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State ex rel. Zimmerman v. Blanc

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

April 10, 2018

AMOSO BLANC, ET AL., Appellants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge

          Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge and James E. Welsh, Senior Judge [1]


          Cynthia L. Martin, Judge.

         Appellants Amoso Blanc, et al. ("Taxpayers") appeal from the judgment of the trial court issuing a permanent writ prohibiting the State Tax Commission ("Commission") from exercising jurisdiction over Taxpayers' appeals to the Commission. Taxpayers argue that the trial court erred in construing section 138.135.2[2] to preclude the Commission from exercising jurisdiction over appeals from final decisions of the county board of equalization issued in even-numbered years. Taxpayers also claim that the trial court erred in issuing a permanent writ of prohibition because the county assessor had an adequate remedy at law, and because the Commission had jurisdiction to hear Taxpayers' claims that the county board of equalization unlawfully denied them hearings. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Taxpayers are owners of 95 residential properties located in St. Louis County, a first-class county in Missouri. Respondent Jake Zimmerman is the St. Louis County Assessor ("Assessor").

         In 2013, Taxpayers appealed the assessed values of their properties, as determined by Assessor, to the St. Louis County Board of Equalization ("County Board"). The assessed values of six properties were settled between their owners and Assessor before the County Board issued a decision in 2013. The County Board issued decisions regarding assessed values for Taxpayers' remaining 89 properties. Taxpayers did not appeal the County Board's 2013 decisions to the Commission.

         In 2014, Taxpayers appealed the assessed values of their properties to the County Board for the 2014 tax year, including the values of the six properties involved in settlements with Assessor. The assessed values for the properties were the same as had been determined by the 2013 settlements and/or County Board decisions.

         The County Board scheduled a hearing for each of the Taxpayers' properties, but then dismissed the Taxpayers' 2014 appeals without conducting hearings. Taxpayers appealed the County Board's dismissal of their 2014 appeals to the Commission.[3] The indicated basis for each of the appeals to the Commission was overvaluation of the property and the County Board's denial of a hearing.

         The Commission ordered Assessor to file a response to Taxpayers' appeals. Assessor attached the response to an e-mail correspondence with the Commission. In subsequent e-mail correspondence to the Commission, Taxpayers asserted that the County Board denied them hearings in violation of section 138.135.3. The Commission entered an order permitting Taxpayers' appeals and assigning a hearing officer.

         Assessor filed a motion to reconsider and to dismiss the appeals for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Commission's hearing officer denied Assessor's motion. Assessor filed an application for review with the Commission. Assessor asserted that Taxpayers had made no claims of new construction or property improvements, and that based on section 138.135.2, the County Board was not required to hear the Taxpayers' appeals in 2014. The Commission denied Assessor's application for review, finding that Taxpayers were permitted to appeal to the Commission.

         Assessor filed a petition for writ of prohibition with the trial court.[4] Assessor asserted that the Commission did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Taxpayers' appeals. Additionally, Assessor cited section 138.135.2, arguing that it required County Board assessments issued in an odd-numbered year to remain the same for the subsequent even-numbered year, absent new construction or property improvements in the odd-numbered year. Assessor stated that none of the Taxpayers claimed that new construction or property improvements occurred in 2013. Assessor maintained that the Commission thus lacked jurisdiction over the 2014 appeals and lacked the power to change the 2014 assessments. Assessor argued that a writ of prohibition was appropriate because the Commission lacked jurisdiction, and to avoid unnecessary litigation.

         The trial court entered a preliminary writ prohibiting the Commission from acting on the 2014 appeals pending a final decision from the trial court. Taxpayers intervened in the writ proceeding, and a hearing was held on Assessor's petition for writ of prohibition. Following the hearing, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Assessor, making the writ of prohibition permanent and prohibiting the Commission from "exercising jurisdiction" over Taxpayers' 2014 appeals.

         The trial court held that a plain and clear reading of section 138.135.2 indicates that decisions rendered in odd-numbered years by the County Board or the Commission control even-year assessments absent new construction or property improvements. The trial court found that Taxpayers had not claimed any new construction or property improvements. Thus, the trial court held that section 138.135.2 rendered the Commission powerless to change the County Board's 2013 assessments, providing a reason to grant the writ of prohibition. Furthermore, the trial court determined that there was not an adequate remedy by way of appeal for Assessor due to the high volume of appealed assessments. As to Taxpayers' contention that the County Board violated section 138.135.3 with respect to a required hearing, the trial court concluded that section 138.135.3 did not apply to the appealed assessments.[5]

         Taxpayers filed this timely appeal.[6]

         Standard of Review

         We review the issuance of a writ of prohibition for an abuse of discretion. State ex rel. Cass Cty. v. Mollenkamp, 481 S.W.3d 26, 29 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). An abuse of discretion occurs "when the trial court's ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances then before the court and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration." State ex rel. Jackson Cty. Prosecuting Attorney v. Prokes, 363 S.W.3d 71, 75 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011) (quoting Anglim v. Mo. Pac. R.R., 832 S.W.2d 298, 303 (Mo. banc 1992)). An abuse of discretion also occurs if the trial court "fails to follow the applicable statutes." State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson, 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013). Where the issuance of a writ is "'based upon interpretation of a statute, ' our review of the statute's meaning is de novo." Id. (quoting Pitts v. Williams, 315 S.W.3d 755, 759 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010)). In applying this de novo review, "the primary rule of statutory interpretation is to give effect to legislative intent as reflected in the plain language of the statute." State ex rel. Bank of Am. N.A. v. Kanatzar, 413 S.W.3d 22, 27 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013).

         "[A]ppellate courts are primarily concerned with the correctness of the result reached by the trial court, [and] are not bound by its rationale and may affirm the judgment on any grounds sufficient to sustain it." State ex rel. Feltz v. Bob Sight Ford, Inc., 341 S.W.3d 863, 868 n.3 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011) (quoting Russo v. Bruce, 263 S.W.3d 684, 687 (Mo. App. S.D. 2008)). The trial court's judgment "will be affirmed if cognizable under any theory, regardless of whether the reasons advanced by the trial court ...

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