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Acadian Properties Northshore, L.L.C. v. Fitzmorris

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

November 1, 2017

ACADIAN PROPERTIES NORTHSHORE, L.L.C.
v.
LOUIS FITZMORRIS, IN HIS CAPACITY AS ST. TAMMANYPARISH ASSESSOR, RODNEY J. STRAIN JR., IN HISCAPACITY AS EX-OFFICIO TAX COLLECTOR, AND THELOUISIANA TAX COMMISSION

         On Appeal from The 22nd Judicial District Court, Parish of St. Tammany, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 2015-12803 The Honorable Reginald T. Badeaux III, Judge Presiding

          Robert S. Reich Lawrence R. Plunkett Jr. Metairie, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff/ Appellant, Acadian Properties Northshore, L.L.C.

          Patrick J. Berrigan Slidell, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/ Appellee, Louis Fitzmorris, in his capacity as St. Tammany Parish Assessor

          Charles M. Hughes Jr. Mandeville, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/ Appellee, Rodney J. Strain Jr., in his capacity as Ex-officio Tax Collector

          Robert D. Hoffman Jr. Covington, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/ Appellee, Louisiana Tax Commission

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         This case involves a challenge to an ad valorem property tax assessment. The plaintiff appeals a summary judgment dismissing its petition with prejudice. Finding a procedural error, we vacate the summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Acadian Properties Northshore, L.L.C., owns an eight-acre parcel of land in St. Tammany Parish. Beginning in 2008, the property was assessed as "bona fide timberland, " which meant its assessed valuation was determined based on the parcel's use value instead of its fair market value. See La. Const, art. VII, § 18; La. R.S. 47:2301-09. In 2015, citing Acadian's efforts to develop the property for a shopping center, the St. Tammany Parish Assessor's Office notified Acadian the property did not meet the requirements for "timberland"; therefore, it was not eligible for the use value assessment. As a consequence, the Assessor sought additional taxes and penalties for several prior years in question, including 2012 and 2014.

         Acadian responded by suing Louis Fitzmorris, in his capacity as St. Tammany Parish Assessor; Rodney J. Strain, Jr., in his capacity as the St. Tammany Parish Tax Collector; and the Louisiana Tax Commission. Acadian's petition focused on two claims: (1) for the 2012 assessment, the Assessor could not retroactively change the use value as qualified timberland and assess additional taxes for that tax year; and (2) for the 2014 assessment, the Assessor ignored the proper classification of the property as bona fide timberland. Acadian paid the 2014 taxes under protest and sought a refund of those taxes.

         After the defendants answered, Acadian filed a motion for partial summary judgment challenging the validity of the "retroactive" 2012 assessment. The motion was set for hearing on November 21, 2016. Twelve days before the hearing, the Assessor filed an opposition to Acadian's motion and a "cross-motion for summary judgment, " seeking dismissal of all of Acadian's claims. Relying on several alternative arguments, the Assessor maintained Acadian did not exhaust its administrative remedies, the property did not qualify for a use value assessment, and Acadian was statutorily barred from challenging the assessed value of the property due to its failure to timely contest the assessments.

         The district court ordered Acadian to appear and show cause on December 20, 2016, why the Assessor's motion for summary judgment should not be granted. The order, which was apparently filed with the Assessor's motion, contained a type-written hearing date of November 21, 2016, but the signed order replaced that date with a hand-written date of December 20, 2016.

         At the November 21, 2016 hearing on Acadian's motion for partial summary judgment, Acadian's attorney objected to the timeliness of the Assessor's opposition and requested that the opposition be stricken and opposing counsel be prohibited from presenting oral argument. Acadian's attorney noted, "[The Assessor] also filed something which is entitled a [cross] motion for summary judgment. It was not properly filed, it was not properly noticed, [and] it is not set for hearing today."

         The district court denied Acadian's partial summary judgment motion and granted the Assessor's cross-motion. When Acadian's attorney objected that the Assessor's motion was not before the court, the district court said it would "suspend the rule of the Court and allow them to file late." A judgment was signed on December 14, 2016, denying summary judgment for Acadian, granting the Assessor's motion, and dismissing Acadian's petition with prejudice. ...


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