IN THE STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
|ST. LOUIS NORTH JOINT VENTURE||)||Appeal No.||11-13109|
|FLOWER VALLEY, LLC,||)||11-13119|
|12667 NEW VALLEY, LLC,||)||11-13125|
|JOHN C CROCKER,||)||11-13129|
|KEEVEN DEVELOPMENT LLC,||)||11-13133|
|FRENCH QUARTER, LLC,||)||11-13153|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI,
ORDER UPON REMAND
On December 22, 2015, Chief Counsel Maureen Monaghan, acting as Hearing Officer (Hearing Officer), entered her Order (Order) as to attorney fees and costs. The Respondent sought Judicial Review of the Order. On May 2, 2016, the Circuit Court issued an Order of Remand seeking clarification. Pursuant to that Order of Remand, the State Tax Commission ordered the parties to submit briefs addressing the issues set forth in the Order.
The Commission, having reviewed the record, the Order of the Hearing Officer and the briefs of the parties, hereby enters its Decision.
The Complainants moved for reimbursement of appraisal costs and attorney fees in the above-named appeals pursuant to Section 138.434 RSMo.:
“Any first class charter county or a city not within a county may require by ordinance or charter the reimbursement to a taxpayer for the amount of just and reasonable appraisal costs, attorney fees and court costs resulting from an evidentiary hearing before the state tax commission or a court of competent jurisdiction if such appeal results in a final decision reducing the appraised value of residential property by at least fifteen percent or the appraised value of utility, industrial railroad and other subclass three property by at least twenty-five percent from the appraised value determined by the board of equalization for that tax year. The commission or court awarding such fees and costs shall consider the reasonableness of the fees and costs within the context of the particular case. Such fees and costs shall not exceed one thousand dollars for a residential property appeal. Such fees and costs for utility, industrial railroad or other subclass three property appeals shall not exceed the lesser of four thousand dollars or twenty-five percent of the tax savings resulting from the appeal. The provisions of this section shall only apply to the first contested year when cases are tried on a consolidated basis.” Section 138.434 RSMo.
The statute requires the following:
- The subject property is real property;
- The property is located in a first class charter county or the City of St. Louis;
- The County has an ordinance providing for reimbursement of costs;
- The property was the subject of a State Tax Commission appeal;
- There was an evidentiary hearing determining value;
- Reimbursement to a taxpayer for just and reasonable appraisal costs, attorney fees and court costs;
- The appeal resulted in a reduction in the value of the property of at least 25% for commercial real property or a reduction in value of 15% for residential property; and
- Fees and costs did not exceed the lesser of $4000 or 25% of the tax savings for commercial property or $1000 for residential properties.
There is no dispute that the subject properties are real property, located in a first class charter county, that St. Louis County has an ordinance (Ordinance No. 22,343) which provides for reimbursement of costs, that the subject properties were the subjects of a State Tax Commission appeal, and there was a hearing determining value. The appeal for each property resulted in a reduction in the value of the property of at least 25% for commercial real property or a reduction in value of 15% for residential property.
The outstanding issue is the reimbursement to a taxpayer for just and reasonable appraisal costs, attorney fees and court costs.
The State Tax Commission has authority to review the determination of a Hearing Officer. Section 138.432 RSMo. states:
A complainant, respondent-assessor, or other party subject to a decision and order of a hearing officer, may file with the commission, within thirty days following the date of notification or mailing of such decision and order, an application to have such decision and order reviewed by the commission. Such application shall contain specific detailed grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous. The commission may summarily allow or deny an application for review. If an application is allowed, the commission may affirm, modify, reverse, or set aside the decision and order of the hearing officer on the basis of the evidence previously submitted in such case, may take additional evidence, or may remand the matter to the hearing officer with directions. Any additional hearing shall be conducted in accordance with the requirements of subsection 3 of section 138.431. The commission shall promptly notify the parties of its decision and order, together with its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The decision of the commission shall be subject to judicial review in the manner provided by subsection 4 of section 138.470. If an application for review is denied, the decision and order of the hearing officer shall be deemed to be the final decision of the commission for the purpose of judicial review and shall be subject to the judicial review within the time and in the manner provided for with respect to decisions of the commission pursuant to subsection 4 of section 138.470; except that, the time limitations shall run from the date of notice or mailing of the order of the commission denying the application for review.
The State Tax Comission has the authority to order the reimbursement to a taxpayer for the amount of attorney fees and appraisal costs if the conditions set forth in Section 138.434 RSMo are met. The State Tax Commission is uniquely qualified to hear the motion for costs and fees having decided the issues in the underlying appeal and determining the value of the subject property. The statute limits the State Tax Commission in the types of expenses permitted for reimbursement, the amount that is allowed to be awarded, and the circumstances in which such award may be made. The State Tax Commission may only reimburse for appraisal costs, attorney fees and court costs. The State Tax Commission is limited as to the amount of the award of reimbursement of costs and fees. The reimbursement is only permitted if there was an evidentiary hearing and only when there is a reduction in value of 15% for residential 25% for commercial real property. The statute recognizes that county-wide assessments are not perfect. (Savage v. State Tax Commission, 722 S.W.2d 72 (Mo. banc 1986). The statute only allows reimbursement when the State Tax Commission or court substantially reduces the valuation of the property. The statute only allows reimbursement after an evidentiary hearing. Therefore, an assessor, prior to an evidentiary hearing, may make corrections to the valuation determination.
Reimbursement to the Taxpayer
Section 138.434 RSMo states in part: “Any first class charter county or a city not within a county may require by ordinance or charter the reimbursement to a taxpayer for the amount of just and reasonable appraisal costs, attorney fees and court costs resulting from an evidentiary hearing before the state tax commission…” St. Louis County Ordinance No. 22343 (503.300) states in part: “….such taxpayer shall be reimbursed the amount of such taxpayer’s just and reasonable appraisal fees, attorney fees and court costs…”
In both the statute and ordinance, the term “reimbursement” is used. The term “reimbursement” is unambiguous. Reimbursement is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “n. 1. Repayment. 2. Indemnification. — reimburse, vb.” Terms used in statutes should be interpreted using their plain and unambiguous meanings. It is presumed that the Legislature intended the language or specific terms used in the statute. The legislative bodies used the term “reimbursement” rather than a term such as “award,” therefore, it is presumed that the legislature intended that the taxpayer be repayed or reimbursed for any of its appraisal costs or attorney fees. Futher, the legislative bodies used the term “taxpayer” thereby limiting the “reimbursement” solely to the property owner.
The taxpayers have not made any payments of appraisal fees, attorney fees or court costs. According to the record which includes a copy of the Property Tax Review and Appeal Agreement (Agreement), Property Assessment Review (PAR) undertook representation and pursuit of a reduction of property taxes on a contingency basis. Under the agreement, PAR, and not the taxpayer, bore the full responsibility for any appraisal fees, legal fees, and court costs. If the taxpayers did not make any payments of appraisal fees, attorney fees or court costs, the taxpayers cannot be repaid or reimbursed. Any subsequent “agreement” between PAR Residential and the taxpayers on the eve of the hearing to split any award of fees and costs did not create any payment by the taxpayer.
The State Tax Commission, under limited authority provided for in Section 138.434 RSMo, may require reimbursement of appraisal costs and attorney fees to a taxpayer in accordance with the statutory limits set forth above.
Complainants’ did not incur or pay any appraisal fee, attorney fee or court costs to pursue a reduction in the appraised value of the residential properties and were under no obligation to pay such to PAR Residential therefore the complainants’ are not entitled under either state statute or county ordinance for repayment or reimbursement of fees.
Upon review of the record and the Decision in this appeal, the Commission finds no grounds upon which any reimbursement may be made to the taxpayers.
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 mailing date set forth in the Certificate of Service for this Order.
If judicial review of this decision is made, any protested taxes presently in an escrow account in accordance with this appeal shall be held pending the final decision of the courts unless disbursed pursuant to Section 139.031.8, RSMo.
If no judicial review is made within thirty days, this decision and order is deemed final and the Collector of St. Louis 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.
SO ORDERED this 16th day of August, 2016.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Bruce E. Davis, Chairman
Victor Callahan, Commissioner
Certificate of Service
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been sent electronically or mailed postage prepaid this 16th day of August, 2016, to:
Complainant; the Respondent County Assessor and/or Counsel for the Respondent County Assessor; and the County Collector.
Contact Information for State Tax Commission:
Missouri State Tax Commission
P.O. Box 146
301 W. High Street, Room 840
Jefferson City, MO 65102
 One evidentiary hearing determined classification and not valuation.