Constitutional Law – Due Process – Notice Required to Validate Tax Foreclosure of Property of Known Mental Incompetent

On May 8, 1952, the town of Somers instituted an action to foreclose a number of tax liens. One of these was upon the property owned by a person known in the community to be a mental incompetent, but who had not yet been so certified by a court. Notice was given to the incompetent taxpayer in compliance with the statute by mail, posting, and publication. When she failed to answer within the prescribed period, foreclosure was entered and a deed to her property delivered to the town. Five days later she was declared a person of unsound mind, and was subsequently committed to a state hospital for the insane. After efforts by her committee to pay the taxes and recover the property failed, a motion was filed in the county court where the judgment of foreclosure had been entered. Petitioner sought an order to show cause why the default should not be opened, the judgment vacated and the deed set aside, and permission granted to answer with respect to the notice of foreclosure. The trial court, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, and the New York Court of Appeals all upheld the foreclosure proceeding, the latter certifying that on this record there was no denial of any constitutional right. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, held, reversed and remanded. Under the circumstances the foreclosure amounted to a taking without due process since the notice given the taxpayer was inadequate. Justice Frankfurter dissented on the ground that the New York court’s refusal to grant relief could be construed as an indication that the petitioner had selected an inappropriate remedy. Covey v. Town of Somers, 351 U.S. 141 (1956).