AIRPORT TECH PARTNERS, LLP, and STENTOR COMPANY, LLP, Appellants,
STATE OF MISSOURI and CITY OF KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, Respondents
Argued and Submitted November 13, 2014.
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COLE COUNTY. The Honorable Jon Beetem, Judge.
The companies were represented by Thomas W. Rynard, James B. Deutsch, Marc H. Ellinger and Thomas R. Schwarz Jr. of Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch LC in Jefferson City.
The state was represented by Gary L. Gardner of the attorney general's office in Jefferson City.
The city was represented by Gaelen P. Beaufort of the city attorney's office in Kansas City.
LAURA DENVIR STITH,
Airport Tech Partners, LLP, and Stentor Company, LLP, (hereinafter jointly referred to as " Airport Tech" ) brought a declaratory judgment action against the State of Missouri, arguing that section 137.115.1 violates the uniformity clause set out in article X, section 3 of the Missouri Constitution because it permits the deduction of construction costs on airport property before assessing that property's true value in money but does not permit the deduction of construction costs before determining the true value in money of other commercial property. Airport Tech alleges that it has taxpayer standing to raise this issue because the application of section 137.115.1 to certain Platte County airport property leased by Kansas City to TCC KCI Logistics I, LLC, (" TCC" ) resulted in the true value of that airport property being assessed at $0. Airport Tech alleges that this in turn must have resulted in an increase in taxes on other county property so the county could meet its budget needs. Therefore, Airport Tech claims, it has taxpayer standing to challenge the statute because a lower assessment
of the airport property likely will result in a higher tax burden for Airport Tech than it otherwise would have paid were the statute not in effect. The City of Kansas City intervened as a defendant.
This Court affirms the trial court's judgment that Airport Tech lacked standing to seek a declaratory judgment. Airport Tech relies on the second of the three recognized bases for taxpayer standing: " (1) a direct expenditure of funds generated through taxation; (2) an increased levy in taxes; or (3) a pecuniary loss attributable to the challenged transaction of a municipality." Manzara v. State, 343 S.W.3d 656, 659 (Mo banc 2011). But Airport Tech presented only speculation that the statute relied on affected the level of the airport property's assessment, much less that the general tax levy would increase due to the level of that assessment. The trial court correctly held that, stripped down to the basics, Airport Tech simply seeks to attack the assessment of another's property as a way to lower its own taxes. Missouri law is well-settled that a taxpayer does not have standing to challenge another's assessment.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The material facts of this case are largely undisputed. On June 15, 2011, Kansas City leased to TCC a parcel of land that adjoined the Kansas City International Airport (KCI). That property was located within the " ultimate airport boundary" designated by KCI's federal airport layout plan. TCC improved the land with a large warehouse and driveways. It conveyed those improvements to Kansas City pursuant to the lease terms, and Kansas City then leased the premises back to TCC for a 60-year term.
The airport and the improved property owned by Kansas City and leased to TCC are in Platte County. Airport Tech also owns commercial properties in Platte County. Section 137.115.1 requires county assessors, including the Platte County assessor, to:
annually assess all real property, including any new construction and improvements to real property, and possessory interests in real property [in the county] at the percent of its true value in money set in subsection 5 of this section.
Section 137.115.5 sets the percent of the true value of money of the real property at issue at 32 percent. Airport Tech does not quarrel with subsection 137.115.5.
But Airport Tech does object to a lengthy sentence the legislature added to section 137.115.1 in 2008. It believes that this sentence makes an unreasonable distinction between the method of assessing property within an airport boundary as compared with the method of assessing other commercial property. The sentence reads:
The true value in money of any possessory interest in real property in subclass (3), where such real property is on or lies within the ultimate airport boundary as shown by a federal airport layout plan, as defined by 14 CFR 151.5, of a commercial airport having a FAR Part 139 certification and owned by a political subdivision, shall be the otherwise applicable true value in money of any such possessory interest in real property, less the total dollar amount of costs paid by a party, other than the political subdivision, towards any new construction or improvements on such real property completed after January 1, 2008, and which are included in the above-mentioned possessory interest, regardless of the year in which such costs were incurred or whether such costs were considered in any prior year.
(Emphasis added). In this provision, then, the legislature provides that, in return for improvements being made on airport property by a private party, the cost of those improvements will be deducted from the value of the property before it is assessed for tax purposes. For ease of understanding, the language added to ...