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Rankin County Board of Supervisors v. Lakeland Income Properties, LLC

Supreme Court of Mississippi

May 10, 2018

RANKIN COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
v.
LAKELAND INCOME PROPERTIES, LLC

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/25/2017

          RANKIN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JOHN HUEY EMFINGER, Judge

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: DAVID ELLIS DANNY DRAKE WILLIAM “TREY” JONES, III CRAIG SLAY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JOSEPH ANTHONY SCLAFANI WILLIAM “TREY” JONES, III TAYLOR B. McNEEL CRAIG SLAY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: DAVID ELLIS DAVID W. MOCKBEE

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., CHAMBERLIN AND ISHEE, JJ.

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. The Board of Supervisors of Rankin County has appealed the decision of the circuit court granting Lakeland Income Properties' summary judgment motion and holding that Lakeland Income Properties was properly before the circuit court and was entitled to an ad valorem tax exemption under Mississippi Code Section 61-3-21 for the land rented from the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. The circuit court also granted a refund of the 2015 ad valorem taxes. Lakeland Income Properties filed a cross-appeal, arguing that it was entitled to an ad valorem tax refund under Mississippi Code Section 27-73-7 for the 2015 ad valorem taxes and for the prior three years. Under a de novo standard of review, the Court affirms the trial court in holding that the ad valorem tax exemption sought by Lakeland Income Properties was automatic and self-operating under Mississippi Code Section 61-3-21, and thereby, properly before the circuit court under Mississippi Code Section 11-51-77. Further, the Court affirms the trial court's holding that Lakeland Income Properties was entitled to a refund of the 2015 taxes. The Court reverses the trial court's holding that Lakeland Income Properties is not entitled to a refund for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 tax years, holding that Lakeland Income Properties is entitled to the refund under Mississippi Code Section 27-73-7.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Lakeland Income Properties, LLC (LIP) filed a Notice of Appeal on November 23, 2015, alleging that LIP was aggrieved by the November 16, 2015, decision of the Board of Supervisors (the Board) assessing ad valorem taxes to LIP for the property it leases from the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (the Airport).[1] LIP cited Mississippi Code Section 61-3-21 as proof that it was entitled to an exemption from ad valorem taxes. The property is a 5.20-acre parcel of land at the corner of Lakeland Drive and Airport Road that contains a shopping plaza.

         ¶3. Both parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. The motions for summary judgment addressed whether Section 61-3-21 required an exemption of the ad valorem taxes assessed to LIP. LIP argued that Section 61-3-21 entitled it to an exemption, and a refund was required for the previous three years of taxes. The Board argued that the exemption did not apply because LIP's real property did not fall into the definition of an airport under Section 61-3-3.

         ¶4. After the parties filed responses and rebuttals to the summary judgment motions, the Board filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over the appeal because LIP failed to object under Section 25-35-93 to the Board's assessment of taxes or file an application for change of the assessment. LIP responded with a Motion to Strike, stating that the Motion to Dismiss was untimely. LIP also argued that it was not required to file an objection or an application under Section 11-51-77; therefore, their appeal was properly before the circuit court.

         ¶5. After a hearing on the competing motions for summary judgment, the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion to Strike, the trial judge ruled from the bench and then issued a corresponding written judgment to follow. The trial court denied LIP's Motion to Strike, finding that the jurisdictional issue cannot be waived. The trial court then denied the motion to Dismiss, finding that the appeal was proper under Section 11-51-77. The Court then granted LIP's summary judgment motion and denied the Board's summary judgment motion, finding that the exemption applied under Section 61-3-21, for the tax year of 2015 but not the prior years. The Board appealed, and LIP filed a cross-appeal.

         STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES

         ¶6. The Board raised three issues on appeal, and LIP raised two issues. The issues are consolidated and restated as follows:

(1) Whether the circuit court erred in denying the Board's Motion to Dismiss based upon LIP's failure to object or file an application before the Board prior to appealing to the circuit court pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 11-51-77.
(2) Whether the circuit court erred in granting LIP's summary judgment motion, denying the Board's summary judgment motion and holding LIP exempt from ad valorem taxes under Mississippi Code Section 61-3-21.

         LIP raises one issue on its cross-appeal. The issue is restated as follows:

Whether the circuit court erred in holding that LIP is entitled to a refund of only its 2015 ad valorem taxes, as opposed to a refund reaching back three years.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7. The Court reviews a motion to dismiss de novo. Chandler v. McKee, 202 So.3d 1269, 1271 (Miss. 2016). A summary judgment motion also is reviewed de novo. Kinney v. S. Mississippi Planning & Dev. Dist., Inc., 202 So.3d 187, 192 (Miss. 2016). "The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. The moving party has the burden of demonstrating no genuine issue of material fact exists." Id. "Summary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Id. (quoting Hosemann v. Harris, 163 So.3d 263, 267 (Miss. 2015)).

         ANALYSIS OF THE APPEAL

         (1) Whether the circuit court erred in denying the Board's Motion to Dismiss based upon LIP's failure to object or file an application before the Board prior to appealing to the circuit court pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 11-51-77.

         ¶8. The instant issue revolves around the reading of three statutes, Sections 11-51-77, 27- 35-93 and 27-35-143. Section 11-51-77 states in pertinent part:

Any person aggrieved by a decision of the board of supervisors or the municipal authorities of a city, town or village, as to the assessment of taxes, may, within ten days after the adjournment of the meeting at which such decision is made, appeal to the circuit court of the county . . . . The controversy shall be tried anew in the circuit court at the first term . . . .

Miss. Code Ann. § 11-51-77 (Rev. 2012).

         ¶9. Section 27-35-93 states in full:

A person who is dissatisfied with the assessment may, at the August meeting, present objections thereto in writing which shall be filed by the clerk and docketed and preserved with the roll. All persons who fail to file objections shall be concluded by the assessment and precluded from questioning its validity after its final approval by the board of supervisors or by operation of law, except minors and persons non compos mentis.

Miss. Code Ann. § 27-35-93 (Rev. 2017) (emphasis added).

         ¶10. Section 27-35-143 states in pertinent part:

The board of supervisors of each county shall have power, upon application of the party interested, or by the assessor on behalf of such party . . . to change, cancel or decrease an assessment in the manner herein provided at any time after the assessment roll containing such assessment has been finally approved by the State Tax Commission, and prior to the last Monday in August next, under the following circumstances and no other:
. . .
13. When the property has been assessed as subject to state taxes and is exempt; or when the property has been assessed as subject to county and district ...

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