Each defendant named in the tax suit must be served by one of the methods authorized in the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, including constructive service of process (publication).1 However, the constitution requires that defendants be given the best notice possible, which has been defined as that “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.”2Under this definition, constructive notice, or publication, probably will not satisfy due process requirements when the identity of the property owner is readily ascertainable by the taxing authority. However, Tennessee statutes specifically state that personal service of process on the defendant is unnecessary; the notice may be sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested.3Where the taxpayer is not properly before the court either by lack of notice or inadequate description, the resulting sale is a nullity and may be challenged.4The trustee's records are important since they may be relied upon when finding names, addresses, and property descriptions for notices in tax suits.
1T.C.A. § 67-5-2415; Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4.
2Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791, 795 (1983) (quoting Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950)); Jones v. Flowers, 126 S.Ct. 1708 (2006); Wilson v. Blount County, 207 S.W.3d 741 (Tenn. 2006). See also Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 84-208 (June 27, 1984) regarding service of process in delinquent tax suits made by certified mail.
3T.C.A. § 67-5-2415. Note, in 2012 the legislature amended this statute to authorize any alternative delivery service as authorized by § 7502 of the Internal Revenue Code. See 2012 Public Chapter 979. See also 2014 Public Chapter 883, Section 8.
4Wilson v. Blount County, 207 S.W.3d 741 (Tenn. 2006) (In tax lien suits, the government must provide “notice by mail or other means to ensure actual notice ... if [the party's] name and address are reasonably ascertainable.”).