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Harris County Appraisal District v. Boyaki

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

April 9, 2019

HARRIS COUNTY APPRAISAL DISTRICT, Appellant
v.
NATALIE BOYAKI, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 234th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2017-12580

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Zimmerer, and Hassan.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JERRY ZIMMERER JUSTICE.

         Appellee Natalie Boyaki filed suit against appellant, Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD), seeking judicial review of HCAD's decision denying her the full homestead exemption on the property where she had lived for more than fifteen years. See Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 11.13. Boyaki also sought a reduction in the appraised value of the property, as well as a writ of mandamus directing HCAD to allow her homestead exemption. HCAD filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over Boyaki's claims because she did not exhaust her administrative remedies. The trial court denied HCAD's plea.

         In its first issue, HCAD argues that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Boyaki's cause of action challenging the appraised value of her property for the years 2011 through 2015 because she did not administratively challenge those values at the appropriate time. We agree with HCAD that Boyaki was required to exhaust her administrative remedies before seeking judicial review and because she did not, the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over this cause of action. We sustain HCAD's first issue.

         HCAD argues in its second issue that Boyaki did not exhaust her administrative remedies regarding the homestead exemption on her property for all years from 2011 through 2015 thereby depriving the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. We overrule this issue because there is a fact issue on the timeliness of Boyaki's notice of protest regarding HCAD's homestead exemption decision.

         HCAD argues in its third issue that the trial court erred when it denied its plea to the jurisdiction challenging Boyaki's cause of action seeking a writ of mandamus compelling HCAD to allow her a full homestead exemption on her property for the years 2011 through 2015. Because this issue is the subject of an ongoing trial de novo in the district court, which may result in the requested relief being granted to Boyaki, we conclude that her mandamus claim is not ripe, thereby depriving the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Because we have determined that the trial court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over two of Boyaki's claims, we reverse the trial court's denial of HCAD's plea to the jurisdiction on both Boyaki's attempted challenge to the appraised value of her property for the years 2011 through 2015 and her writ of mandamus cause of action, and remand them to the trial court with instructions to dismiss these claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Having overruled HCAD's second issue, we affirm the trial court's order denying HCAD's plea on Boyaki's claim addressing the homestead exemption for her property for the years 2011 through 2015, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Background

         Boyaki, her sister Amanda, her father Walter, and Walter's wife Marcia, acquired the property at issue in this appeal in 1997. The Boyakis jointly applied for a homestead exemption for the property in 1998 and received it. The homestead exemption remained in effect through 2015. According to HCAD's records, the Boyakis did not file any protests regarding the value of the property in any of the ensuing years through 2015. In 2015, Amanda transferred her interest in the property to Natalie. According to HCAD, as a result of the change in ownership, the property was no longer eligible for the homestead exemption that had begun in 1998.

         Boyaki applied for a 2016 homestead exemption on behalf of herself and her father on March 28, 2016.[1] Boyaki stated on the application that she owned a two-thirds interest in the property and her father owned a one-third interest. Boyaki filed a protest concerning the property's 2016 homestead exemption on April 6, 2016.[2] In a letter dated April 15, 2016, HCAD requested additional information it believed was missing from Boyaki's homestead exemption application. Walter responded on behalf of his daughter on April 27, 2016. Walter forwarded a copy of the deed HCAD had requested and closed the letter by stating that Boyaki "has owned and resided in the house since 1997. Let me know if you need anything further."

         Boyaki apparently learned sometime thereafter that HCAD had denied her homestead exemption application because she personally appeared before an Appraisal Review Board (ARB) panel regarding her protest. The parties reached an agreement that same day, an agreement that Boyaki believed included a restoration of the homestead exemption on her property. The resolution of the dispute between Boyaki and HCAD appears on a document titled "ARB Panel Recommendation." While signed by the members of the ARB, Boyaki's signature does not appear on the document. The "ARB Panel Recommendation" indicates that the status was "settled" and that the protest had been dismissed by agreement of the parties. The document further indicates that the appraised value was reduced from $553, 719 down to $439, 230. Cryptically, the document states only that homestead exemption was "N/A."

         HCAD eventually granted Boyaki the 2016 homestead exemption, but also decided that it had erroneously granted the homestead exemption from 2011 through 2015. HCAD sent Boyaki a "supplemental correction tax bill" seeking the previously unpaid taxes. On November 2, 2016 Walter wrote HCAD a letter in response stating: "As you might recall, the district took our homestead exemption away and we were able to have it reinstated. Now, the district has removed the exemption for the year[s] 2011-2015. See attached supplemental correction tax bill. Would you kindly reinstate the exemption for these years." Walter's letter concluded "Let me know if you need anything further from us. I have attached the correction form for the years 2011-2015 as required by the Tax Assessor's Office." As he mentioned in the letter, Walter included an HCAD Real Property Correction Request/Motion asserting that the "Homestead Exemption was removed by error for years 2011 - 2015." Included on the correction request form was Boyaki's "request that the [ARB] schedule a hearing to decide whether or not to correct the error in the appraisal roll. I request that the [ARB] send notice of the time, date, and place fixed for the hearing, not later than 15 days before the scheduled hearing. I understand that if the chief appraiser approves the changes requested, this action constitutes a binding agreement and is not subject to appeal or review by the ARB."

         The chief appraiser did not accept Boyaki's proposed change. The record does not indicate that the ARB ever scheduled Boyaki's requested hearing. HCAD instead sent Boyaki, on December 1, 2016, a letter notifying her that, for the years 2011 through 2015, she had been "granted [a] 33% Residential Homestead Exemption based on your percentage of ownership of the property." The December 1, 2016 letter further informed Boyaki that she could "appeal this decision by filing a written notice of protest within 30 days from the date of this letter."[3] Boyaki filed a protest with the ARB dated January 10, 2017, the fortieth day after the ...


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