the names and address on this deed were available or should have been available to the Collector's office in time for the 1979 tax records. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976).

The applicable statute is Section 140.150-2, RSMo 1978, which provides in part: "No real property shall be sold for state, county or city taxes without judicial proceedings, unless the notice of sale contains the names of all record owners thereof, or the names of all owners appearing on the land tax book and all other information required by law."

Defendants make much of the fact that Treva Brewen alone was listed on the "land tax book." However, defendants overlook the fact that the land tax book contemplated in 1945 when this language was added to the statute was not the "land tax book" used in the Collector's office in 1979. Ninety-nine percent of the Collector's records at that time were computerized. The computer purportedly keeps a continuous record of the transactions of the office; and the permanent record, the "land tax book," is merely a summary printed by the computer at the end of the collector's fiscal year in February. Given the technology in use in 1979, the failure of the July 1980 notices of sale to include the names of the Brewen children is, at the very least, a serious irregularity. Had Mrs. Brewen's deed found its way into the tax book, as the trial court held it should have, the chances of her learning of the sale would have been increased since the notice would have included the names of her children and a description of the land with its proper address.

We do not rely on this fact alone to affirm the trial court, however. The minimum requirements of ยง 140.150-2, supra, were met: Mrs. Brewen's name was the only name on the ...

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