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County of Carteret v. Long

February 03, 1998

COUNTY OF CARTERET, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CURTIS L. LONG; RICHARD RICHARDSON AND WIFE, ARLETHA RICHARDSON; THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA (LIENOR), DEFENDANTS.



Judgment of Foreclosure on Tax Lien dated 26 September 1996 by Judge Jerry F. Waddell in Carteret County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 11 September 1997.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wynn, Judge.

On 6 February 1996, based on an ad valorem tax lien for each year from 1986 to 1995, the County of Carteret ("County") foreclosed on real property located in Carteret County. As evidenced by a certificate of tax liability, docketed 7 December 1993, the State of North Carolina ("State") placed a judgment lien on the same real property, and contends that this lien is superior to the County lien for the years 1994 and 1995. Both the State and the County filed motions for summary judgment. In granting summary judgment in favor of the County, the trial court concluded:

County's lien arising by operation of law for county ad valorem taxes on real property for the 1986 through 1995 tax years, including specifically those arising for the 1994 and 1995 tax years are superior to the judgment lien in favor of the State of North Carolina evidenced by Certificate of Tax liability docketed in the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court of Carteret County on [7 December 1993] in the amount of $1,603.24 plus interest as set forth therein.

The State now appeals this issue to us.

I.

State taxes are provided for under the Revenue Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 105-1 to 105-270 (1997), while county taxes are provided for under the Machinery Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 105-271 to 105-396 (1997). Both of these acts set forth priority rules for tax liens. Section 105-241 of the Revenue Act provides in pertinent part:

(d)Lien. -- This subsection applies except when another Article of this Chapter contains contrary provisions with respect to a lien for a tax levied in that Article. The lien of a tax attaches to all real and personal property of a taxpayer on the date a tax owed by the taxpayer becomes due. The lien continues until the tax and any interest, penalty, and costs associated with the tax are paid. A tax lien is not extinguished by the sale of the taxpayer's property. A tax lien, however, is not enforceable against a bona fide purchaser for value or the holder of a duly recorded lien unless:

(1) In the case of real property, a certificate of tax liability or a judgment was first docketed in the office of the clerk of superior court of the county in which the real property is located.

The priority of these claims and liens is determined by the date and time of recording, docketing, levy, or bona fide purchase.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 105-241(d) (1997) (emphasis added). The pertinent part of Section 105-356 of the Machinery Act provides: (a) On Real Property. -- The lien of taxes imposed on real and personal property shall attach to real property [every January 1st]. The priority of that lien shall be determined in accordance with the following rules:

(1) Subject to the provisions of the Revenue Act prescribing the priority of the lien for State taxes, the lien of taxes imposed under the provisions of this Subchapter shall be superior to all other liens, assessments, charges, rights, and claims of any and every kind in and to the real property to which the lien for taxes attaches regardless of the claimant and regardless of whether acquired prior or subsequent to the attachment of the lien for taxes.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 105-356(a) (1997) (emphasis added).

It is a well-established principle of statutory construction that when a statute is clear and unambiguous, " `there is no room for judicial construction,' and the statute must be given effect in accordance with its plain and definite meaning." Avco Financial Services v. Isbell, 67 N.C. App. 341, 343, 312 S.E.2d 707, 708 (1984) (quoting Williams v. Williams, 299 N.C. 174, 180, 261 S.E.2d 849, 854 (1980)). In this case, however, the general statutes are ambiguous as to which lien should have priority.

Under section 105-356 of the Machinery Act, the county lien is granted priority over "all other liens, assessments, charges, rights, and claims of any and every kind in and to the real property to which the lien for taxes attaches regardless of the claimant and regardless of whether acquired prior or subsequent to the attachment of the lien for taxes." N.C. Gen. Stat. ยง 105-356 (1997). Under this rule, the county lien would have priority. However, the statute qualifies this first ...


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