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College Retail LLC v. Jefferson Central Appraisal District

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

August 22, 2019


          On appeal from the 58th District Court of Jefferson County, Texas.

          Before Justices Benavides, Hinojosa, and Perkes


          GINA M. BENAVIDES, Justice

         Appellant College Retail LLC appeals the dismissal of its ad valorem tax challenge against Jefferson Central Appraisal District (JCAD), appellee.[1] By its single issue, College Retail argues that the trial court erred by granting the JCAD's plea to the jurisdiction. We reverse and remand.

         I. Background

         College Retail owns real property in Jefferson County in which it leases space to Conn's Home Plus. The JCAD values property in Jefferson County for tax purposes. On May 18, 2017, College Retail filed a protest of its 2017 property taxes. Conn's also filed a protest dated May 31, 2017, and filed an affidavit to be used at the Appraisal Review Board (ARB) scheduled for July 6, 2017. The JCAD advised College Retail and Conn's that Conn's affidavit could not be used at the hearing unless College Retail withdrew its protest. See Tex. Tax. Code Ann. § 41.413(b). College Retail withdrew its protest on June 24, 2017. Conn's agent appeared at the protest hearing. The Notice of Determination of Protest and Order Determining Protest is dated July 25, 2017, and reflects no change in value.

         College Retail filed suit in district court in Jefferson County on September 17, 2017, seeking a reduction in the assessed value of its property. It complained that the valuation was over market and unequal. Its original petition included a copy of the ARB determination which identified the property street address, the property account number, the tax year at issue, the legal description of the property, the case number, the property ID number, and reproduced the notice of final order within the petition. The JCAD filed a plea to the jurisdiction and a general denial in response. After some discovery, College Retail filed its first amended petition as College Retail LLC, as the property owner and for its tenant, Conn's. The JCAD responded. The JCAD's plea to the jurisdiction challenged the trial court's power to hear College Retail's appeal on the ground that College Retail failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. The trial court heard the plea to the jurisdiction on February 14, 2018, and dismissed College Retail's suit with prejudice. This appeal followed.

         II. Plea to the Jurisdiction

         College Retail's sole issue on appeal is that the trial court erroneously granted the plea to the jurisdiction. It argues that the purposes of administrative exhaustion were fulfilled here because the ARB heard and rejected challenges to the valuation of the property on the grounds of over market and unequal valuation, the grounds the owner complains of in this suit.

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         The Texas Tax Code provides detailed administrative procedures for those who contest their property taxes. See Tex. Tax Code Ann. §§ 41.01-.71; Cameron Appraisal Dist. v. Rourk, 194 S.W.3d 501, 502 (Tex. 2006); see also Jefferson County Appraisal Dist. v. Morgan, No. 2012 WL 403861, 2012 WL 403861, at *4 (Tex. App.-Beaumont Feb. 9, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.). Administrative decisions are final if not appealed to the district court. Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 42.21(a). The administrative procedures are "exclusive" and most defenses are barred if not raised therein. Id. § 42.09(a)(2). "[W]e have repeatedly held that a taxpayer's failure to pursue an [ARB] proceeding deprives the courts of jurisdiction to decide most matters relating to ad valorem taxes." Rourk, 194 S.W.3d at 502 (citing Matagorda County Appraisal Dist v. Coastal Liquids Partners, LP., 165 S.W.3d 329, 331 (Tex. 2005)). If no proper party seeks judicial review of the board's decision within the statutory time period, the district court does not acquire subject-matter jurisdiction over the petition for review, and the board's valuation becomes final when the statutory time period expires. Storguard Invs., LLC v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., 369 S.W.3d 605, 611-12 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist] 2012, no pet.).

         When determining whether a party has exhausted its administrative remedies, we rely on the statute that created the remedy. See Clint Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Marquez, 487 S.W.3d 538, 544 (Tex. 2016) (describing agency's statutory authority to require exhaustion of administrative remedies before seeking judicial recourse). Statutory construction is an issue of law that we review de novo. Loasiaga v. Cerda, 379 S.W.3d 248, 254-55 (Tex. 2012); Am. Hous. Found. v. Calhoun County Appraisal Dist, 198 S.W.3d 816, 818 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2006, pet. denied); Franks v. Woodville Indep. Sch. Dist, 132 S.W.3d 167, 169, n.3 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2004, no pet.). Our primary objective is to determine and give effect to the Legislature's intent which we determine from the entire act, not just its isolated portions. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 312.005; State v. Gonzalez, 82 S.W.3d 322, 327 (Tex. 2002); Am. Housing Found., 198 S.W.3d at 818.

         A plea to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea by which a party challenges the court's authority to determine the subject matter of the action. Harris County v. Sykes, 136 S.W.3d 635, 638 (Tex. 2004); Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Nueces County v. Hoff, 153 S.W.2d 45, 48 (Tex. 2004) (per curiam); Montgomery Cty. Hosp. Dist. v. Smith, 181 S.W.3d 844, 847 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2005, no pet.).

         B. Remedies for ...

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