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Inc. v. Board of Review of Dallas County

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 21, 2016

KOHL'S DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW OF DALLAS COUNTY, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Richard B. Clogg, Judge.

         Kohl's Department Stores, Inc. challenges the Dallas County Board of Review's 2013 assessment of its West Des Moines property. AFFIRMED.

          Bret A. Dublinske of Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., Des Moines, and Judy S. Engel and Phillip S. Bubb of Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

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

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Bower, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         Kohl's Department Stores, Inc. challenges the Dallas County Board of Review's 2013 assessment of its West Des Moines property at $8, 357, 450. The district court affirmed the valuation. On appeal, Kohl's contends the court (1) failed "to exercise its own independent judgment" in reviewing the property tax assessment, (2) should not have found its witnesses incompetent, and (3) should not have found the Board's witnesses more credible.

         I. Exercise of Judgment

         At the outset, Kohl's argues the district court "adopted nearly verbatim large portions of the [Board's] post trial brief . . . resulting in a decision that is not supported by the evidence in the record or consistent with Iowa law." But Kohl's concedes "[t]he nearly verbatim adoption of one party's [p]ost [t]rial [b]rief does not dictate that a different or separate standard of review should apply."

         Our standard of review is de novo. See Compiano v. Bd. of Review, 771 N.W.2d 392, 395 (Iowa 2009). While the court's adoption of a party's brief would normally require us to "scrutinize the record more closely and carefully when performing our appellate review, " our de novo standard essentially incorporates this level of scrutiny and no additional scrutiny is required. See Soults Farms, Inc. v. Schafer, 797 N.W.2d 92, 97 (Iowa 2011) (citation omitted).

         II. Competency of Kohl's Witnesses

         The burden is on the taxpayer to prove one of the statutory grounds for protest by a preponderance of the evidence. See Iowa Code § 441.21(3)(b) (2013); Compiano, 771 N.W.2d at 396. If the taxpayer "offers competent evidence by at least two disinterested witnesses that the market value of the property is less than the market value determined by the assessor, the burden of proof thereafter shall be upon the officials or person seeking to uphold such valuation to be assessed." Iowa Code § 441.21(3)(b). "Evidence is competent under the statute when it complies 'with the statutory scheme for property valuation for tax assessment purposes.'" Compiano, 771 N.W.2d at 398 (citation omitted).

         Kohl's offered the testimony and reports of two valuation witnesses, Dane Anderson and Kyran Cook. Kohl's also called Kohl's employee Scott Schnuckel as a witness. The district court found all three witnesses incompetent. On our de novo review, we disagree with this finding.

         Anderson. The district court found Anderson made "only 'mental adjustments' to account for differences in size and location between his comparable sales and the subject property" and "did not translate these adjustments into specific dollar amounts so the Court could make the necessary adjustments without further evidence." The ...


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