This is an action for the specific performance of a contract for the sale of lands by the plaintiff to the defendant. It acquired its title through the foreclosure of the right of redemption under ten tax sale certificates in a proceeding brought under the In Rem Tax Foreclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 54:5-104.29 et seq. The defendant declined to accept tendered deeds on the ground that the title was unmarketable because of the plaintiff's failure to comply with certain provisions of the foreclosure statute and of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act. The case was submitted upon a written stipulation of facts which was supplemented orally upon the argument.
Twelve title insurance companies asked leave to intervene as defendants and an order was entered granting it. A brief has been filed in their behalf. Their status is really that of amici curiae.
The constitutionality of the In Rem Tax Foreclosure Act was affirmed in City of Newark v. Yeskel , 5 N.J. 313 (1950). There the statute was extensively discussed, authorities were reviewed, and it was concluded that it did not contravene the requirements of due process guaranteed by the Federal and State Constitutions.
N.J.S.A. 54:5-104.38 provides:
"The petition shall set forth:
a. The tax foreclosure list;
b. The name of the person or one of the persons who, according to the records in the office of the county recording officer, appears as a transferee or purchaser of title to the land to be affected by the tax foreclosure proceedings, and the book and page or date and instrument number of the instrument by which such person acquired title; or the word 'unknown' if no such person can be discovered by a search of the records of ownership in the county recording officer's office for a period of sixty years next preceding the preparation of the tax foreclosure list;
c. A prayer for relief pursuant to this act.
The petition may also include a description by metes and bounds of the land to be affected." L. 1948, c. 96, p. 537, sec. 10.
The data to be contained in the tax foreclosure list is set forth in N.J.S.A. 54:5-104.35. It is conceded here that
a tax foreclosure list conforming with the statute was included in the complaint filed in the foreclosure action and that among other things it set forth the names of the persons appearing as owners of the lands to be affected by the foreclosure proceedings as they appeared on the last tax duplicate of the municipality. A question is raised, however, as to whether the complaint was in conformity with subsection (b), quoted above. The defendant contends that it requires that there be set forth the name of the last person in the chain of title to each parcel as the transferee or purchaser of title and charges that the plaintiff failed to do this; that the complaint did not include as transferees or purchasers the names of actual owners, even though such names could be ascertained only by searching records other than those in the office of the county recording officer; and that the plaintiff included the names of some transferees and purchasers who acquired title more than 60 years prior to the preparation of the tax foreclosure list. The plaintiff insists that it was not required to make a complete search of the title to the lands in question, but only as to the records of ownership in the office of the county recording officer, who in this case is stipulated to be the Clerk of Bergen County; that by the statutory provision quoted above it was required only to list the name of the person or one of the persons who appears as a transferee or purchaser of title to the land in question; and that the naming of transferees or purchasers who acquired title more than 60 years next preceding the preparation of the tax foreclosure list instead of describing them as "unknown" does not invalidate the proceedings.
It was stipulated that the plaintiff, starting with the names of the owners of the lands as they appeared on the last tax duplicate and in the tax foreclosure list, made a proper search in the office of the Clerk of Bergen County and such search disclosed the names of owners as set forth in the foreclosure complaint and that such search disclosed no other names; that such persons ...