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2011-UP-125 - Groce v. Horry County

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Donald R. Groce, Appellant,

v.

Horry County a Political, Subdivision of South Carolina, Horry County Treasurer, a political Subdivision of South Carolina, Crystal Montgomery in the official capacity as delinquent tax manager, South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Wiley B. Turner, and Scott Hollingsworth, Defendants and Wiley B. Turner, Third Party Plaintiff v. Scott Hollingsworth, d/b/a Hollingsworth Rentals, LLC, Third Party Defendants

Of Whom Horry County a Political Subdivison of South Carolina, South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Wiley B. Turner and  Scott Hollingsworth, d/b/a Hollingsworth Rentals, LLC are the Respondents.


Appeal From Horry County
Benjamin H. Culbertson, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.  2011-UP-125 
Submitted December 1, 2010 – Filed March 24, 2011


AFFIRMED


William Isaac Diggs, of Myrtle Beach, for Appellant.

Emma Ruth Brittain, of Myrtle Beach, J. Matthew Dove, of Murrells Inlet, Jeffrey E. Johnson and Jarrod M. McPherson, of Conway, Robert Thomas King, of Florence, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM: This is an appeal in a delinquent tax sale matter from the grant of a directed verdict in favor of Horry County, Horry County Treasurer, Crystal Montgomery in her official capacity as Delinquent Tax Manager, (hereinafter collectively referred to as the County), South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (the DMV), Wiley B. Turner, and Scott Hollingsworth, d/b/a Hollingsworth Rentals, LLC, wherein the trial judge determined Donald R. Groce failed, as a matter of law, to present evidence entitling him to prevail on any of his claims arising from the sale of his mobile home at a delinquent tax sale.  Groce appeals asserting the trial court erred in (1) granting a directed verdict to Horry County in reliance on sections 12-51-40 and 31-17-320(A) of the South Carolina Code, where Groce properly complied with DMV mobile home application requirements for obtaining a certificate of title, (2) granting a directed verdict on the issue of damages in reliance on section 15-78-60(11) of the South Carolina Code when there was evidence of record the County failed to comply with the requirements of section 12-51-40(c), and (3) granting a directed verdict in Respondents' favor when the record shows the interest sold by the County was not that owned by the owner of record at the time of the sale.  We affirm.[1]

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This action arises from the sale of Groce's mobile home for delinquent taxes for tax year 2003, which were incurred prior to Groce's purchase of the mobile home from SouthTrust Bank.[2]  Groce sought to set aside the tax sale and resulting tax deed, asserting the Delinquent Tax Collector failed to comply with the mandatory statutory requirements of section 21-51-40 of the South Carolina Code.  Groce also asserted a cause of action for negligence against Horry County, the Horry County Treasurer, the Delinquent Tax Manager, and the DMV.

The matter came before a jury on September 15 and 16, 2008.  The record reveals Groce purchased the 1995 General Mobile Home for $6,875.00 in April 2004.  Ronald Godbey was the previous owner of the mobile home.  On May 18, 2004, Groce applied with the DMV for a Certificate of Title and Registration for the mobile home.  Groce, who purchased the mobile home as a vacation home, included in the application to the DMV the physical address of the mobile home as the residence address, that being Shell Cove Mobile Home Park, 600 Highway 15 Lot 11, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577.  However, Groce listed his home address of 4948 U.S. Highway 21, Hamptonville, NC 27020 as his mailing address on the DMV application.  The Certificate of Title was issued to Groce on June 7, 2004, and included only the address for the physical location of the mobile home in Myrtle Beach.[3] Groce testified that the County sold his mobile home for back taxes, but he never received a tax bill on the property, never saw a notice of levy on the property, never saw an advertisement for the sale of his property, and never received any notice of a right of redemption on the property.  It is undisputed that, although Groce registered for and received title to the mobile home from the state DMV office, Groce never registered the mobile home with Horry County.

Peggy Fouty, the manager of titles and registration at the DMV, stated that the physical location of the mobile home is the address required to be on the actual title issued for the mobile home.  Fouty further testified the title history of a mobile home registered with the DMV is available to those who qualify for the information.  According to Fouty, a title history submitted into evidence for this mobile home showed Ronald Godbey first owned the home, followed by Donald Groce, then Hollingsworth Rentals, and finally, Wiley Turner.  Additionally, the title history showed a mailing address for Donald Groce at 4948 U.S. Highway 21, Hamptonville, NC.[4]  While Fouty agreed the title history on this mobile home would be available to Horry County, as Horry County would qualify for the information, the County would have had to fill out an application to obtain the title history.  Fouty further testified, though Horry County may have access to the DMV's Phoenix system database, the information would be limited, and she could not state what access Horry County would have, as each county's technology is different.   Further, back in 2005, county access would have been even more limited to the DMV's mobile home records, as the information available to the counties had evolved over the years.

Crystal Montgomery, the Delinquent Tax Manager for the Horry County Treasurer's Office, testified to the procedure her office generally uses to collect delinquent taxes.  Montgomery stated the information kept in the Delinquent Tax Office's computer is input by the Assessor's Office.  She testified, while her office has access to the Phoenix database, which is the same database used by the DMV, access to the DMV's database is limited.  Further, any change in ownership is placed into the Delinquent Tax Office's database through the Assessor's Office.

In regard to this particular mobile home, the Delinquent Tax Office sent the first notice through regular mail, addressed to Ronald Godbey.  The letter was sent to Ronald Godbey as the owner instead of Groce because the home was not registered with Horry County in Groce's name.  The taxes remained unpaid and the Delinquent Tax Office then sent a certified letter addressed to Ronald Godbey at an address in Cameron, North Carolina. The signature card was returned, dated May 6, 2004, with the signature of  "Candie Godbey."  At some point, notice of the 2003 unpaid taxes on the mobile home was also sent to SouthTrust as the listed lienholder of a security interest in the mobile home.  

When the taxes continued to be unpaid, the Delinquent Tax Office posted a levy on the property on October 8, 2004.  Montgomery testified Jonathan Hyman posted this particular levy on the property, which is printed in duplicate.  The levy notice indicated the taxes were due from 2003 and the property to be sold was that of Ronald Godbey.  The notice included the number 998-00-56-002, which identifies the actual mobile home, and the number 181 05 11 045, which indicates the parcel of land where the mobile home sits.  Handwritten on the notice, directly above the 045 portion of the parcel number is "048*."  Below three lines of printed information at the bottom of the levy notice is "Wrong Map # Not at (045)," with a hand drawn arrow from this notation to the parcel number.  Below that was an additional handwritten notation of "No Sticker."  Montgomery testified the handwritten 048 could have meant Hyman went to parcel 045, discovered the mobile home he was looking for was not in that place, went back to the office where he researched and discovered the mobile home was on parcel 048, and then went back to 048 and found the mobile home there.  This did not raise any concerns for Montgomery, as this was a common occurrence with mobile homes since mobile homes are often moved and map numbers are sometimes changed.  Montgomery also stated the "No Sticker" notation on the levy notice did not raise a concern either as she believed that when Hyman went to parcel 045, there was a home located on that parcel that did not have a sticker.  She noted the fact that Hyman brought the carbon copy of the levy notice back to the office, and not the whole levy sign, meant that he found the mobile home in question.

After posting the levy, the Delinquent Tax Office advertised the sale of the property in the local newspaper on November 18, November 24, and December 2, 2004.  The advertisements included the mobile home number and parcel number included on the levy notice, and listed it as the property of Ronald Godbey.  When the taxes remained unpaid, the property went to tax sale on December 6, 2004, and was purchased by Hollingsworth Rentals.  A bill of sale for the mobile home was subsequently issued to Hollingsworth Rentals on December 27, 2005.

Montgomery testified, because her office was unaware Groce was the owner of the property prior to sale, no notice was sent to him prior to the tax sale.  During the one-year-redemption period, the Delinquent Tax Office would research phone books and records on their computers to see if there was any updated information.  A screen print from the DMV office pulled from the Phoenix system, which was used by the Delinquent Tax Office to research mobile homes, was submitted into evidence.  This printed document listed Groce as the owner of the mobile home in question, and included the physical address of the mobile home in Myrtle Beach and a handwritten notation of "New Owner?" at the bottom. It did not provide Groce's North Carolina address, but only the physical address of the mobile home in Myrtle Beach.  The document was dated May 11, 2005, five months after the tax sale of the mobile home.  Once the Delinquent Tax Office realized there was potentially a new owner of the mobile home, they sent a letter dated May 16, 2005 to Groce at the Myrtle Beach address, notifying him of the one-year- redemption period.  However, the letter was returned, marked "ATTEMPTED NOT KNOWN" by the postal service.  Montgomery testified when they have letters returned like that for a local address, her office would check to see if there was a phone number in the phone book or a vehicle registered to the individual.  A handwritten note in their file, made at some point during the redemption period, stated, "No vehicle address for Groce," indicating her office searched records to determine whether Groce had a vehicle registered in the county.

Montgomery acknowledged no notice of the delinquent taxes was sent to Groce prior to the tax sale, Groce was never named on the notice of levy or in the newspaper advertisements, and Groce never received notice of the tax sale.  However, she testified this lack of notice and failure to include his name was due to the fact that Groce never registered the mobile home with Horry County, and her office therefore had no record that he was the owner.  To register the mobile home with the county, all Groce needed to do was bring his title to the Assessor's Office, give them the information of his mailing address and where the home was located, and pay a $5.00 sticker fee for a sticker to be placed in the window of the mobile home.  She further explained that Ronald Godbey was sent the notices and was listed as the owner in the documents they prepared relative to this matter because the mobile home was registered in Godbey's name and not Groce's.  In regard to this particular mobile home, Montgomery testified her office took the following steps: (1) mailed the delinquent tax notice to Godbey, since he was the registered owner, (2) mailed a certified letter to Godbey as the registered owner, (3) levied on the property that was actually sold, (4) ran an advertisement of the sale in a local newspaper for three days in consecutive weeks prior to the tax sale, (5) sent notice of the delinquent taxes to SouthTrust as the lienholder of record, (6) conducted the tax sale on December 6, 2004, and (7) researched for updated information and sent courtesy letters during the one-year-redemption period.

Following Montgomery's testimony, Groce rested his case and the County then moved for a directed verdict as to the negligence claim arguing, pursuant to section 15-78-60(11) of the South Carolina Code, as a government entity, it was not liable for a loss resulting from assessment or collection of taxes or from enforcing the tax laws.  The trial court agreed, found the County was not liable for damages pursuant to that statute, and granted a directed verdict on that claim.  The trial court further noted the DMV, as well as Wiley and Hollingsworth, were no longer subject to Groce's negligence action, pursuant to a consent order.

The County then moved for a directed verdict on the claim to set aside the tax sale.  The County argued it had complied with the requirements of section 12-51-40 of the South Carolina Code, and though Groce asserted that his application with the DMV showing his mailing address put the County on notice of that address such that the sale was defective, Groce failed to present any evidence that the County had an obligation to procure from the DMV the application filed by Groce.  The County further maintained the owner of record of the property was Ronald Godbey, based upon the records with the County, and that was so because Groce failed to comply with section 31-17-320 of the South Carolina Code, which required him to register as the owner of the mobile home with the County.  Groce acknowledged his failure to comply with section 31-17-320, but argued that failure did not excuse the County from strict compliance with section 12-51-40.  Groce asserted the County was put on notice that the owner of the property changed and they had access to information showing that Groce was the true owner of the property by virtue of his registration through the DMV.  Groce also questioned the validity of the sale because the property was not sold in the name of the true owner.  The trial court agreed that even if Groce did not register the mobile home with the County, the County could not claim it was a valid tax sale if it did not comply with the statutory requirements of sending out notice and levying.  It found, however, that the County followed the requirements of section 12-51-40, and although Groce did not receive any type of notice prior to the sale, Groce failed to comply with section 31-17-320 and the County was not required to do anything further.  Thereafter, on October 21, 2008, the trial court filed a written order directing a verdict against Groce finding Groce failed, as a matter of law, to present evidence establishing he was entitled to prevail on any of his claims. The court determined Groce's claim of negligence against the County was barred by section 15-78-60(11).   As to the claim to set aside the tax sale, the trial court held the evidence presented established the County followed the provisions of section 12-51-40 in conducting the tax sale, and though Groce testified he did not receive notice of the tax sale, the evidence established the owner of record was provided notice at the best address available as required by statute.  The trial court further held Groce did not receive notice because he failed to license his mobile home in the county as required by section 31-17-320(A).  This appeal follows.

ISSUES

1. Whether the trial court erred in granting the County's motion for directed verdict in reliance on sections 12-51-40 and 31-17-320(A) of the South Carolina Code when Groce properly complied with DMV mobile home application requirements for obtaining a certificate of title.

2. Whether the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict on the issue of damages in reliance on section 15-78-60(11) of the South Carolina Code when there was evidence in the record the County failed to comply with the requirements of section 12-51-40(c) of the South Carolina Code.

3. Whether the trial court erred in directing a verdict for the County when the interest sold at the tax sale was the interest of the prior owner.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When ruling on a motion for directed verdict, the trial court is required to view the evidence and the inferences that can be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.   Hinkle v. Nat'l Cas. Ins. Co., 354 S.C. 92, 96, 579 S.E.2d 616, 618 (2003).  When reviewing a trial court's grant or denial of a motion for directed verdict, the appellate court will reverse only when there is no evidence to support the ruling or when the ruling is governed by an error of law.  Austin v. Stokes-Craven Holding Corp., 387 S.C. 22, 42, 691 S.E.2d 135, 145 (2010).   If the evidence as a whole is susceptible of more than one reasonable inference, a jury issue is created and the motion should be denied.  Pye v. Estate of Fox, 369 S.C. 555, 563, 633 S.E.2d 505, 509 (2006).  Essentially, the appellate court must determine whether a verdict for the party opposing the motion would be reasonably possible under the facts as liberally construed in his or her favor.  Id. at 564, 633 S.E.2d at 509.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Section 12-51-40 provides in pertinent part as follows:

After the county treasurer issues his execution against a defaulting taxpayer in his jurisdiction, . . . directed to the officer authorized to collect delinquent taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs, . . .  the officer to which the execution is directed shall:

(a) On April first or as soon after that as practicable, mail a notice of delinquent property taxes, penalties, assessments, and costs to the defaulting taxpayer and to a grantee of record of the property, whose value generated all or part of the tax.  The notice must be mailed to the best address available, which is either the address shown on the deed conveying the property to him, the property address, or other corrected or forwarding address of which the officer authorized to collect delinquent taxes, penalties, and costs has actual knowledge. . . .

(b) If the taxes remain unpaid after thirty days from the date of mailing of the delinquent notice, or as soon thereafter as practicable, take exclusive possession of the property necessary to satisfy the payment of the taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs.  In the case of real property, exclusive possession is taken by mailing a notice of delinquent property taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs to the defaulting taxpayer and any grantee of record of the property at the address shown on the tax receipt or to an address of which the officer has actual knowledge, by "certified mail, return receipt requested-restricted delivery". . . . In the case of personal property, exclusive possession is taken by mailing the notice of delinquent property taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs to the person at the address shown on the tax receipt or to an address of which the officer has actual knowledge.  . . . The return receipt of the "certified mail" notice is equivalent to "levying by distress".

(c) If the "certified mail" notice has been returned, take exclusive physical possession of the property against which the taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs were assessed by posting a notice at one or more conspicuous places on the premises, . . .  the posting of the notice is equivalent to levying by distress, seizing, and taking exclusive possession of it, or by taking exclusive possession of personalty. . . .  Mobile homes are considered to be personal property for the purposes of this section unless the owner gives written notice to the auditor of the mobile home's annexation to the land on which it is situated.

(d) The property must be advertised for sale at public auction.  The advertisement must be in a newspaper of general circulation within the county or municipality, if applicable, and must be entitled "Delinquent Tax Sale".  It must include the delinquent taxpayer's name and the description of the property, a reference to the county auditor's map-block-parcel number being sufficient for a description of realty.  The advertising must be published once a week before the legal sales date for three consecutive weeks for the sale of real property, and two consecutive weeks for the sale of personal property. . . .

S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-40 (Supp. 2010) (emphasis added).

Section 31-17-320 provides in part as follows:

(A) Within fifteen days after . . . the purchase of a mobile home in this State . . . for dwelling purposes, the owner, rental agent, or person in possession shall obtain a license from the governing body of the county or its designated agent hereinafter referred to as licensing agent, in which such mobile home is located.

(B) Before issuing a license for a mobile home to be located in any county in this State, the licensing agent shall require from the person applying for the license either a copy of the certificate of title to the mobile home, or a copy of the completed application for a certificate of title submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Upon satisfaction of all county licensing requirements, including payment of any licensing fee, the county licensing agent shall give the license applicant a certified copy of the application form, indicating that the licensing requirements have been met.

S.C. Code Ann. § 31-17-320 (2007) (emphasis added).

Section 15-78-60(11) of the South Carolina Code provides that a "governmental entity is not liable for a loss resulting from: . . . assessment or collection of taxes or special assessments or enforcement of tax laws."  S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-60(11) (2005).

I. Compliance with section 12-51-40 and effect of section 31-17-320(A)

Groce contends the trial court erred in granting the County's directed verdict motion on his action to set aside the tax sale and deed.  He asserts the County failed to use the "best evidence"[5] available to notify him, as the grantee of record, of the lien and impending sale because his North Carolina mailing address was on file with the DMV and was accessible by the County through the DMV.  Additionally, Groce argues there is a factual dispute as to whether the County complied with section 12-51-40 in meeting the levy requirements under the statute.  He notes there was a discrepancy as to the location of the mobile home by the "048*" indication on the notice of levy, thereby raising an inference the levy was posted on the wrong mobile home, and also maintains there is a factual dispute as to whether the property was properly levied, as Montgomery acknowledged she did not post on the property herself and therefore could not say the levy was posted on it.     Finally, Groce maintains the trial court's reliance on section 31-17-320 is misplaced because, though this statute regulates certain aspects of mobile home ownership, it is not a part of the alternate procedure for collection of delinquent taxes.  Groce contends this section shows that records at the DMV "are married to the idea of ownership of mobile homes," thus providing the "best evidence" regarding notice to the owner, and the County's failure to take reasonable steps available to it to provide the property owner with notice did not satisfy due process requirements.

Our appellate courts have consistently held that delinquent tax sales must be conducted in strict compliance with statutory requirements.  Hawkins v. Bruno Yacht Sales, Inc., 353 S.C. 31, 36, 577 S.E.2d 202, 205 (2003);  Rives v. Bulsa, 325 S.C. 287, 292, 478 S.E.2d 878, 880 (Ct. App. 1996).  Failure to give notice of a tax sale pursuant to these requirements is a fundamental defect in the tax proceedings that renders the proceedings absolutely void.  Hawkins, 353 S.C. at 36, 577 S.E.2d at 205.  Thus, regardless of whether Groce properly registered the mobile home with the County, if the County failed to strictly comply with the statutory requirements of the sale, the tax sale would be void.

A.  Mailing of notices        

Section 12-51-40(a) directs the officer authorized to collect delinquent taxes to mail a notice of delinquent property taxes, penalties, assessments, and costs "to the defaulting taxpayer and to a grantee of record," and provides the notice is to be mailed to "the best address available, which is either the address shown on the deed conveying the property to him, the property address, or other corrected or forwarding address of which the officer authorized to collect delinquent taxes, penalties, and costs has actual knowledge."  Accordingly, the County was required to mail notice of the delinquent taxes to Ronald Godbey as the defaulting taxpayer.  The undisputed evidence shows Ronald Godbey was sent the notices and was listed as the owner in the documents the County prepared relative to this matter because the mobile home was registered in Godbey's name.  The property was not registered in Groce's name due to the fact Groce failed to register the mobile home as required by section 31-17-320.  Accordingly, Groce was not a "grantee of record." 

As to the requirement that the notices be sent to "the best address available," Groce does not dispute that the notices were sent to the proper address for Godbey.  Rather, he contends the County was required to notify him at his North Carolina mailing address, which was on file with the DMV and was accessible by the County through the DMV.  As previously noted, the undisputed evidence is that the County did not have an address on file for Groce prior to the tax sale because Groce failed to register the mobile home with the County as required by section 31-17-320.  While there is evidence that the County had limited access to the DMV's Phoenix system database, the testimony shows this information would be limited, it was unknown what access Horry County in particular would have had to the system as each county's technology is different, and back in 2005 county access would have been even more limited to the DMV's mobile home records, as the information available to the counties had evolved over the years.  Thus, there is no evidence the County had access to Groce's North Carolina mailing address through the DMV's Phoenix database.  Indeed, the screen print from the DMV office pulled from the Phoenix system, which was used by the Delinquent Tax Office to research this mobile home and was printed some five months after the tax sale, included only the physical address of the mobile home in Myrtle Beach and did not provide Groce's North Carolina address.  Accordingly, there is no evidence the County failed to use the "best address available" to it.

Though Groce essentially maintains that the County had a duty to fill out an application to perform a title search on the mobile home with the DMV, which is a State agency, we find such measures are not necessary for statutory compliance.  Ostensibly, the County could employ an investigator to track potential owners of mobile homes when owners of record are notified and taxes remain unpaid; however, we do not believe the legislature intended to create such an undue burden on the counties in order to comply with the statute.  Clearly, had Groce complied with the statutory mandate of section 31-17-320 that he license the mobile home with the County within fifteen days of purchase, the County would have known Groce was a grantee of record and would have been required to provide notice to him at the best address available.  Because Groce failed to comply with the requirement of county registration, the County was unaware prior to the tax sale that ownership had changed in the mobile home, and Godbey was still the owner of record in the County's files.  Accordingly, the County properly sent the required notices under section 12-51-40 to Godbey at the best address available for him.[6]   We decline to find registration of the mobile home with the state's DMV office was sufficient to put the County on notice of Groce's ownership of the mobile home and Groce's preferred mailing address.  Further, there is no evidence the County had actual knowledge of Groce's mailing address.  Accordingly, we find the only evidence of record shows the County complied with the requirements of section 12-51-40(a) in mailing the necessary notices.

B.  Levy requirements

Groce contends the trial court erred in directing a verdict for the County as there is a factual dispute as to whether the County complied with the levy portion of the statute in physically posting the property.  Subsection (b) of section 12-51-40 of the South Carolina Code provides, in the case of personal property, exclusive possession is taken by mailing the notice "to the person at the address shown on the tax receipt or to an address of which the officer has actual knowledge."  S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-40(b) (Supp. 2010).  Here, the County mailed notice by certified mail to Ronald Godbey, the defaulting taxpayer and only person shown as owner of record with the county, and the return receipt was signed by Candie Godbey, indicating receipt of the notice.  Unlike real property, personal property does not require that this notice be mailed certified with delivery restricted to the addressee.  See Hawkins, 353 S.C. at 39, 577 S.E.2d at 206 (holding, though the legislature intended certified mail requirements apply to both real and personal property under subsection (b) of section 12-51-40, the legislature did not intend to require notices on personal property be mailed restricted delivery).  Accordingly, the County successfully levied by distress on the property by sending the notice certified mail to Ronald Godbey, receipt of which was acknowledged by Candie Godbey, and it was not necessary for the County to thereafter levy by posting on the property inasmuch as the "return receipt of the 'certified mail' notice" was "equivalent to 'levying by distress'" under section 12-51-40(b).  Thus, even if there were any questions of fact as to the sufficiency of the County's posting of the levy notice on the property itself, that posting was not necessary.[7]

We find, as a matter of law, the County complied with the requirements of section 12-51-40 and satisfied due process requirements by complying with the statute and taking additional steps in an attempt to locate Groce after the tax sale when the County discovered the possibility that Groce had purchased the mobile home in question.  Accordingly, a verdict for Groce would not be reasonably possible under the facts as liberally construed in his favor and the trial court properly granted the County's motion for directed verdict.

C.  Section 31-17-320

Groce argues the trial court's reliance on section 31-17-320 is misplaced because this statute is not a part of the alternate procedure for collection of delinquent taxes.  He further argues that section 31-17-320(B) allows for issuance of a license upon receipt of either a copy of the certificate of title or a copy of the completed application for a certificate of title, thereby indicating the records at the DMV are married to the idea of ownership of mobile homes.  These arguments were neither raised to nor ruled upon by the trial court and therefore are not preserved for review.  See Aiken v. World Fin. Corp. of S.C., 373 S.C. 144, 148, 644 S.E.2d 705, 708 (2007) (stating, in order for an issue to be preserved for appellate review, it must have been raised to and ruled upon by the trial judge); Murphy v. Jefferson Pilot Commc'ns Co., 364 S.C. 453, 465, 613 S.E.2d 808, 814 (Ct. App. 2005) (indicating arguments raised for the first time on appeal are not preserved for our review).

II. Directed verdict on the negligence cause of action

Groce next contends the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict on the issue of damages in reliance on section 15-78-60(11) of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.  Groce relies on the case of Tanner v. Florence County Treasurer, 336 S.C. 552, 521 S.E.2d 153 (1999), for the proposition that damages may lie where one's property has been sold at a tax sale following a county's failure to follow the statutorily required procedure set forth in section 12-51-40.  Groce contends, because there is evidence of negligence in that the County failed to review the DMV records to determine the owner of record prior to the tax sale and failed to otherwise comply with the requirements of section 12-51-40, the trial court erred in relying on section 15-78-60(11) in granting summary judgment to the County on the issue of damages.

This issue is not preserved for appellate review.  The County moved for a directed verdict on the negligence claim arguing it was not liable for loss resulting from the assessment or collection of taxes or enforcement of the tax laws pursuant to section 15-78-60(11), and the actions complained of by Groce were those taken during the collection of delinquent taxes and the enforcement of the tax laws.  In response, counsel for Groce stated it was her understanding the burden was on the government to show that it fell into an exception to the waiver of immunity under the act.  Counsel then asked for "a couple of minutes to put [her] hands on [her] notes."  The trial court agreed to give her some time.  Counsel thereafter apologized, stating, "I had it on a pad and we've had so many pads over here."  She then informed the court that she did not wish to cause any further delay.  Thereupon, the trial court stated there was nothing to indicate the mobile home was sold for any other reason than delinquent taxes and granted a directed verdict on the issue, finding the County could not be held liable for damages pursuant to section 15-78-60(11).  Counsel for Groce did not object to this ruling, nor did counsel  argue to the court, as Groce does on appeal, that the County could still be liable for damages in spite of section 15-78-60(11) if the County failed to comply with the statutory requirements of section 12-51-40.  Rather, counsel directed the court's attention to the fact that the directed verdict regarding damages did not settle the issue of the validity of the tax sale under Groce's declaratory judgment action to set aside the tax sale.  Because Groce did not make any argument against the directed verdict on the negligence action, and clearly did not make the specific argument to the trial court he now raises on appeal, this issue is not preserved.  See S.C. Dep't of Transp. v. First Carolina Corp. of S.C., 372 S.C. 295, 301-02, 641 S.E.2d 903, 907 (2007) (holding, to be preserved for appellate review, an issue must have been:  (1) raised to and ruled upon by the trial court, (2) raised by the appellant, (3) raised in a timely manner, and (4) raised to the trial court with sufficient specificity).  See also  I'On, L.L.C. v. Town of Mt. Pleasant, 338 S.C. 406, 422, 526 S.E.2d 716, 724 (2000) (stating imposing preservation requirements on the appellant is meant to enable the lower court to rule properly after it has considered all relevant facts, law, and arguments, and noting that the purpose of an appeal is to determine whether the trial court erroneously acted or failed to act, and when appellant's contentions are not presented or passed upon by the trial court, such contentions will not be considered on appeal).

III. Interest sold

Lastly, Groce contends the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict to the County based upon the interest sold.  He argues the record shows the interest sold by the County was not that of the record owner, Groce, but that of the previous owner, Godbey, and the County publicly advertised the sale of property owned by Godbey and the Bill of Sale from the tax sale shows the interest purchased was that of the defaulting taxpayer, Godbey.  He therefore maintains his interests were not sold at the tax sale.  In making this argument, Groce cites the case of F.C. Enterprises, Inc. v. Dibble, 335 S.C. 260, 516 S.E.2d 459 (Ct. App. 1999), for the proposition that one purchases at a tax sale the property interest of the person referenced in the newspaper publication and whose name is listed on the Bill of Sale as the defaulting taxpayer, because "as a matter of law, a purchaser at a tax sale acquires only that interest held by the owner of the property at the time of the tax sale."  Id. at 266, 516 S.E.2d at 462.  He further cites the case of Harrington v. Blackstone, 311 S.C. 459, 429 S.E.2d 826 (Ct. App. 1993), for the proposition that a purchaser at a judicial sale secures the same title and rights in the property as the person whose interest was sold, or of the persons bound by the decree of sale.  Id. at 465, 429 S.E.2d at 830.  We find no merit to this argument. 

Both Dibble and Harrington are clearly distinguishable, and do not support the argument asserted by Groce.  In Dibble, this court found that a purchaser at a tax sale of property that was subject to a lease and an option, entered into before the taxes became delinquent on the property, purchased the property subject to the lease and option, acquiring only that interest held by the owner of the property at the time of the tax sale.  335 S.C. at 266, 516 S.E.2d at 462.  In Harrington, the master foreclosed a bank's mortgage and ordered the property sold at public sale subject to the provisions of the master deed as to the property submitted to the homeowners' property regime.  311 S.C. at 461, 429 S.E.2d at 828.  The purchaser at the foreclosure sale, Blackston, argued none of the property purchased at the foreclosure sale was restricted by the master deed.  Id. at 464, 429 S.E.2d at 829.  This court held, by purchasing the property, Blackston became a party to the proceedings and was bound by the order of foreclosure.   Id. at 465, 429 S.E.2d at 830.  In so holding, the court noted, "a purchaser at a judicial sale secures the same title and rights in the property as the person whose interest was sold, or of the persons bound by the decree of sale."  Id. 

Here, the lien attached to the property on December 31, 2002, and the taxes became delinquent when they remained unpaid after January 15, 2004.  S.C. Code Ann. §§ 12-49-10 & -20 (2000); S.C. Code Ann. § 12-45-70(A) (Supp. 2010); Dibble, 335 S.C. at 263-64, 516 S.E.2d at 461.  Thus, the delinquent taxpayer was Godbey.  Section 12-51-40(d) specifically provides the advertisement of the property must include "the delinquent taxpayer's name," but does not require inclusion of a subsequent purchaser who fails to register his property with the county.  Further, section 12-51-130 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2010) provides, when the property is not redeemed within the time period allowed, a tax title is to be issued which must include the name of the defaulting taxpayer and the name of any grantee of record of the property.  Accordingly, the advertisement and the Bill of Sale both properly included Godbey as the defaulting taxpayer.  As previously noted, Groce was not a grantee of record, and therefore it was not necessary to list him as a grantee of record in the Bill of Sale.  Further, because Groce's purchase of the property was subsequent to the taxes becoming delinquent, Groce's interest in the property was subject to the tax lien.  In short, we do not believe Dibble and Harrington, which provide the purchaser at a judicial or tax sale takes the property subject to pre-existing encumbrances and liens on the property, have any bearing on whether an unknown purchaser of property, who purchased the property subsequent to taxes becoming delinquent on the property, must be named in the advertisements and Bill of Sale in order for the tax sale to be valid.  Indeed, to accept such an interpretation would allow one to avoid paying delinquent taxes on property subject to a tax lien by purchasing the property but concealing his ownership of the property and thereafter challenging any delinquent tax sale on the basis that he was not named in the tax sale.

CONCLUSION

We are not unsympathetic to Groce, as it does not appear he deliberately concealed his ownership in the property but, rather, applied for title with the DMV and, being from North Carolina, was simply unaware of the registration requirement with the County.  However, Groce's ignorance of the law is of no avail to him.  "Ignorantia juris quod quisque tenetur scire, neminem excusat"  denotes "Ignorance of the [or a] law, which everyone is bound to know, excuses no man."  Black's Law Dictionary 747 (6th ed. 1990).  Accordingly, we (1) affirm the trial court's directed verdict on the action to set aside the tax sale and deed on the basis of sections 12-51-40 and 31-17-320(A), finding the County complied with the statutory requirements of section 12-51-40 and Groce was not a grantee of record because he failed to register his mobile home as required by section 31-17-320(A); (2) affirm the trial court's directed verdict as to Groce's negligence cause of action finding the issue unpreserved as Groce failed to argue against the motion at the trial level, and specifically failed to argue to the trial court that which he argues on appeal; and (3) find no merit to Groce's assertion that the tax sale was invalid because it was advertised in Godbey's name and the Bill of Sale was issued in Godbey's name.

AFFIRMED.

HUFF, KONDUROS, and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2] Although Groce testified the mobile home was purchased by him at a bankruptcy sale, there is evidence SouthTrust actually sold it to Groce following the bank's repossession of the mobile home.

[3] Groce also testified that after going to the DMV, he stopped by "this tax place" where he met a woman named "Annemarie" and inquired about outstanding taxes on the property, but Annemarie "had no record of it."  However, Groce could not remember if he provided the physical address of the mobile home in South Carolina, and could not remember what information he provided to Annemarie in order to determine whether any taxes were owed.  Before Groce left, Annemarie gave him a piece of paper with her name and a phone number.  The paper was a handwritten note with "Assessors office" written across the top, followed by an address and telephone number and the name "Annemarie," with "get address" written on the bottom.

[4] It should be noted, however, that this title history was dated 9/10/2008, well after the tax sale. 

[5] It is likely Groce is really referring to "best address" rather than "best evidence," as the statute in question requires notice be mailed to the "best address available."

[6] Though the County was on notice that Groce was a potential new owner of the mobile home pursuant to the screen print from the DMV database, this screen print did not occur until five months after the property was sold at the tax sale, well after the County had already complied with the requirements of section 12-51-40.  Further, the evidence shows the County did make an effort during the redemption period to send notice to Groce that the tax sale had occurred by sending a letter to Groce at the address noted on the printout, and subsequently followed up by searching for another address for him when that letter was returned to the County. 

[7] See Rule 220(c), SCACR ("The appellate court may affirm any ruling, order, decision or judgment upon any ground(s) appearing in the Record on Appeal.").