FORD MOTOR COMPANY, )
v. ) Appeal Nos. 02-32001 and 02-32002
CATHY RINEHART, ASSESSOR, )
CLAY COUNTY, MISSOURI, )
DECISION AND ORDER
Complainant’s execution of the 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Forms constituted a valid compromise and settlement of Complainant’s appeals before the Clay County Board of Equalization. Complainant has no basis to appeal to the State Tax Commission. Accordingly, the Commission lacks jurisdiction to review the subject assessments.
The initial issue to be decided in this case is whether the Complainant settled these assessment disputes before the Clay County Board of Equalization.
The exhibits relevant to the activity before the Clay County Board of Equalization are:
Complainant’s Exhibit F – Written Direct Testimony of Kellianne M. Nagy;
Complainant’s Exhibit G – July 26, 2002 faxed communication from Patty Seifers, Clay County Clerk’s Office to Complainant;
Respondent’s Exhibit 7 – August 5, 2002 Order issued by the Clay County Board of Equalization on Parcel # 82-381-00-00-000.00;
Respondent’s Exhibit 8 – August 5, 2002 Order issued by the Clay County Board of Equalization on Parcel # 82-382-00-00-000.00;
Respondent’s Exhibit 10 – 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Form for Parcel # 82-381-00-00-000.00;
Respondent’s Exhibit 11 – 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Form for Parcel # 82-382-00-00-000.00;
Respondent’s Exhibit 12 – 2002 Board Appeal Form for Parcel # 82382;
Respondent’s Exhibit 13 – 2002 Board Appeal Form for Parcel # 82381;
Respondent’s Exhibit 21 – Written Direct Testimony of Dee Anna Richardson;
Respondent’s Exhibit 22 – July 24, 2002 letter from Complainant to the Clay County Board of Equalization.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. On June 14, 2002, Complainant, Ford Motor Company, filed appeals with the Clay County Board of Equalization challenging the assessed valuation of the personal property parcel numbers 82381 and 82382. Appeal to the Board of Equalization attached to the Complaint for Review of Assessment, which serves as the pleading in each appeal.
2. On or before July 18, 2002, Complainant requested and received a Board of Equalization hearing date of July 23, 2002. Respondent’s Exhibits 7 & 8.
3. On July 19, 2002, Complainant’s agent, Kellianne Nagy, executed a 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Form on both accounts. Respondent’s Exhibits 10 and 11. In executing this form, Complainant’s agent stated the following with regard to the proposed action of the Board concerning the subject assessments : “I/we, Kellianne M. Nagy, do hereby agree with the above change and do not wish to appeal to the Board of Equalization.” Id. (emphasis supplied).
4. On July 23, 2002, the Clay County Board of Equalization met and accepted the values proposed in the 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Forms for personal property account numbers 82381 and 82382. The proposed and Board-approved market value for each account was $152,978,764. The proposed and Board-approved assessed value for each account was $50,987,822. Id. See, Appeal to the Board of Equalization attached to the Complaint for Review of Assessment, which serves as the pleading in each appeal.
5. On July 24, 2002, Complainant issued a letter to the Clay County Board of Equalization “…respectfully withdraw[ing] the stipulation signed July 19, 2002 with the Clay County Assessor’s Office…” on the basis that Complainant had not received written notice of the hearing date before the Board and that Complainant believed the stipulated value to be in error. Respondent’s Exhibit 22.
6. On August 5, 2002, the Clay County Board of Equalization met concerning the subject assessments. The Board heard evidence, received exhibits, and made the following findings for each assessment:
a. The Taxpayer requested and received a hearing date of July 23, 2002, on or before July 18, 2002. The taxpayer entered a stipulation for the resolution of its valuation on July 19, 2002, stating that it agreed to an assessed value of $50,987,822 per parcel and did not wish to appeal such valuation to the Board of Equalization. The Taxpayer did not appear at hearing on July 23, 2002. The Board finalized the stipulation by signature approval that date. The Taxpayer advised that it withdrew its stipulation on July 24, 2002.
b. This Board, the Clay County Assessor’s Office, and interested taxing districts understood on July 23, 2002, the matter of Taxpayer’s Assessment to be compromised and closed by settlement and not subject to appeal to the State Tax Commission.
c. The accurate market value for the Taxpayer’s business personal property for 2002 is $160,334,956. The accurate assessment of same is $53, 439,641.
d. These valuation findings based on evidence at hearing may not be imposed because the stipulation and waiver of appeal in evidence is valid and binding on all parties thereto.
Respondent’s Exhibits 7 & 8. The Board declined Complainant’s request to set aside its July 23, 2002, approval of the parties’ agreed upon assessments of $50,987,822 for each assessment. Id., at 2.
7. On August 9, 2002, Complainant filed appeals on these parcels with the State Tax Commission.
8. Witness Nagy’s testimony addressing her understanding of the import of the 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Forms was not credible.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Administrative Review of Property Tax Assessments
The first required step in appealing a property tax assessment is an appeal to the local Board of Equalization. Relative to the Board’s review, the statutes provide:
Every person who thinks himself aggrieved by the assessment of his property may appeal to the county board of equalization, in person, by attorney or agent, or in writing. Section 137.275, RSMo 2000.
Any person aggrieved by the assessment of his property may appeal to the county board of equalization. An appeal shall be in writing and the forms to be used for this purpose shall be furnished by the county clerk. Such appeal shall be lodged with the county clerk as secretary of the board of equalization before the third Monday in June; provided, that the board may in its discretion extend the time for filing such appeals. Section 137.385, RSMo 2000.
The county board of equalization shall, in a summary way, determine all appeals from the valuation of property made by the assessor, and shall correct and adjust the assessment accordingly. Section 138.060, RSMo Supp. 2003.
The next step is an appeal from the determination of the local board of equalization to the State Tax Commission. Section 138.430, RSMo 2000.
Compromise and Settlement
“A valid compromise and settlement assented to by all the parties in interest is ordinarily final, and as binding on them as any other contract, and is as binding as if its terms were embodied in a judgment.” Maxwell v. Maxwell, 775 S.W.2d 576, 578 (Mo. App. S.D. 1989). “…[A] compromise and settlement ‘operates as a merger of, and bars all right to recover on, the claim or right of action included therein.’ 11 Am. Jur. (Compromise and Settlement) Sections 23 – 24, p. 271.” Farmer v. Arnold, 371 S.W.2d 265, 269 (Mo. 1963). “Freedom of contract and peaceful settlement of disputes are encouraged in the law.” B-Mall Co. v. Williamson, 977 S.W.2d 74, 77 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998).
Complainant’s execution of the 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Forms constituted a valid compromise and settlement of Complainant’s appeals before the Clay County Board of Equalization. Complainant has no basis to appeal to the State Tax Commission.
Complainant initiated appeals to the Clay County Board of Equalization but cut short the Board’s substantive review with the execution and filing of the 2002 Acceptance of Value Change Forms. These forms communicated an acceptance of the Assessor’s recommended change in value and an assertion that Complainant does not wish to appeal to the Board. The Board thereafter, at the scheduled hearing date, approved the recommended assessments as indicated on the forms. This Hearing Officer concludes that these forms constituted a valid compromise and settlement of the Complainant’s appeals before the Clay County Board of Equalization. Accordingly, the Commission lacks jurisdiction to review the subject assessments.
As determined above, the Commission lacks jurisdiction to review the correctness of the assessments at issue. Accordingly, the Board-approved assessments stand.
A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within thirty (30) days of the mailing of such decision. The application shall contain specific grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous. Failure to state specific facts or law upon which the appeal is based will result in summary denial. Section 138.432, RSMo 2000.
If an application for review of this decision is made to the Commission, any protested taxes presently in an escrow account in accordance with this appeal shall be held pending the final decision of the Commission. If no application for review is received by the Commission within thirty (30) days, this decision and order is deemed final and the Collector of Clay County, as well as the collectors of all affected political subdivisions therein, shall disburse the protested taxes presently in an escrow account in accord with the decision on the underlying assessment in this appeal. If any or all protested taxes have been disbursed pursuant to Section 139.031(8), RSMo, either party may apply to the circuit court having jurisdiction of the cause for disposition of the protested taxes held by the taxing authority.
Any Finding of Fact which is a Conclusion of Law or Decision shall be so deemed. Any Decision which is a Finding of Fact or Conclusion of Law shall be so deemed.
SO ORDERED October 28, 2004.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Aimee L. Smashey
AFFIRMING HEARING OFFICER DECISION
UPON APPLICATION FOR REVIEW
On October 28, 2004, Hearing Officer Aimee L. Smashey entered her Decision and Order (Decision) holding that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to review the correctness of the assessment at issue.
Complainant timely filed its Application for Review of the Decision. Respondent filed her Response. Complainant filed its Reply to Response.
Complainant’s Grounds for Review
Complainant put forth the following grounds as a basis for its Application for Review.
1. Complainant has an absolute statutory right of appeal to the Missouri State Tax Commission.
2. The State Tax Commission had already accepted jurisdiction of these appeals and the Hearing Officer was without authority to change that Decision.
3. The Hearing Officer’s Decision to reopen the hearing for the purpose of inquiring into jurisdiction and the subsequent order of the Hearing officer denying jurisdiction were a clear abuse of discretion and were invalid actions.
4. The Hearing Officer erred in finding that a valid stipulation had been agreed to between the parties which waived Complainant’s statutory right to appeal to the State Tax Commission.
5. The Hearing Officer erred in allowing inappropriate arguments on behalf of North Kansas City School District, an “interested person.”
Respondent gave the following responses to Complainant’s Arguments.
1. Complainant did appeal to the Missouri State Tax Commission.
2. The State Tax Commission’s denial of Respondent’s previous motion to dismiss in no way affected the hearing officer’s determination that a valid settlement had been reached.
3. The Hearing Officer’s decision to re-open the hearing for the purpose of inquiring into jurisdiction was within the Hearing Officer’s discretion and was entirely proper.
4. The Hearing Officer correctly found that a valid stipulation had been agreed to between the parties.
5. The Hearing Officer properly allowed North Kansas City School District the opportunity to be heard.
Complainant made the following replies to Respondent’s points.
1. Respondent confuses jurisdictional matters with substantive, evidentiary matters. The rebuttable presumption as to correct assessment by a board does not attach to other actions of boards of equalizations.
2. Complainant had no burden, in the reopened hearing, to show that the Board’s order was arbitrary, capricious, etc. That standard applies to the presumption of validity of an assessment.
3. Respondent can point to no statute or case law ruling that allows a hearing officer to overrule an interlocutory order of the Commission which firmly established the Commission’s jurisdiction to hear these appeals.
4. All cases cited by the Hearing Officer and Respondent on the validity of the supposed stipulation pertain to the matter of settlement or accord and satisfaction of an insurance claim or to a stipulation announced in open court or by attorney(s) for the parties, which is not the situation in the present cases.
A review of the record in the present appeal provides support for the determinations made by the Hearing Officer. There is competent and substantial evidence to establish a sufficient foundation for the Decision of the Hearing Officer. A reasonable mind could have conscientiously reached the same result based on a review of the entire record. The Commission finds no basis to support a determination that the Hearing Officer acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner or abused her discretion as the trier of fact and concluder of law in this appeal. Hermel, Inc. v. STC, 564 S.W.2d 888 (Mo. 1978); Black v. Lombardi, 970 S.W.2d 378 (Mo. App. E.D. 1998); Holt v. Clarke, 965 S.W.2d 241 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998); Smith v. Morton, 890 S.W.2d 403 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995). Phelps v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist., 598 S.W.2d 163 (Mo. App. E.D. 1980).
The Commission finds no benefit to be derived in restating what the Hearing Officer set forth in her Decision and Order. The Hearing Officer did not err in her determinations as challenged by Complainant.
The Commission upon review of the record and Decision in this appeal, finds no grounds upon which the Decision of the Hearing Officer should be reversed or modified. Accordingly, the Decision is affirmed.
Judicial review of this Order may be had in the manner provided in Sections 138.432 and 536.100 to 536.140, RSMo within thirty days of the date of the mailing of this Order.
SO ORDERED February 10, 2005.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Bruce E. Davis, Chairman
Sam D. Leake, Commissioner
Jennifer Tidwell, Commissioner