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Nayeri v. Mohave County

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

November 14, 2019

MAJID NAYERI, et al., Plaintiffs/Appellants,
v.
MOHAVE COUNTY, et al., Defendants/Appellees.

          Appeal from the Arizona Tax Court No. TX2016-000893 The Honorable Christopher T. Whitten, Judge.

          Brentwood Law Group PLLC, Tempe By Stephen Brower Co-Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants

          Al Arpad Esq., Phoenix By Alexander R. Arpad Co-Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants

          Mohave County Attorney's Office, Kingman By Lenore Knudtson Counsel for Defendants/Appellees

          Judge James B. Morse Jr. delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Kenton D. Jones and Judge Diane M. Johnsen joined.

          OPINION

          MORSE, JUDGE.

         ¶1 In this opinion, we hold that A.R.S. § 42-11004 does not require a property owner to pay delinquent taxes before suing in tax court to challenge the sale of a property tax lien under A.R.S. § 42-18105. Accordingly, we vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In 2010, Majid Nayeri and Bita Abidian ("Taxpayers") purchased real property in Mohave County (the "County") identified by parcel number 216-06-155 (the "Property"). Since that time, they have paid the property taxes as they have come due.

         ¶3 The Property is located in an area known as the "Disputed Triangle," a triangular-shaped piece of land east of the Colorado River near the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. See United States v. Aria, CV 9401624-PCT-PGR, 2009 WL 331356, at *1 (D. Ariz. Feb. 11, 2009), appeal dismissed, No. 09-15714 (9th Cir. March 3, 2010) (hereinafter, "Aria"). In 1994, long before Taxpayers purchased the Property, the federal government filed the Aria lawsuit to determine whether the Disputed Triangle should be held in trust for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe (the "Tribe"). See id. In 2009, the District Court ruled in Aria that the federal government, on behalf of the Tribe, had no claim to the Disputed Triangle. See id. at *10.

         ¶4 During the 15 years the Aria case was pending, the County did not collect property taxes on the affected parcels and made no demand for payment. In 2010, after the Aria case ended, the County demanded payment of all past due taxes and told property owners that "delinquent taxes due on the parcels involved will be sold at future tax lien sales unless payment arrangements are made with the Treasurer." Taxpayers admit that some taxes accrued on the Property before 2010 and have not been paid. In 2016, the County offered to waive the interest and fees accrued through June 2010 if Taxpayers would pay the base property tax, plus interest accrued after July 2010, totaling $37, 486.40. Taxpayers refused the County's offer.

         ¶5 The County Treasurer sent Taxpayers a Delinquent Tax Notice in January 2017 threatening to sell the tax liens on the Property if payment was not made. Taxpayers did not pay, and the County offered the tax liens for years 2003-2009 on the Property at its February 2017 tax lien sale. After the liens went unsold, they were assigned to the state.[1]

         ¶6 Meanwhile, Taxpayers joined a lawsuit filed by other Disputed Triangle property owners seeking a declaratory judgment that the County's sales of tax liens on their properties were time-barred.[2] The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. After oral argument, the tax court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, concluding that A.R.S. § 42-11004 prohibited Taxpayers from challenging the sale of the liens unless and until they paid the delinquent taxes.

         ¶7 After an unsuccessful motion for new trial, Taxpayers appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to ...


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