Oklahoma annexation statute requiring notice by certified mail means what it says

by Hannah Dankbar and Gary Taylor

In re: Detachment of Municipal Territory from the City of Ada, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Supreme Court, March 31, 2015

In February 2013 the City of Ada passed Ordinance No. 13-02 to annex property into its corporate limits. Property owners in this area attempted to set aside the ordinance, but were denied by the City. Petitioners were property owners within the annexed territory.  They filed for a Declaratory Judgment asking the court to nullify the annexation or, in the alternative, to detach their properties from the city.  The basis for the claim was that the city did not comply with 11 O.S. 2011 §21-103, which sets forth the notice requirements for a municipal annexation.  The trial court denied their request and this appeal followed.

11 O.S. §21-103(B)(2) states:

A copy of the notice of annexation shall be mailed by first-class mail to all owners of property to be annexed as shown by the current year’s ownership rolls in the office of the county treasurer and to all owners of property abutting any public right-of-way that forms the boundary of the territory proposed to be annexed and to the Sales and Use Tax Division of the Oklahoma Tax Commission; provided that the notice of annexation shall be mailed by certified mail to every person who owns a parcel of land of five (5) acres or more used for agricultural purposes.

Petitioners alleged the City failed to provide notice by certified mail to owners of property of five acres or more used for agricultural purposes, which abuts the boundaries of the annexed territory. Certified mail “return receipt requested” was sent to all owners of property within the territory to be annexed; however, the City provided only first class mail to abutting property owners of 5 or more acres of agricultural land, despite the use of the mandatory language “shall” in the statute.

The statute reads that “every person” owning five acres or more of agricultural land should receive notice by certified mail. The record clearly shows that the City did not send notice by certified mail to all owners of five acres or more of agricultural land abutting the boundaries of the annexed territory; rather the City used first-class mail.  The certified mail requirement is meant to protect the property owners who are affected by the annexation but are not within the territory. One such owner, Mr. Plumlee, who owns more than five acres of agricultural property in section 14, testified that he did not receive any kind of prior notice of the proposed annexation. If the City had utilized notice by certified mail, it would have been obvious whether City had sent notice to Mr. Plumlee.  According to the court, “one property owner without notice is too many.”  The Court found that the legislature intended nothing less than certified mail for the agricultural owners of five acres or more within the annexed territory.  The trial court erred in disregarding the legislative intent to provide a specific level of notice to specific groups of property owners.

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