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Munn v. Smith County Appraisal District

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

April 4, 2018


          Appeal from the 241st District Court of Smith County, Texas (Tr. Ct. No. 16-0142-C)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.



         Jeffrey Andrew Munn appeals from the trial court's order of dismissal in his suit appealing the Smith County Appraisal District's denial of his tax protest. In two issues, Munn asserts the trial court erred in dismissing the case and in failing to grant Munn's post-verdict motions. We affirm.


         Munn owns a large tract of land that, until 2015, had enjoyed an agricultural exemption. On October 9, 2015, Munn wrote a letter to taxing authorities in Smith County requesting that his tract of land "be put into agriculture exemption for the year 2015." He explained that he "somehow missed the application request from April." The Smith County Appraisal Review Board considered his request and determined that the property did not qualify for special appraisal. On November 20, 2015, the Board ordered that the Chief Appraiser for Smith County shall make no change to the appraisal or records concerning the property at issue. On January 20, 2016, Munn filed a petition in district court appealing the Board's order. SCAD moved for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction asserting that Munn failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his claims of excessive and unequal appraisal, and he failed to tender any tax payment on the property before the delinquency date, February 1, 2016, thereby forfeiting his right to a determination of his appeal.[1] Munn did not respond to SCAD's motion to dismiss. After a hearing on January 18, 2017, which neither Munn nor his attorney attended, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss.

         On February 17, 2017, Munn filed a document entitled "Plaintiff's Motion to Reinstate, Motion for New Trial, Motion to Reconsider and Set Aside or Reform Order on Defendant's First Amended Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Plaintiff's Property Tax Code Section 42.08(d) Motion for Substantial Compliance and/or Excusing Prepayment." In support of his 42.08(d) motion, Munn attached his affidavit of the same date in which he swore that he was financially unable to pay the taxes on the due date. He also stated that he later paid the undisputed portion of the 2015 taxes. The trial court never ruled on these motions. Munn filed his notice of appeal on April 3, 2017.


         In his first issue, Munn contends the trial court erred in granting SCAD's plea to the jurisdiction. He asserts that tax code Section 42.08(e) requires SCAD to provide forty-five days' notice of the hearing to the collector for each taxing unit. He contends that the forty-five day notice is a prerequisite to consideration of the plea to the jurisdiction.

         In his second issue, Munn asserts that the trial court erred in not granting his motions to reinstate, for a new trial, or to reconsider and set aside or reform the trial court's order based on SCAD's failure to comply with the statutory notice requirements. He further contends that, concomitantly with his other motions, he filed a motion to be excused from the pre-payment requirement because of his inability to pay the taxes. He argues that his inability to pay the taxes resulted in barring access to the court, and reversal and remand of this case would allow for consideration of his motion to be excused from the pre-payment requirement.

         Applicable Law

         The statutory provisions of the tax code create rights and remedies that are mandatory and exclusive and must be complied with in all respects. Gregg Cty. Appraisal Dist. v. Laidlaw Waste Sys., Inc., 907 S.W.2d 12, 16 (Tex. App.-Tyler 1995, writ denied). Compliance with Section 42.08 is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the district court's subject matter jurisdiction to determine a property owner's rights. Welling v. Harris Cty. Appraisal Dist., 429 S.W.3d 28, 31 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, no pet.). Whether a trial court has subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Tex. Nat. Conservation Comm'n v. IT-Davy, 74 S.W.3d 849, 855 (Tex. 2002). The party seeking dismissal for lack of jurisdiction maintains the burden of proof. Lee v. El Paso Cty., 965 S.W.2d 668, 671 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1998, pet. denied).

         Appraisal review boards have exclusive original jurisdiction in ad valorem tax cases and district courts have appellate jurisdiction over appraisal review board orders. See Cameron Appraisal Dist. v. Rourk, 194 S.W.3d 501, 502 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam). The tax code sets forth administrative procedures for aggrieved property owners to protest their tax liabilities. See Tex. Tax Code Ann. chs. 41 - 42 (West 2015 & Supp. 2017). After an administrative hearing, dissatisfied taxpayers are authorized to appeal to the district court. See id. §§ 42.01(1)(A), 42.06, 42.21.

         A property owner who appeals a decision of the review board is required to pay, before the delinquency date, the lesser of the undisputed tax amount, the tax due on the property under the order from which the appeal is taken, or the amount of taxes imposed on the property in the preceding tax year. Id. § 42.08(b). Payment is a condition for judicial review. See Cent. Appraisal Dist. of Rockwall Cty. v. Lall, 924 S.W.2d 686, 690 (Tex. 1996). If the property owner fails to pay one of those amounts, he forfeits the right to proceed to a final determination of the appeal. Tex. Tax Code Ann. ยง 42.08(b). Section 42.08(d) excuses the owner from this requirement if the owner files an oath of inability to pay the taxes ...

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