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Allen v. Dallas County Board of Review

Supreme Court of Iowa

February 21, 2014

Edwin ALLEN III and Melissa D. Allen, Appellants,
v.
DALLAS COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW, Appellee.

Page 90

Edwin Allen III and Melissa D. Allen, pro se.

M. Brett Ryan of Watson & Ryan, P.L.C., Council Bluffs, for appellee.

HECHT, Justice.

Taxpayers filed a petition in 2012 protesting a county board of review's assessment valuation of residential real estate. The petition stated, however, that the protest was lodged against the 2011 property assessment valuation. When the taxpayers subsequently appeared at the board's hearing on the protest, they were asked whether they disputed the 2011 valuation or the more recent one for 2012. The taxpayers responded they wished to protest the valuations for both years if possible, but the board denied the protest on the ground it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the 2011 protest was untimely. The district court affirmed the board's disposition. The court of appeals reversed the district court's decision, and we granted further review to decide whether the board erred in concluding it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and abused its discretion in failing to consider the taxpayers' request that their protest be considered for the 2012 assessment valuation.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Appellants Edwin and Melissa Allen, appearing pro se, own residential real estate in West Des Moines, Iowa. Effective January 2011, the Dallas County Board of Review (the Board) established an assessment value of $308,750 for the Allens' property for tax purposes. The Board established a new value of $316,310 for the Allen property in January 2012.

On April 16, 2012, Edwin filed a petition with the Board, objecting to the assessment on the ground it was " for more than the value authorized by law." On the standard form petition, Edwin indicated the actual and fair assessment value of the property was $300,000. Edwin also indicated the objection was brought in response to " the assessment made against [the property] as of January 1, 2011 in the sum of $308,750...." The petition made no reference to the greater January 2012 assessment value, although supporting documentation available to the Board at the time of the filing indicated the Board was aware of that value.

In anticipation of a May hearing on the assessment protest, Board representatives visited and walked through the property to gather facts informing the Board's action on the Allens' petition. The Board then held the hearing on May 23. In a supplemental filing in later district court proceedings

Page 91

below, Edwin gave an account of the hearing. The Board gave no alternative account. In his account, Edwin indicated the Board asked him whether he was disputing the 2011 assessment or the 2012 assessment. In response, Edwin expressed the Allens' desire to dispute both assessments if possible, but also acknowledged a willingness to limit the protest to the 2012 assessment if necessary. Edwin added the Board then expressed some uncertainty whether the Allens could still object to the 2011 assessment in 2012 under the pertinent sections of the Iowa Code. The Board noted it would confer and seek clarification on the statute's procedural requirements before ruling on the Allens' petition.

Following the hearing, the Board notified Edwin by letter it had dismissed the Allens' assessment protest as untimely. According to Edwin, the Board's letter, not in the record, noted

The taxpayer filed the protest for the year 2011 rather than the current assessment year, thus the petition has the effect of not being timely filed; the taxpayer failed to prove that there has been a change in the value of the real estate since it was last assessed; and finally, an economic condition or situation is not proper ground for arguing a change in value; therefore the taxpayer has filed under improper grounds in the Opinion of the Board.

The Allens appealed the Board's decision in district court. In the notice of appeal, the Allens noted the Board had denied the assessment protest on jurisdictional grounds. As grounds for the appeal, the Allens reiterated their contentions that the Board's assessment was greater than the value authorized by law and inequitable when compared with assessments of comparable properties in their district. The Board moved for summary judgment, maintaining the Allens had failed to invoke the jurisdiction of both the Board and the district court. Specifically, the Board argued, the version of Iowa's assessment protest statute then in effect [1] precluded consideration of the Allens' protest of the 2011 assessment in 2012 and prohibited the Allens from raising a new challenge to the 2012 assessment on appeal.

Resisting the Board's motion, the Allens contended (1) the protest statute allowed for protests of odd-year assessments in even years, (2) the statute allowed for protests of odd-year assessments in " any year after the year in which an assessment has been made of all of the real estate in any taxing district," which had last occurred in 2011, as directed by a separate section of the statute, and (3) had the Board concluded the Allen petition was insufficient to invoke its jurisdiction, it should have allowed the Allens to amend or supplement the petition as necessary to cure the Board's procedural concerns.

The district court granted the Board's summary judgment motion, concluding neither the Board nor the court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the Allens' claim. The court reasoned the Allens' petition indicated only a challenge to the 2011 assessment, a 2011 challenge in 2012 was precluded by statute, and the court had no authority to amend or rewrite the contents of the petition. The Allens appealed and we transferred the case to the court of appeals.

The court of appeals concluded the Allens' protest of the 2011 assessment was untimely and that the Allens' petition failed to substantially comply with the

Page 92

statutory requirements for challenging the 2012 assessment. The court of appeals concluded, however, the Board had the authority to allow the Allens to amend their petition, and the Allens had raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Edwin had moved to amend the petition at the protest hearing or otherwise. The court of appeals therefore reversed the district court's summary judgment ruling and remanded for further proceedings. The Board appealed and we granted further review of the court of appeals decision.

II. Scope of Review.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment for errors at law. Griffin Pipe Prods. Co. v. Bd. of Review, 789 N.W.2d 769, 772 (Iowa 2010).

III. Analysis.

The Allens contend the district court erred in concluding the Board had no subject matter jurisdiction over their claim and erred in determining their petition failed to substantially comply with the statutory requirements for filing a protest. The Board responds by arguing the Allens' petition failed to satisfy the statutory requirements for a protest for 2011 and failed to invoke the Board's jurisdiction for a 2012 protest; the Board had no authority to allow an amendment to cure any alleged defect, jurisdictional or otherwise; and a court reviewing the Board's decision on appeal has no authority to find an abuse of the Board's discretion, because the court's power is limited by statute to adjustment or confirmation of the established assessment value.

A. The District Court's Authority.

As a preliminary matter, the Board contends section 441.43 of the Iowa Code, governing appeals of the Board's action in district court, limits the power of the district court on review and prevents the court from reviewing the Board's conclusions regarding its own discretion and authority. As the Board notes, section 441.43 grants the district court the limited power to " increase, decrease, or affirm the amount of the assessment appealed from." See Iowa Code ยง 441.43 (2011). Section 441.43 is not the end of the district court's inquiry, however.

We have previously explained that while the Board has the authority and duty to determine the limits of its own statutory authority, it is the function of the judiciary to finally determine the limits of that authority. See Moderate Income Hous., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 393 N.W.2d 324, 326 (Iowa 1986). Once the Board has " determined its jurisdiction or otherwise acted," its authority to act is subject to review either by appeal or by certiorari. See id.; see also MC Holdings, L.L.C. v. Davis Cnty. Bd. of Review, 830 N.W.2d 325, 331 (Iowa 2013) (affirming district court's ruling regarding assessment board's jurisdiction and concluding board abused discretion by failing to exercise discretion); cf. Anstey v. Iowa State Commerce Comm'n, 292 N.W.2d 380, 384 (Iowa 1980) (establishing substantial evidence standard for ...


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