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Fiddle Inc. loses lawsuit against tax collector

By By Suzanne Monk/The Meridian Star
Oct. 4, 2001
A Lauderdale County Circuit Court jury deliberated 30 minutes Wednesday before rejecting a lawsuit filed against Tax Collector Stanley Shannon and the city of Meridian.
The civil suit was filed by Bill and Anita Jo Ross, co-owners of Fiddle Inc. It asked for a refund of more than $10,000 the couple claimed was mistakenly charged to Fiddle Inc. after the 1997 delinquent property tax sale.
Both sides in the lawsuit agreed on certain facts:
Anita Jo Ross attended the sale and successfully bid on a large number of parcels;
Several days later, after a deputy tax collector had totaled her purchases and prepared tax receipts, Ross wrote a check for $39,911 the back taxes owed on 113 parcels; and
Among these was a parcel owned by Willie Lee Gordon. The true value of the property was $1,340. The delinquent tax owed was $30.48. The property had a special assessment of $9,500 for city demolition of a building, which Ross also paid.
Bill and Anita Jo Ross' lawsuit
Anita Jo Ross testified she bid on 112 properties not 113.
Ross said she did not bid on Gordon's property, and did not notice the error or the large special assessment against the property until two years later. At that point, when Gordon had failed to pay the back taxes, a tax deed was issued to Fiddle Inc. She and Bill Ross asked the tax collector for a refund, claiming a clerical error had been made during the sale. Their request was denied.
Attorney Walter Rogers appealed to the jury's common sense.
Rogers also described the busy environment of a delinquent tax sale demonstrating that about 1,500 parcels were sold during the course of the day at a rate of about three a minute.
Finally, Rogers asked the jury to take into consideration the fact that the original notations made during the sale are not available.
Rick Barry's defense
Attorney Rick Barry represented Shannon and the city.
In his closing statement, he told the jury that it is not enough to demonstrate that an error might have been made. To prevail, he said, Bill and Anita Jo Ross must demonstrate that an error was, in fact, made.
Barry cited the adage, "Let the buyer beware," pointing out that Anita Jo Ross accepted the tax receipts and a calculator tape listing how much was paid for each of the 113 properties. She wrote a check for 113 properties.
Barry also reviewed the system of checks and balances used by clerks during a delinquent tax sale, and said no similar complaints have been made since Shannon took office in 1996.
What's next?
Bill Ross said he will probably appeal the jury's decision. The standard deadline to file an appeal in a case of this kind is 30 days from the date of the judgment.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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