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Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. v. City of Austin

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

August 9, 2019

Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc., Appellant
v.
City of Austin and Spencer Cronk, in his Official Capacity, Appellees

          FROM THE 200TH DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO. D-1-GN-12-001211, THE HONORABLE DUSTIN M. HOWELL, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Kelly and Smith

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARI L. KELLY, JUSTICE

         Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. appeals from the trial court's final judgment after remand awarding Reagan damages, costs, and attorney's fees but denying Reagan's request for additional damages and injunctive relief. We will affirm the trial court's final judgment.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         Reagan owns and operates billboards in the Austin area. Appellees, the City of Austin and City Manager Spencer Cronk (collectively, the City) charge Reagan a per-billboard assessment each year. Reagan paid these assessments under protest for the years 2009 through 2014. In 2010, Reagan sued the City in federal district court, challenging the constitutionality of the billboard assessment. The federal court held that the billboard assessment was a tax for purposes of the Tax Injunction Act and dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction. Reagan then brought this suit in a Travis County district court. Following a bench trial, the trial court signed a final judgment in March 2015 ordering that Reagan take nothing on its claims.

         Reagan appealed to this Court. On appeal, Reagan challenged the constitutionality of the billboard assessment and prayed only for a refund of $198, 450.00 (a portion of the amount that it had paid the City under protest) and attorney's fees. Reagan did not seek injunctive relief.

         In our initial opinion, we gave preclusive effect to the federal court's holding that the billboard assessment was a tax, and we held that this tax violated article VIII, section 1(f) of the Texas Constitution. See Reagan Nat'l Advert. of Austin, Inc. v. City of Austin, 498 S.W.3d 236, 246 (Tex. App-Austin 2016, pet. denied). We therefore reversed the trial court's judgment, rendered judgment that Reagan recover $198, 450.00 from the City, and remanded the cause to the trial court to determine the appropriate amount of attorney's fees. See id. at 246-47. The Texas Supreme Court denied the City's petition for review, and the United States Supreme Court denied the City's petition for a writ of certiorari.

         Our mandate to the trial court, issued on October 30, 2017, included the following directives:

Having reviewed the record and the parties' arguments, the Court holds that there was reversible error in the court's judgment. Therefore, the Court reverses the trial court's judgment and renders judgment that the billboard assessment violates the Texas Constitution and that Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. d/b/a Reagan National Advertising recover $198, 450.99[2] from the City of Austin, Texas. The Court also remands the cause to the trial court to determine the amount of attorney's fees, if any, to which Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. d/b/a Reagan National Advertising is entitled. Appellees shall pay all costs relating to this appeal, both in this Court and in the court below.

         On remand, Reagan filed a "Motion to Enforce Judgment," in which it asserted that the City sent it a notice on November 8, 2017, attempting to collect a billboard assessment for the year 2018 at the rate of $190 per billboard-the same rate that this Court had recently held unconstitutional. Reagan asked the trial court to prohibit the City from collecting the 2018 assessment. On January 2, 2018, the court denied Reagan's motion.

         Reagan then filed a "Motion for Determination of Remaining Issues and Entry of Final Judgment" in the trial court. In that motion, Reagan requested that the court render judgment "awarding [Reagan] a refund of the total amounts it paid to the City for the years 2010 through 2018," "enjoining the City from continuing to charge the unconstitutional tax," and "awarding [Reagan] attorneys' fees." While this motion was pending, Reagan filed a "Motion for Enforcement of Mandate or, in the Alternative, for Clarification" in this Court. We denied Reagan's motion.

         In April 2018, the trial court held a hearing on Reagan's "Motion for Determination of Remaining Issues and Entry of Final Judgment." On August 23, 2018, the court signed a final judgment after remand. In the judgment, the court awarded Reagan $198, 450.00 in damages and costs and attorney's fees of $303, 907.73. The judgment also awarded Reagan interest and conditional appellate attorney's fees. However, the judgment denied Reagan's request for an additional refund of $279, 931.40 for the years 2009 through 2014 and an award of $319, 960.00 for the years 2015 through 2018. The court also denied Reagan's request for an injunction enjoining the City from continuing to charge the billboard assessment. The court did not reach the merits of Reagan's requests for this additional relief, nor was a full record made on the nature of the 2018 ...


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