The Villages at Red Bridge, LLC v. Weisner. (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-07-0157, 9 pp.) (Wanda G. Bryant, J.) Appealed from Cabarrus County Superior Court. (Tanya T. Wallace, J.) N.C. App. Click here for the full text of the opinion.
Holding: A taxpayer who disagreed with a tax assessor’s valuation decisions and who failed to exhaust administrative remedies prescribed by statute cannot bypass the same remedies and seek a writ of mandamus in superior court. The tax assessor cannot be compelled under G.S. § 105-325(a)(6) to submit facts underlying his valuation decisions to the county commission when a taxpayer disagrees with those decisions.
The taxpayer owned a 40-acre tract of land (The Villages) in the town of Locust which it intended to subdivide into 116 residential lots. In September 2007, the subdivision administrator of Locust approved and signed a plat for the subdivision, and the plat was recorded in Cabarrus County.
Under G.S. § 105-285(d), the ad valorem tax value for real property is determined as of Jan. 1 of the year of a general reappraisal.
On Jan. 1, 2008, no lots in The Villages had been sold or were for sale on the property, but the subdivision was under development. The Cabarrus County tax administrator classified the 40-acre tract as 116 separate tax parcels with tax values ranging from $70,000 to $126,000.
Taxpayers have the right to challenge changes in tax valuation at any point up until the county board of equalization and review adjourns.
After adjournment, taxpayers are permitted to appeal changes only within 30 days of notice of a change in valuation.
In 2008, the board adjourned in early May. The taxpayer did not appeal its change in valuation prior to that time. Instead, it contended that it did not learn of the change in valuation until October 2008.
It believed the change in valuation was erroneous. It filed a petition for writ for mandamus in superior court, seeking a writ and injunction directing the assessor “to report the facts to the board of county commissioners in order that the board may make a decision.”
The superior court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The taxpayer appealed.
G.S. § 105-322 establishes county boards of equalization and review. These boards are entitled to hear appeals by taxpayers.
Taxpayers unhappy with the results of their appeals to county boards have further administrative remedies as provided in G.S. § 105-290, which establishes the Property Tax Commission.
G.S. § 105-290(e) specifies the time for appealing county-level valuations.
If a taxpayer, having exhausted his administrative remedies under Chapter 105, is dissatisfied with the decision of the Property Tax Commission, he may then seek judicial review as provided in G.S. § 105-345.
If a taxpayer does not elect to pay the assessed taxes and proceed under G.S. § 105-381, he must avail himself of the administrative remedies before the county review board, the Property Tax Commission and only then the courts of the state. A taxpayer must exhaust this administrative remedy before he can resort to the courts.
The taxpayer failed to timely challenge the change in valuation of the property before the county board of equalization and review, and thus, has lost its right to appeal.
The taxpayer chose not to pursue the second means of redress available to it by paying the taxes and then bringing a suit in the trial court for its recovery under G.S. § 105-381.
The taxpayer argued that it was entitled to a writ of mandamus in superior court because it made an error in designating the property as individual lots or tax parcels. The error, the taxpayer argued, was not a valuation error but a classification error, although it had the result of producing an incorrect valuation of the property.
This is a distinction without difference. Nothing in the statutes or elsewhere in Chapter 105 suggests that an error of the type alleged by the taxpayer is not covered by the provisions therein.
Had it acted in a timely manner, the taxpayer could have raised its contentions before the county review board and would have had the opportunity for eventual judicial review. Mandamus is not intended to rescue parties who have allowed the time for their actions to run.
The taxpayer further argued that G.S. § 105-325 (a)(6) provides an additional remedy in contesting the property’s tax valuation and its basis. It argued that it can seek a writ of mandamus to compel the submission of “facts” by the tax assessor to the county commissioners in support of an argument regarding errors in the tax valuation.
Were we to accept the taxpayer’s interpretation of G.S. § 105-325(a)(6), we would effectively gut the restrictions on timely appeals pursuant to G.S. § 105-322(g).
The county tax assessor does not believe that there are any errors that need to be brought to the attention of the county commissioners. It is the taxpayer who seeks redress. Having missed its opportunity to seek relief in its own right, it cannot compel the assessor to act on its behalf.