STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|MONIQUE CRUZ, LLC,||)|
|v.||)||Appeal Number 15-15942|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR,||)|
|ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The decision of the St. Louis County Board of Equalization (BOE) lowering the assessment made by the Assessor, Jake Zimmerman, (Respondent) is AFFIRMED. The evidentiary hearing in this case was scheduled for 11:00 a.m., June 16, 2016, at the St. Louis County Government Administration Building in Clayton, Missouri. Complainant Monique Cruz, LLC, (Complainant) was not represented by counsel at the evidentiary hearing as required by Missouri law. Respondent appeared by Counsel Steven Robson. Appeal dismissed by Senior Hearing Officer Amy S. Westermann.
The Commission takes this appeal to determine the true value in money for the subject property on January 1, 2015.
Initially, Respondent appraised the subject property at $301,500 true market value (TMV), $57,290 assessed value, as residential property. The BOE lowered Respondent’s valuation of the subject property to $246,500 TMV, $46,840 assessed value. Complainant appealed, on the ground of overvaluation. Complainant proposed a value of $180,500 TMV, $34,300 assessed value, in the Complaint for Review of Assessment.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- Jurisdiction over this appeal is proper. Complainant timely appealed to the State Tax Commission from the decision of the St. Louis County Board of Equalization.
- The subject property is located at 19141 Deep Woods Drive, Glencoe, St. Louis County, Missouri. The property is identified by Parcel/Locator number 23Y520123.
- By Order and pursuant to the agreement of Complainant, this case was set for an Evidentiary Hearing at 11:00 a.m., on Thursday, June 16, 2016, at the St. Louis County Government Administration Building, 41 S. Central Avenue, Clayton, Missouri. The Order informed Complainant that an attorney must enter his or her appearance and represent Complainant and the subject property because the subject property is owned by a LLC, a legal entity and not a natural person. The Order setting the date of the Evidentiary Hearing granted Complainant’s motion for continuance from an earlier date. In an electronic mail message (email) that accompanied the Order setting the date of the Evidentiary Hearing, the Senior Hearing Officer informed Complainant that no additional continuances would be granted and that an attorney must enter his of her appearance and represent Complainant and the subject property.
- The Evidentiary Hearing in Appeal No. 15-15942 was not held as scheduled because an attorney did not enter his or her appearance and did not attend the Evidentiary Hearing to represent Complainant and the subject property. Respondent appeared by Counsel Steven Robson, who announced ready for trial. Tom Weiss, the brother of Monique Cruz, appeared and explained that he had been unable to obtain an attorney for Complainant because he had been in an automobile accident involving a drunk driver a few days prior to the hearing. Mr. Weiss asked for the Evidentiary Hearing to be continued so that an attorney could be obtained. Attorney Robson opposed the request for a continuance on the ground that Complainant had been previously notified on multiple occasions that an attorney must represent Complainant. The Senior Hearing Officer denied the request for continuance because Complainant had previously requested and was granted a continuance and because Complainant had been previously and repeatedly informed of Missouri law, which requires an attorney to represent a legal entity, such as a LLC, in proceedings before the Commission. The Senior Hearing Officer thereafter entered her ruling dismissing the appeal.
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 Senior 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.
Presumptions In Appeals
There is a presumption of validity, good faith, and correctness of assessment by the county Board of Equalization. Hermel, Inc. v. STC, 564 S.W.2d 888, 895 (Mo. banc 1978); Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. STC, 436 S.W.2d 650, 656 (Mo. 1968); May Department Stores Co. v. STC, 308 S.W.2d 748, 759 (Mo. 1958). In order to prevail, complainants must rebut the presumption of correct assessment by presenting substantial and persuasive evidence as to the proper taxation of the subject property on the tax day at issue. Hermel, 564 S.W.2d at 895; Cupples-Hesse Corporation v. State Tax Commission, 329 S.W.2d 696, 702 (Mo. 1959). There is no presumption that the taxpayer’s opinion is correct. In an appeal before the Commission, the taxpayer still bears the burden of proof because the taxpayer is the moving party seeking affirmative relief. Therefore, the Complainant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence 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, 161 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003); Reeves v. Snider, 115 S.W.3d 375, 379 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003); Daly v. P. D. George Co., 77 S.W.3d 645, 648 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002); Industrial Development Authority of Kansas City v. State Tax Commission of Missouri, 804 S.W.2d 387, 392 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991).
The Practice of Law in Missouri
Section 484.010. 1, RSMo, defines the practice of law as:
[T]he appearance as an advocate in a representative capacity or the drawing of papers, pleadings or documents or the performance of any act in such capacity in connection with proceedings pending or prospective before any court of record, commissioner, referee or any body, board, committee or commission constituted by law or having authority to settle controversies.
It is a violation of the law to practice law without a license. Section 484.020.
The State Tax Commission is a commission having the authority to settle controversies. Section 138.430. Additionally, State Tax Commission rule 12 CSR 30-3.010(2) states:
On any appeal taken to the commission from the local board of equalization, a natural person may represent himself in proceedings before the commission. All others must appear through an attorney licensed to practice law in Missouri or in another jurisdiction. (Emphasis added.)
Missouri courts have consistently held that corporations, trusts, and partnerships are not natural persons and may not represent themselves in legal matters but must act solely through licensed attorneys. Sansone v. Bay View, 97 S.S.3d 531 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003); Strong v. Gilster Mary Lee Corp., 23 S.W.3d 234 (Mo. App. E.D. 2000); Dept. of Social Services v. Administrative Hearing Commission, 814 S.W.2d 700 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991); Reed v. Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, 789 S.W.2d 19 (Mo. banc 1990).
Dismissal of Appeal
A hearing officer, on his or her own motion, may dismiss an appeal for failure of prosecution. 12 CSR 30-3.050 (3) (D). In this case, the record reveals that Complainant had been informed by previous Orders of the Commission that failure to comply with said Orders may result in a dismissal of the appeal. The record also reveals that Complainant had been previously informed of Missouri law, which requires an attorney to represent a legal entity, such as a LLC, in proceedings before the Commission. Specifically, the record shows that Complainant was informed of the need for an attorney at the Prehearing Conference on April 13, 2016; in a follow-up email on April 13, 2016; in a second follow-up email on May 26, 2016; in the Order dated May 31, 2016, granting Complainant’s motion for a continuance of the first scheduled Evidentiary Hearing; and in the email accompanying the Order on May 31, 2016. Complainant failed to comply with the Order setting the case for Evidentiary Hearing and with Missouri law in that no attorney entered his or her appearance or represented Complainant at the Evidentiary Hearing. Complainant is a LLC. A LLC is a form of business entity that clearly is not a natural person and, with regard to legal representation, is analogous to trusts, partnerships, and corporations. Consequently, the appeal is dismissed for both Complainant’s failure to prosecute by failing to obtain an attorney to represent Complainant and failure to comply with the Orders of the Commission instructing Complainant to obtain an attorney.
The assessed valuation for the subject property as determined by the BOE for the subject tax day is AFFIRMED. The assessed value for the subject property for tax years 2015 and 2016 is set at $46,840.
Complainant 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. The application shall contain specific 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 appeal is based will result in summary denial. Section 138.432 RSMo 2000.
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 a 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 2000, as amended.
Any Finding of Fact that is a Conclusion of Law or Decision shall be so deemed. Any Decision that is a Finding of Fact or Conclusion of Law shall be so deemed.
SO ORDERED this 2nd day of August, 2016.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Amy S. Westermann
Senior Hearing Officer
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been electronically mailed or sent by U.S. Mail on this 2nd day of August, 2016 to:
Monique Cruz (Kruz), Complainant, 19141 Deep Woods Drive, Glencoe, MO 63038
Steven Robson, Attorney for Respondent, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jake Zimmerman, Assessor/Respondent, email@example.com
St. Louis County Collector’s Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Information for State Tax Commission:
Missouri State Tax Commission
P.O. Box 146
301 W. High Street, Room 840
Jefferson City, MO 65102
 The record also includes an alternate spelling of Complainant’s surname, Kruz.