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Flower Valley, LLC v. Zimmerman

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

May 21, 2019

FLOWER VALLEY, LLC, 12667 NEW VALLEY, LLC, JOHN C. CROCKER, NOLOB, LLC, KEEVEN DEVELOPMENT, LLC, DUNWOOD DEVELOPMENT CO., FRENCH QUARTER, LLC, GLIDEPATH, LLC, Respondents,
v.
JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR, ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 16SL-CC03373 Honorable Richard M. Stewart

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, Judge.

         Jake Zimmerman, Assessor for St. Louis County, Missouri ("Appellant") appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of St. Louis County: (1) reversing the order of the State Tax Commission of Missouri ("the Commission" or "the STC"), which found Flower Valley, LLC, 12667 New Valley, LLC, John C. Crocker, Nolob, LLC, Keeven Development, LLC, Dunwood Development Co., French Quarter, LLC, and Glidepath, LLC (collectively "Respondents") were not entitled to reimbursement of attorneys' fees and appraisal costs; (2) reinstating a prior order of the Commission, which found Respondents were entitled to reimbursement of attorneys' fees and appraisal costs; and (3) stating Respondents were entitled to an additional award of attorneys' fees and costs incurred in seeking such reimbursement. This Court ordered, sua sponte, the parties to brief a jurisdictional issue, which was taken with the case. Because the trial court's judgment was not final and appealable, we lack jurisdiction over Appellant's appeal and the appeal must be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Facts and Procedural Posture Relating to Respondents' Underlying Tax Appeals

         Each of the Respondents individually own real property located within St. Louis County, Missouri. As part of his duties as the Assessor for St. Louis County, Appellant assigned to each of the Respondents' properties ("the Subject Properties") an assessed value for the 2011-2012 tax years. Respondents then appealed the valuation of their respectively-owned real property to the St. Louis County Board of Equalization ("the BOE"). The BOE did not significantly lower the assessed values of the Subject Properties, and so each Respondent appealed the BOE's decision to the STC.

         Due in part to Appellant's refusal to settle any of Respondents' tax appeals, each of the appeals proceeded to a hearing on the merits before the STC. Each Respondent presented an appraisal as well as testimony from a certified appraiser to support their proposed reduction in the value of their property. Appellant did not present any evidence to the STC in any of the Respondents' tax appeals, but instead conceded to the values set forth in Respondents' evidence. The Commission subsequently lowered the value of each of the Subject Properties consistent with the evidence presented by each of the Respondents. In each tax appeal, the assessed value was reduced by a significant percentage so as to trigger a right to reimbursement of attorneys' fees and appraisal costs pursuant to section 138.434 RSMo 2000[1] and St. Louis County, Mo. Rev. Ordinances section 503.300 (2005).[2]

         B. Relevant Facts and Procedural Posture Surrounding Respondents' Consolidated Application for Reimbursement of Attorneys' Fees and Appraisal Costs

         On June 29, 2015, Respondents filed their consolidated application for reimbursement of attorneys' fees and appraisal costs ("Application for Reimbursement") before the Commission. The STC then held a hearing on Respondents' Application for Reimbursement on September 9, 2015, in which the following relevant facts were revealed. In pursuing their tax appeals, each Respondent individually contracted with a property tax agent, Property Assessment Review ("PAR"), to provide legal and appraisal services. Under these arrangements, PAR agreed to pay all of the associated attorneys' fees and appraisal costs, and Respondents each agreed to pay PAR a contingency fee in the event of a successful tax appeal. Accordingly, Respondents utilized legal counsel and certified appraisers in the tax appeals, but PAR arranged for such services and directly paid the associated expenses. In return for the services provided by PAR, each Respondent has paid or will pay the contingency fee, which is based upon a percentage of their total tax reduction.

         On November 23, 2015, the STC entered its order on Respondents' Application for Reimbursement ("STC Order of Reimbursement"), which ordered Appellant to reimburse each Respondent for amounts representing their just and reasonable attorneys' fees and appraisal costs arising from their successful tax appeals. On December 23, 2015, Appellant filed his petition for judicial review of the STC Order of Reimbursement in the trial court. The trial court then remanded the STC Order of Reimbursement back to the Commission, and the parties submitted additional briefing on certain substantive and procedural issues. On August 16, 2016, the STC issued a second order ("STC Order upon Remand") denying Respondents their attorneys' fees and appraisal costs, finding the fees and costs were paid by PAR and not Respondents.

         On September 14, 2016, Respondents filed their petition for judicial review of the STC Order upon Remand in the trial court. In their petition, Respondents pled only one claim stating: "The Commission erred in denying [Respondents] attorney[s'] fees and costs pursuant to [ ] [section] 138.434 and [St. Louis County, Mo. Rev. Ordinances section] 503.300 in that neither the statute nor ordinance require direct payment by a taxpayer of the attorney[s'] fees and costs resulting from an evidentiary hearing." Based on such claim, Respondents requested the trial court to enter an order, inter alia, "awarding [Respondents] their just and reasonable appraisal costs and attorney[s'] fees incurred both in their underlying tax appeals and herein[.]"

         On October 20, 2017, the trial court entered its judgment, which: (1) reversed the STC Order upon Remand; (2) reinstated the STC Order of Reimbursement; (3) found Respondents were entitled to reimbursement of their just and reasonable attorneys' fees and appraisal costs arising from their successful tax appeals, in the amounts set forth in the STC Order of Reimbursement; and (4) found Respondents were also entitled to an additional award of attorneys' fees and costs incurred in seeking reimbursement of their attorneys' fees and appraisal costs, with the amount to be determined at a later date. Specifically with respect to the additional award of attorneys' fees and costs, the court ordered, "that this matter is set for a case management conference on November 9, 2017, at 9:00 a.m. for purposes of scheduling proceedings to determine [Respondents'] additional attorney[s'] fees incurred in the legal proceedings beginning with their original application for reimbursement and continuing through the present action for judicial review." The trial court subsequently determined there was "no just reason for delay" and certified its October 20, 2017 judgment as final for purposes of appeal pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 74.01(b) (2017).[3], [4]

         Appellant then filed this appeal. This Court, sua sponte, ordered Appellant to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed for want of jurisdiction based on the lack of a final, appealable judgment. The parties were subsequently ordered to brief the jurisdictional issue, which this Court took with the case. Appellant's appeal was submitted to this Court on February 6, 2019.

         II. ...


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