MARY T. "TERRY" BAKER, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ASSESSOR FOR UNION PARISH Plaintiff-Appellee
TENNESSEE GAS PIPELINE COMPANY Defendant-Appellant
from the Third Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Union, Louisiana Trial Court No. 43, 464 Honorable Cynthia
Tregle Woodard, Judge
MILLING BENSON WOODARD L.L.P. Hilton Sutton Bell for
Appellant, Southern Natural Gas Company
ANDREW EDDINGTON for Appellee, Mary T. "Terry"
Baker, in her official capacity as Assessor for Union Parish
W. HALLACK for Appellee Dodie Eubanks, Clerk of Court
D. HOFFMAN, JR. Counsel for Amicus Curiae Louisiana Tax
WILLIAMS, STONE, and COX, JJ.
Southern Natural Gas Company ("Southern"), appeals
a judgment from the Third Judicial District Court, Parish of
Union, State of Louisiana, wherein the trial court rendered a
judgment in favor of Appellee, Mary T. Baker
("Baker"), granting the Clerk of Court's motion
to impose court costs in the amount of $49, 516.28, and an
additional $6, 000 in attorney fees. Southern prays that the
district court's ruling be reversed and vacated, as it
argues that the assessment of costs and attorney fees was an
abuse of discretion. Southern contends that the costs of this
appeal should be assessed against the Union Parish Tax
Assessor. For the following reasons, we affirm the rulings of
the district court.
is a corporate affiliate that provides natural gas storage,
transportation, and balancing services in Louisiana and in
interstate commerce. Its property is classified as
"public service property" under La. R.S. 47:1851
and is thus subject to assessment at 25% of fair market
1990s, ANR (Administration of Natural Resources) filed suits
alleging that the Louisiana Tax Commission ("LTC")
was treating other competing pipelines as though they were
not public service property, i.e., assessing their
property at only 15% and applying depreciation. Tennessee Gas
Pipeline and Southern joined the suits in 2000 through 2003.
The cases were later consolidated.
trial on the merits in 2005, the 19th Judicial District Court
found that the LTC violated the taxpayers' rights to
uniform taxation; however, the court rejected the
taxpayers' claims for refunds. Instead, it ordered that
the taxpayers' property be reassessed by parish assessors
at 15% of fair market value, employing the same method used
for the preferred companies.
appealed, claiming it was entitled to a refund, not an
assessment. The First Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the
district court's ruling, and both the Louisiana and
United States Supreme Courts denied writs. When this judgment
became final, the LTC formally ordered assessors to reassess
the taxpayers' property.
17, 2006, Southern filed its reassessment returns with the
assessors of Ouachita, Union, and Lincoln Parishes. Southern
reported the depreciated replacement cost of its property and
requested a reduction in value for obsolescence. After a
hearing in October 2009, the LTC ruled that the assessors had
failed to adjust the fair market value for obsolescence,
resulting in incorrect valuation and an abuse of discretion.
The LTC ordered the assessors to reduce the valuations.
Southern lodged an appeal in the 19th Judicial District
November 23, 2009, the assessors of Ouachita, Union, and
Lincoln Parishes filed petitions for judicial review pursuant
to La. R.S. 47:1998(A) and (D). Southern then filed the
following exceptions: lis pendens, improper venue, lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, no right of action, no cause of
action, and prematurity. The district courts denied all
exceptions. Southern applied for writs and a stay order,
which this Court consolidated and denied on June 17, 2010.
The Louisiana Supreme Court also denied writs and the stay.
hearing was held on August 5, 2010, and the Third Judicial
District Court found that there was no basis for the LTC to
conclude that Baker, the Assessor for Union Parish, abused
her discretion in denying Southern's request for
reduction in value for obsolescence. The district court
stated that the LTC exceeded its authority and reversed the
appealed, challenging the ruling on the merits and re-urging
its earlier exceptions. On April 13, 2011, this Court
affirmed the decision on both the merits and exceptions in
Jones v. Southern Natural Gas Co., 46, 347 (La.App.
2 Cir. 4/13/11), 63 So.3d 1080, and the Louisiana Supreme
Court denied writs on September 23, 2011, and reconsideration
on November 4, 2011.
August 18, 2011, the Union Parish Clerk of Court filed a
motion to impose court costs, including attorney fees. On
November 17, 2011, the Third Judicial District Court orally
assessed costs against Southern. It did not hear the issue of
attorney fees, as one party was not prepared to proceed on
the issue at that time. The parties agreed that the issue
would be submitted through filings without the necessity of a
parties submitted the judgment assessing courts costs, but,
before the district court could sign the judgment, the
Louisiana Supreme Court issued a stay across the State in all
of these types of tax proceedings. At a conference call
thereafter, all parties agreed that the judgment as to costs
would not be signed nor any action taken with respect to the
issue of attorney fees until the stay was lifted.
district court was not notified that the stay was lifted and
was unable to locate anything filed in the record indicating
that the stay was lifted; however, all parties to the action
agreed that the stay had been lifted. On June 27, 2016, the
district court entered its order and written reasons
assessing costs against Southern, but ordered additional
briefs on the issue of attorney fees.
October 27, 2016, the district court entered a final judgment
ordering Southern to pay the Clerk of Court $49, 516.28 in
costs, and an additional $6, 000 in attorney fees. In its
reasons for judgment, the district court stated that it found
Southern's arguments to be without merit. It noted that
the prior rulings and judgments in favor of the Assessor were
now appeals, setting forth seven assignments of error: (1)
the district court failed to recognize it lacked subject
matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the Assessor's action
for judicial review and later failing to hold that its
judgment in favor of the Assessor was an absolute nullity;
(2) the district court failed to recognize that Southern did
not incur the costs it was ordered to pay; (3) the district
court failed to find that Southern was, in the end, the
prevailing party; (4) the district court failed to recognize
that the Clerk's claim for costs had been abandoned and
was prescribed; (5) the district court failed to find that
the imposition of costs upon Southern was inequitable and
unjust; (6) the district court failed to find that the
Clerk's claim for costs was grossly excessive; and, (7)
the district court erred in finding that the Clerk was
entitled to an award of attorney fees.
alleges that the Third Judicial District Court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the Assessor's action
for judicial review. Southern's exception of subject
matter jurisdiction has been repeatedly denied by the
district court, as well as this Court. Southern has
challenged these rulings by writ application, which were
denied by this Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Although this Court does not ...