County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court of Santa Clara CountyAnnotate this Case
In three related actions, privately held public utilities sued for property tax refunds for fiscal years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, following the County’s denial of refund claims submitted under Revenue and Taxation Code section 5097. Section 100(b) establishes formulas for calculating the debt-service component of certain property taxes. Pursuant to that statute, Santa Clara County imposed taxes on the utilities’ properties at rates higher than those imposed on non-utility properties. Although section 100(b) was enacted in 1986, the utilities argued that imposition of a higher debt-service tax rate on their property, under the statutory formulas, violated California Constitution article XIII, section 19, which provides that the state-assessed property of certain regulated utility companies “shall be subject to taxation to the same extent and in the same manner as other property.”
The trial court denied motions to dismiss, holding that the County had not carried its burden of establishing that the utilities cannot state a claim. The court of appeal reversed. Article XIII, section 19, does not mandate that utility property be taxed at the same rate as other property. Instead, it provides that, after utility property is assessed by the State Board of Equalization, it shall be subject to ad valorem taxation at its full market value by local jurisdictions.