State Tax Commission of Missouri
|IGOR & NATALYA TRAMS||)|
|v.||)||Appeal # 15-13700|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST. LOUIS CO., MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The assessment made by the Board of Equalization of St. Louis County is AFFIRMED. Complainants did not present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the St. Louis County Board of Equalization. Additionally, Respondent failed to meet its burden of proof to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the St. Louis County Board of Equalization and return the value to the original valuation by the Assessor of St. Louis County. Assessed value in money for the subject property for tax years 2015 and 2016 is set at $37,050 residential ($195,000 TMV).
Complainant Igor Trams appeared pro se.
Complainant Natalya Trams did not appear.
Respondent appeared by attorney Steven Robson.
Case heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer John Treu.
Complainant appealed on the ground of overvaluation. The St. Louis County Assessor set the TMV of the subject property, as residential property, at $209,800. The St. Louis County Board of Equalization set the TMV of the subject property, as residential property, at $195,000. The Commission takes this appeal to determine the true value in money of the subject property on January 1, 2015.
The Hearing Officer, having considered all of the competent evidence upon the whole record, enters the following Decision and Order.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- Jurisdiction. Jurisdiction over this appeal is proper. Complainants timely appealed to the State Tax Commission.
- Evidentiary Hearing. The Evidentiary Hearing was held on February 4, 2016 at the St. Louis Administrative Building in Clayton, Missouri.
- Identification of Subject Property. The subject property is identified by parcel/locator number 17K340014. It is further identified as 1000 Wild Cherry Lane, University City, MO. (Exhibit 1).
- Description of Subject Property. The subject property consists of a tract of land of 6,800 square feet, improved by a 4 family structure with 4,900 square feet of gross living area. It has a brick exterior. Amenities include twelve bedrooms, four full bathrooms and four half bathrooms. (Ex. 1)
- Assessment. The Assessor set a true market value on the subject property at $209,800 residential.
- Board of Equalization. The Board of Equalization set a true market value on the subject property at $195,000 residential.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant offered Exhibit A & B. Exhibit A consisted of a closing statement on the subject property, which closed on 1/15/16, with a sales price of $186,000. Exhibit B consisted of a closing statement of 1016-1022 Wild Cherry Lane, which closed on 1/29/16, with a sales price of . Exhibit A was received into the evidentiary record without objection. Exhibit B was objected to, based upon foundation and relevance. The objection was overruled and Exhibit B was received into the evidentiary record. Complainant proposed a true market value of $186,000.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent offered into evidence Exhibits 1, which consisted of an Appraisal Report of Mark Stuart. The appraiser opined a true market value for the subject property, as of January 1, 2015 of $245,000. Such exhibit was received into the evidentiary record without objection.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND DECISION
The Commission has jurisdiction to hear this appeal and correct any assessment which is shown to be unlawful, unfair, arbitrary or capricious, including the application of any abatement. The Hearing Officer shall issue a decision and order affirming, modifying or reversing the determination of the board of equalization, and correcting any assessment which is unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary, or capricious. Article X, Section 14, Mo. Const. of 1945; Sections 138.430, 138.431, 138.431.4, RSMo.
Complainants’ Burden of Proof
In order to prevail, Complainants must present substantial and persuasive evidence as to the proper taxation of the subject property on January 1, 2015. Hermel, supra. There is no presumption that the taxpayer’s opinion is correct. The taxpayer in a Commission appeal still bears the burden of proof. The taxpayer is the moving party seeking affirmative relief. Therefore, the Complainant bears the burden of proving the vital elements of the case, i.e., the assessment was “unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary or capricious.” See, Westwood Partnership v. Gogarty, 103 S.W.3d 152 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003); Daly v. P. D. George Co., 77 S.W.3d 645 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002); Reeves v. Snider, 115 S.W.3d 375 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003); Industrial Development Authority of Kansas City v. State Tax Commission of Missouri, 804 S.W.2d 387, 392 (Mo. App. 1991).
Weight to be Given Evidence
The relative weight to be accorded any relevant factor in a particular case is for the Hearing Officer to decide. St. Louis County v. Security Bonhomme, Inc., 558 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo. banc 1977); St. Louis County v. STC, 515 S.W.2d 446, 450 (Mo. 1974); Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company v. STC, 436 S.W.2d 650 (Mo. 1968). The Hearing Officer is not bound by any specific method.
Owner’s Opinion of Value
Although an owner is competent to testify regarding the appropriate valuation of the owner’s property, “[w]here the basis for a test as to the reliability of the testimony is not supported by a statement of facts on which it is based, or the basis of fact does not appear to be sufficient, the testimony should be rejected.” Carmel Energy at 783. A taxpayer does not meet his burden if evidence on any essential element of his case leaves the Commission “in the nebulous twilight of speculation, conjecture and surmise.” See, Rossman v. G.G.C. Corp. of Missouri, 596 S.W.2d 469, 471 (Mo. App. 1980).
Methods of Valuation
Proper methods of valuation and assessment of property are delegated to the Commission. It is within the purview of the Hearing Officer to determine the method of valuation to be adopted in a given case. See, Nance v. STC, 18 S.W.3d 611, at 615 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000); Hermel, supra; Xerox Corp. v. STC, 529 S.W.2d 413 (Mo. banc 1975). Missouri courts have approved the comparable sales or market approach, the cost approach and the income approach as recognized methods of arriving at fair market value. St. Joe Minerals Corp. v. STC, 854 S.W.2d 526, 529 (App. E.D. 1993); Aspenhof Corp. v. STC, 789 S.W.2d 867, 869 (App. E.D. 1990); Quincy Soybean Company, Inc., v. Lowe, 773 S.W.2d 503, 504 (App. E.D. 1989), citing Del-Mar Redevelopment Corp v. Associated Garages, Inc., 726 S.W.2d 866, 869 (App. E.D. 1987
Opinion Testimony by Experts
An expert’s opinion must be founded upon substantial information, not mere conjecture or speculation, and there must be a rational basis for the opinion. Missouri Pipeline Co. v. Wilmes, 898 S.W. 2d 682, 687 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995). The State Tax Commission cannot ignore a lack of support in the evidence for adjustments made by the expert witnesses in the application of a particular valuation approach. Drey v. State Tax Commission, 345 S.W. 2d 228, 234-236 (Mo. 1961), Snider v. Casino Aztar/Aztar Missouri Gaming Corp., 156 S.W. 3d, 341, 348 (Mo. 2005).
The testimony of an expert is to be considered like any other testimony, is to be tried by the same test, and receives just so much weight and credit as the trier of fact may deem it entitled to when viewed in connection with all other circumstances. The Hearing Officer, as the trier of fact, has the authority to weigh the evidence and is not bound by the opinions of experts who testify on the issue of reasonable value, but may believe all or none of the expert’s testimony and may accept it in part or reject it in part. Beardsley v. Beardsley, 819 S.W. 2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1991); Curnow v. Sloan, 625 S.W. 2d 605, 607 (Mo. 1981.
Board Presumption and Computer-Assisted Presumption
There exists a presumption of correct assessment by the Board of Equalization. As will be addressed below (See, Respondent’s Burden of Proof, infra), there exists by statutory mandate a presumption that the Assessor’s original valuation was made by a computer, computer-assisted method or a computer program – the computer-assisted presumption. These two presumptions operate with regard to the parties in different ways. The Board presumption operates in every case to require the taxpayer to present evidence to rebut it. If Respondent is seeking to prove a value different than that set by the Board, then it also would be applicable to the Respondent. The computer-assisted presumption only comes into play if the Board of Equalization lowered the value of the Assessor and Respondent is seeking to sustain the original assessment and it has not been shown that the Assessor’s valuation was not the result of a computer assisted method. The Board valuation is assumed to be an independent valuation.
Respondent’s Burden of Proof
In charter counties or the City of St. Louis, the Respondent, when wishing to advocate for a valuation to return the valuation to the Assessor’s original valuation, which was higher than the value assigned by the Board of Equalization, has imposed upon him by the provisions of Section 137.115.1, RSMo, the burden of proof to present clear, convincing and cogent evidence to sustain a valuation on residential property which is made by a computer, computer-assisted method or a computer program. If the Board of Equalization sustained the valuation of the Assessor, the computer assisted presumption does not come into play, as the Boards valuation, is an independent valuation. As the appraisal in this appeal seeks to support a return to the original assessed value, there is a presumption in this appeal that the original valuation, which was lowered by the Board of Equalization, was made by a computer, computer-assisted method or a computer program. In order to sustain the valuation of the subject property at $209,800 true market value Respondent’s evidence must come within the guidelines established by the legislature and must clearly, convincingly and cogently persuade the Hearing Officer as to the value sought to be sustained.
The statutory guidelines for evidence to meet the standard of clear, convincing and cogent include the following:
(1) The findings of the assessor based on an appraisal of the property by generally accepted appraisal techniques; and
(2) The purchase prices from sales of at least three comparable properties and the address or location thereof. As used in this paragraph, the word comparable means that:
(a) Such sale was closed at a date relevant to the property valuation; and
(b) Such properties are not more than one mile from the site of the disputed property, except where no similar properties exist within one mile of the disputed property, the nearest comparable property shall be used. Such property shall be within five hundred square feet in size of the disputed property, and resemble the disputed property in age, floor plan, number of rooms, and other relevant characteristics. Section 137.115.1(1) & (2).
Clear, cogent and convincing evidence is that evidence which clearly convinces the trier of fact of the affirmative proposition to be proved. It does not mean that there may not be contrary evidence. Grissum v. Reesman, 505 S.W.2d 81, 85, 86 (Mo. Div. 2, 1974). The quality of proof, to be clear and convincing must be more than a mere preponderance but does not require beyond a reasonable doubt. 30 AmJur2d. 345-346, Evidence section 1167. “For evidence to be clear and convincing, it must instantly tilt the scales in the affirmative when weighed against the evidence in opposition and the fact finder’s mind is left with an abiding conviction that the evidence is true.” Matter of O’Brien, 600 S.W.2d 695, 697 (Mo. App. 1980).
In the present appeal, the aforementioned burden was not met, including, but not limited to weighing Respondent’s evidence against the evidence of the recent sale of the subject property. Instead, Respondent’s appraisal provided substantial and persuasive evidence to support the Board of Equalization presumption. The appraiser utilized the sales comparison method to value the property. He made market based adjustments.
Sale of Subject
Evidence of the actual sales price of property is admissible to establish value at the time of an assessment, provided that such evidence involves a voluntary purchase not too remote in time. The actual sale price is a method that may be considered for estimating true value. The actual sales price, between a willing seller who is not obligated to sell and a willing buyer who is not compelled to buy, establishes an outer limit on the value of real property. St. Joe Minerals Corp. v. STC, 854 S.W.2d 526 (App. E.D. 1993). The Hearing Officer is not convinced that all elements of an open market sale were present, regarding the sale of the subject property in January of 2016.
In the present appeal based upon overvaluation, Complainant failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the St. Louis County Board of Equalization. The Hearing Officer did not deem Complainant Igor Trams to be an expert. Additionally, the Hearing Office was not convinced that the sale of the subject property in January of 2016 was an open market sale, meeting all elements required for such a sale.
Additionally, Respondent failed to present clear, convincing and cogent evidence to return the value of the subject property to the original value set by the Assessor. Nevertheless, Respondent presented substantial and persuasive evidence to support the presumption of correct assessment by the St. Louis County Board of Equalization.
The true market valuation for the subject property as determined by the Assessor for St. Louis County for the subject tax day and sustained by the St. Louis County Board of Equalization is AFFIRMED.
The assessed value for the subject property for tax years 2015 and 2016 is set at $37,050 residential ($195,000 TMV).
Application for Review
A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within thirty days of the mailing date set forth in the Certificate of Service for this Decision. The application shall contain specific facts or law as grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous. Said application must be in writing addressed to the State Tax Commission of Missouri, P.O. Box 146, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0146, and a copy of said application must be sent to each person at the address listed below in the certificate of service.
Failure to state specific facts or law upon which the application for review is based will result in summary denial. Section 138.432, RSMo
The Collector of St. Louis County, as well as the collectors of all affected political subdivisions therein, shall continue to hold the disputed taxes pending the possible filing of an Application for Review, unless said taxes have been disbursed pursuant to a court order under the provisions of Section 139.031.8, RSMo.
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 March 16th, 2016.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
John J. Treu
Senior Hearing Officer
Delivery or Notice was made via mail, email, fax, or personally on March 16, 2016 to the following Individuals of this Order