Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County. Hon. Larry L. Kendrick, Judge.
Gary M. Gaertner, Chief Judge, Simon, J., Pudlowski, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gaertner
Appellant, State Tax Commission of Missouri ("Commission"), appeals from a circuit court order overruling the Commission's determination of value of property owned by respondent, Ronald Moore. We reverse and remand with instructions.
On September 7, 1989, respondent filed complaints for review of assessment with the Commission regarding two pieces of property. A prehearing conference in this matter was held on August 30, 1990. At that time, the Assessor of St. Louis County (the "Assessor") submitted an appraisal report as evidence of the value of the parcels of property. Respondent established he would not provide an appraisal report; however, respondent did indicate he intended to testify as to the value of the parcels at the actual hearing. The Assessor filed a motion to preclude such evidence, and on August 30, 1990, the Commission sustained the Assessor's motion, relying on its interpretation of 12 CSR 30-3.060(1) addressing the exchange of appraisal reports. Consequently, at the evidentiary hearing in May of 1991, the Commission refused to consider the valuation evidence offered by respondent, although respondent was allowed to make an offer of proof.
The Commission ultimately affirmed the assessment value of the Assessor, concluding that because respondent failed to offer an appraisal report, the evidence of value respondent did offer was inadmissible. Respondent filed a petition for review with the St. Louis County Circuit Court on March 5, 1992. On December 31, 1992, the circuit court issued an order modifying the decision of the Commission. The court determined that the Commission erroneously interpreted 12 CSR 30-3.060 to require that complainants appearing before the Commission must provide an appraisal report. The court found there was no provision in the regulation requiring a complainant to submit an appraisal report. The circuit court concluded that respondent, as the property owner, properly testified as to the value of the parcels in question and that the Commission erred by not accepting and considering such evidence in its determination of value. The court ordered that the assessment of true value be changed from $2,070,560 to $1,603,432. It is from this ruling the Commission now appeals.
We will consider appellant's first two points simultaneously. Appellant contends the circuit court erred in modifying the valuation of the subject parcels because: 1) The Commission correctly interpreted 12 CSR 30-3.060(1) to preclude respondent from offering evidence of value where respondent had not exchanged or offered to exchange an appraisal report; and 2) the Commission's evaluation was based on substantial and competent evidence because the only evidence properly before the Commission was the Assessor's appraisal report which supported the Commission's determination of value. We disagree.
At the outset, we note that our review of an administrative ruling requires a consideration of the agency's findings and Conclusions rather than a review of the judgment of the circuit court. Kramer v. Mason, 806 S.W.2d 131, 134 (Mo. App., E.D. 1991). Additionally, we acknowledge that in the event of doubt and ambiguity as to the meaning of a statute, this court will consider the construction placed upon the act by the agency in charge of administering said regulation. Hudson v. State Security Ins. Co., 555 S.W.2d 859, 861 (Mo. App., St.L.D., 1977). However, such construction is not binding upon this court, Id., and tax statutes will be strictly construed against the taxing authority and in favor of the taxpayer. Brown Group, Inc. v. Admin. Hearing Com'n, 649 S.W.2d 874, 881 (Mo. banc 1983).
Upon a careful analysis of 12 CSR 30-3.060(1), we find the Commission's construction of that regulation to be erroneous. 12 CSR 30-3.060 provides in pertinent part:
12 CSR 30-3.060 Exchange of Appraisal Reports
PURPOSE: This rule describes the procedures for the exchange of appraisal reports between the parties and guidelines for the composition of the reports.
(1) As soon as practicable after the filing of an appeal concerning a commercial property with the commission, the parties shall exchange any appraisal reports proposed to be admitted at the evidentiary hearing of the case. The appraisal reports shall be exchanged at the prehearing conference for the case, unless otherwise ordered by the commission. Each party shall also give a copy of its report(s) to the commission at the prehearing conference. The purpose of this rule is to allow for full and fair cross-examination at the evidentiary hearing. Any appraisal reports which have not previously been exchanged in accordance with this rule or which have not been offered for exchange at the prehearing conference will be excluded from admission into evidence at the evidentiary hearing. Any party who has not exchanged or who has not offered to exchange appraisal reports in accordance with this rule will be precluded from offering any valuation evidence at the evidentiary hearing.
Additionally, subsection (A) of this regulation provides detailed guidelines for the preparation and format of these appraisal reports.
The Commission focuses on the last sentence of the above paragraph and interprets that statement as making the exchange of appraisal reports mandatory for parties wishing to offer other evidence of valuation. We do not read it as such. The last sentence must be read in harmony with the preceding five sentences in that paragraph. See Harry H. Houf & Sons Contr. v. Wellsville, 796 S.W.2d 435, 437 (Mo. App., E.D. 1990).
The regulation initially asserts the parties "shall exchange any appraisal reports proposed to be admitted at the evidentiary hearing . . . [and that such] appraisal reports shall be exchanged at the prehearing conference . . . unless otherwise ordered." As caselaw requires that unambiguous provisions in statutes be given their plain meaning, Farmers' and Laborers' v. Dir. of Revenue, 742 S.W.2d 141, 145 (Mo. banc 1987), we find this portion of the regulation to plainly state that if appraisal reports are going to be utilized by the parties, the reports must be exchanged prior to the evidentiary hearing. The next provision sets out the purpose of the rule and establishes that the early exchange of appraisal reports is to "allow for full and fair cross-examination at the evidentiary hearing." Reading this in conjunction with the first sentence, we understand the purpose for the early exchange of appraisal reports is to allow for "full and fair cross-examination" regarding the appraisal reports. The regulation then goes on to state that appraisal reports not exchanged in accordance with this rule will be excluded from the evidentiary hearing and that "any party who has not exchanged or who has not offered to exchange appraisal reports in accordance with this rule will be precluded from ...