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Lindsey v. Montgomery Central Appraisal District

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

May 9, 2019

PAMELA K. LINDSEY, BRANDON D. LUNN, HELEN C. LUNN, BRADLEY CROSBY, ROY D. BERNHEISEL, SUE BERNHEISEL, LESTER GOEKLER, CASSANDRA D. LUCHAK, JEFF FISHER, MONTE J. EAGLESON, TAMMY B. EAGLESON, ESTATE OF RUBY ATKINSON C/O SHIRLEY KNOTT, DONALD KLOESEL, MOSES MAESTAS, JAQUELYN MAESTAS, THOMAS W. SCOTT AND CYNTHIA M. SCOTT, Appellants
v.
MONTGOMERY CENTRAL APPRAISAL DISTRICT, Appellee

          Submitted on November 19, 2018

          On Appeal from the 284th District Court Montgomery County, Texas Trial Cause No. 13-10-11170-CV

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger, and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES KREGER JUSTICE.

         Pamela K. Lindsey, Brandon D. Lunn, Helen C. Lunn, Bradley Crosby, Roy D. Bernheisel, Sue Bernheisel, Lester Goekler, Cassandra D. Luchak, Jeff Fisher, Monte J. Eagleson, Tammy B. Eagleson, Estate of Ruby Atkinson c/o Shirley Knott, Donald Kloesel, Moses Maestas, Jaqueline Maestas, Thomas W. Scott and Cynthia M. Scott ("Appellants") alleged Montgomery Central Appraisal District ("MCAD") unequally appraised their properties in Montgomery County pursuant to the Texas Tax Code ("Code"). Appellants protested the appraisals in hearings before the Appraisal Review Board ("ARB"). See Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 41.41 (West 2015). Dissatisfied with the results of the ARB hearings, they appealed by filing a petition in Montgomery County District Court. See Tex. Tax Code Ann. §§ 42.01; 42.21 (West 2015). The trial court granted MCAD's plea to the jurisdiction. Appellants appeal the trial court's order granting the plea and dismissing their claims. We reverse and remand.

         I. Background

         Appellants owned properties in Montgomery County, Texas. They specifically allege that MCAD appraised their properties unequally for tax year 2013. See Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 42.26 (West 2015). Appellants protested MCAD's appraised valuations, and the ARB conducted protest hearings in July 2013. Appellants subsequently filed a petition in district court likewise complaining about the appraised values of their properties for tax year 2013, alleging MCAD violated the Code and Texas Constitution "by appraising Plaintiffs' propert[ies] excessively and unequally."

         Appellants complained in their original petition that MCAD "arbitrarily and capriciously appraised Plaintiffs' properties excessively, unequally[, ] and disproportionately as compared to other properties in the County." Appellants further alleged that "[a]ll conditions to Plaintiffs' rights of judicial appeal of [MCAD]'s appraisal of Plaintiffs' properties and the ARB's actions have occurred and Plaintiffs are entitled to bring this action and to trial de novo of [MCAD]'s actions and the [ARB's] proceedings." The relief requested by Appellants included setting the appraised values of their properties below the final value given by the ARB, compelling the imposition of the proper appraised value of their properties "due to their values or due to unequal appraisal," the granting of hearings or other relief entitled through the administrative protest provisions, injunctive relief or "other appropriate relief," and costs and attorney's fees.

         MCAD filed special exceptions to Plaintiffs' Original Petition complaining that Plaintiffs allegations were vague and failed to state an allowable cause of action under the Tax Code. The language MCAD specially excepted to in Plaintiffs' petition complained of an illegal tax plan and scheme which violates the Code and the Texas Constitution by unequally appraising property in the County. Plaintiffs pleaded that MCAD appraised Plaintiffs' property excessively and unequally. The trial court entered an agreed order sustaining MCAD's special exceptions and requiring Appellants to amend their petition and replead with specificity.

         Appellants thereafter filed their first amended original petition asserting the trial court had jurisdiction of their claims pursuant to Chapters 23, 41, and 42 of the Code. The amended petition again contained allegations that MCAD "arbitrarily and capriciously appraised Plaintiffs' properties unequally and disproportionately as compared to other properties in the County." It specifically cited sections 42.26(a)(1) and (2) of the Code as providing remedies for unequal appraisal. In the same paragraph, Appellants also asserted the "properties are unequally appraised in accordance with Section 42.26 based upon an appraisal ratio analysis that is common to all Plaintiffs." The relief requested by Appellants in their first amended original petition was substantially similar to the relief requested in their original petition, with the exception of omitting injunctive relief.

         In response, MCAD supplemented its pleadings and asserted that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over Appellants' claims that the properties were unequally appraised under section 42.26(a)(3) of the Tax Code, because Appellants effectively voluntarily dismissed those claims when they omitted them from their amended petition. MCAD argued the court's order on special exceptions required Appellants to "replead, with specificity, causes of action." It argued that although Appellants specifically cited to sections 42.26(a)(1) and (2) in the amended petition, they did not cite section 42.26(a)(3) of the Code. In its plea to the jurisdiction, MCAD further argued Appellants failed to invoke the trial court's jurisdiction regarding their claims under sections 42.26(a)(1) and (2) of the Tax Code, because Appellants filed protests over the appraised value of the subject properties pursuant to section 41.41 of the Tax Code but failed to present the ARB with evidence or claims the properties were unequally appraised under sections 42.26(a)(1) and (2) of the Tax Code. MCAD argued that the judicial appeal may only address issues protested and raised in a motion to the ARB. In its brief in support of its plea to the jurisdiction, MCAD attached evidence submitted by the Appellants during the protest hearings and the audio recordings of the hearings.[1]

         Following a hearing on the plea to the jurisdiction, the trial court entered an order sustaining the plea and dismissed Appellants' claims without prejudice. The trial court's order contained the following findings:

1. The only evidence or argument Plaintiffs presented to the Appraisal Review Board pertained to the unequal appraisal values of their residential properties as compared to other residential properties.
2. Plaintiffs' First Amended Petition is the live pleading before the Court, and Plaintiffs plead that their residential properties are unequally appraised when compared to the appraisal of commercial properties.
3. Plaintiffs' property is residential in use, and, as such, is not comparable to commercial property.
4. Plaintiffs presented no evidence or argument to the Appraisal Review Board about the unequal and excessive appraisal values of their residential properties as compared to the appraisal values of commercial properties.
5. Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies before the Appraisal Review Board as to all claims they are making in this suit.

         On appeal, Appellants present two issues asking: (1) whether the trial court erred in dismissing the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (2) asking whether the trial court erred in dismissing the case for amending certain claims or causes of action out of the case. In response to Appellants' issues, MCAD asserts they failed to exhaust their remedies, and ...


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