Castro v. Keyes

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Castro v. Keyes
1992 OK 92
836 P.2d 1275
63 OBJ 1920
Case Number: 73098
Decided: 06/30/1992
Supreme Court of Oklahoma

 
GARY J. CASTRO AND MARY LEE CASTRO, APPELLEES,
v.
GEORGE C. KEYES, THE DULY ELECTED ASSESSOR OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY; JOE B. BARNES, THE DULY ELECTED TREASURER OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY; AND, THE OKLAHOMA COUNTY BOARD OF TAX ROLL
CORRECTIONS, APPELLANTS.

Appeal from the District Court, Oklahoma County, Eugene Matthews, J.

Certiorari to the Oklahoma Court of Appeals, Division III.

¶0 Taxpayers brought actions in District Court for mandamus to the County Treasurer, County Assessor, and Board of Tax Roll Corrections plus District Court appeal from Board of Tax Roll Corrections, all for the purpose of correcting their 1987 and valorem tax assessment. The suits were consolidated. The Honorable Eugene Matthews, District Judge, reversed the Board of Tax Roll Corrections and also issued a writ of mandamus to each and all of the defendants ordering them to correct the assessment. The defendants appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The defendants then sought certiorari to review the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

CERTIORARI PREVIOUSLY GRANTED; COURT OF APPEALS OPINION VACATED AND TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED.

Robert H. Macy, Dist. Atty., Marc S. Pate, Asst. Dist. Atty., Oklahoma City, for appellants.

William O. West, William O. West, B.S., J.D., Inc., Edmond, for appellee.

SUMMERS, Justice.

[836 P.2d 1276]

¶1 In 1987 Oklahoma County underwent mandatory revaluation of real property for ad valorem tax purposes. This case is one of many in which a taxpayer's protest as to the increased valuation could not, by reason of the sheer number of such protests on file, be reached for action by the County Board of Equalization until after the statutory date of adjournment for that Board.

¶2 The Castros purchased land and developed it for use as a roller skating rink. In 1986 its assessed value for ad valorem tax purposes was $428,655.00. Then they were notified that beginning in 1987 the property would be valued at $837,500.00, a ninety percent increase. In May of that year the Castros filed a timely protest as to the increased valuation, and requested a hearing before the Oklahoma County Board of Equalization pursuant to 68 O.S. 1985 Supp. § 2460 .

¶3 Plaintiffs paid the first one-half of their ad valorem taxes by December 31, 1987, and awaited correction of the assessment pursuant to a Certificate of Valuation as ordered by the Equalization Board. Neither the County Treasurer or Assessor corrected the assessed value. The Assessor was authorized to appeal the decision of the Equalization Board under 68 O.S. 1981 § 2461 but did not so do.

¶4 The Castros then determined that the Oklahoma County Assessor had decided to treat the Equalization Board's hearings after the third Monday of September, 1987 as invalid. Their next step was to seek relief from the Board of Tax Roll Corrections under 68 O.S. 1981 § 2479 ,

¶5 The Castros had also brought a District Court action in August of 1988 requesting writs of mandamus to the County Assessor and the County Treasurer ordering them to correct the 1987 tax assessment as ordered by the Equalization Board. After the final Board of Tax Roll Corrections decision, the Castros also appealed from and sought a writ of mandamus against the Board of Tax Roll Corrections to compel correction of the 1987 tax assessed value on the Castros' property as ordered by the Equalization Board. The cases were consolidated in the District Court, set for trial, taken under advisement, and on April 12, 1989, the trial court pronounced a decision in favor of the Castros and issued the requested writ.

¶6 The Assessor, the Treasurer, and the Board of Tax Roll Corrections all appealed. The Court of Appeals, in an opinion ordered released for publication, affirmed. This case is one of several such tax protest cases to have been resolved in the various divisions of the Court of Appeals. The question presented is of considerable public significance. We have therefore granted certiorari even though we come to the same conclusion as the Court of Appeals.

¶7 The principal issue is whether the County Board of Equalization may hear a protest beyond the statutory deadline. A secondary issue is the effect of such a decision on the tax rolls. County Equalization Boards are empowered to equalize, correct, and adjust the assessed valuation of real property for the tax assessment rolls. 68 O.S.Supp. 1985 § 2459 .

¶8 In Broadway Development we said that the Board of Equalization was required to consider and determine matters properly before it although the statutory time for the Board to meet had expired. Id. 62 P.2d at 1012. In that case the Board had pled a defense to an action for a writ of mandamus based on the expired statutory time limit. We rejected that defense, saying that "such Board is not justified in setting up the excuse that the time fixed by statute to correct the assessment has expired when its own failure to perform its duty within the statutory time made mandamus proceedings necessary." Id. 62 P.2d at 1010 (Syllabus by the Court). Our opinion cited and relied on State ex rel. Taggart v. Holcomb, 81 Kan. 879, 106 P. 1030 (1910) which said that "An officer cannot by failure to perform a duty nullify the statute imposing it nor defeat the public in compelling performance where it takes reasonably prompt action to enforce performance." Id. 106 P. at 1032. Our holding in Broadway Development clearly required an Equalization Board to resolve timely filed administrative complaints, even though such resolution would occur after the statutory time limit for the Board to meet, and that holding was consistent with our prior interpretation of the duties of tax officials. See Prairie Oil & Gas Co. v. Cruce, 45 Okl. 744, 147 P. 152, 155 (1915), wherein we described the relevant statutes as directory and not mandatory, and not amounting to a limitation on the powers of the officials. See also Greer County Excise Bd. v. Lowden, 177 Okla. 7, 57 P.2d 612, 615 (1936), where we discussed statutes authorizing preparation and presentation of budgets as generally directory and not mandatory.

¶9 Subsequent to these cases the Legislature enacted 68 O.S. 1981 § 2476 .

The provisions of this Code relating to the duties of various officials, and the time within which such duties shall be performed, are hereby declared to be mandatory; and the failure of any such official, board or commission, to perform the duties prescribed herein, within the time specified, shall subject them to removal from office for neglect of duty; and they shall receive no remuneration, compensation or salary for their services, after the time herein fixed for the performance of such duties and until the same shall have been completed or performed. Each of them shall also be subject to a penalty of Five Dollars ($5.00) per day for each day's delay for such neglect or failure; and it shall be the duty of the district attorney as to county officers, to institute proper action to collect any such penalty; provided, that the validity of any assessment or levy shall not be affected because of any insufficiency, informality or delay in the performance of any duty imposed upon any official, board or commission. (Emphasis added).

This statute states that the duties of taxing officials as well as the times within which taxing officials are required to act are mandatory. Cf. State ex rel. Tulsa Classroom, etc. v. Board of Equalization of Tulsa County, 600 P.2d 861, 863 (Okla. 1979), (language describing the "mandatory statutory duties" of an Equalization Board). But whereas a mandatory statutory requirement is sometimes used to describe a jurisdictional requirement, see e.g. Gulfstream Petroleum Corp. v. Layden, 632 P.2d 376, 378 (Okla. 1981), such is not the case with respect to the Equalization Board's power to act after the statutory deadline. The statute specifically provides that any delay in the performance of a duty shall not affect the validity of an assessment. Additionally, this court has not treated the time limitation as jurisdictional. See State of Okla. ex rel. Poulos v. State Bd. of Equalization, 552 P.2d 1134 (Okla. 1975), wherein we quoted § 2476 and then allowed the state Board of Equalization to [836 P.2d 1279] complete its duties using time in excess of that mandated by statute. Id. 552 P.2d at 1137. We conclude that the property revaluation by the Oklahoma County Equalization Board on December 22, 1987, in response to a timely-filed taxpayer complaint, was not beyond the power of the board. 68 O.S. 1981 § 2476 .

¶10 The tax officers also attack the writ of mandamus issued by the trial court directing the Board of Tax Roll Corrections to issue its Certificate of Error effectively correcting the value of the property according to the January 22, 1987 ruling of the Board of Equalization. They cite Baldwin v. Board of Tax Roll Corrections, 331 P.2d 412 (Okla. 1958), cert. denied, 359 U.S. 926, 79 S. Ct. 608, 3 L. Ed. 2d 628 (1959), for the proposition that in determining whether certain property is exempt from taxation, the Board is exercising a judicial function as opposed to a ministerial function. The tax officers claim such a function is discretionary, and that Mandamus will not lie to compel the exercise of discretion in a certain way. See State ex rel. Yakubosky v. Wilson, 541 P.2d 843, 847 (Okla. 1975), and the arguments made therein. Here, however, the Board of Equalization had already reassessed the Castros' property. The Board of Tax Roll Corrections was not called upon to value the property, weigh evidence or exercise discretion. Under 68 O.S. 1985 Supp. § 2479 , adopted after Baldwin was decided, the Board of Tax Roll Corrections has a mandatory ministerial duty to correct the valuation on the tax rolls. That section provides:

If, upon such hearing, it appears that

¶11 Thus if, as here, the assessed valuation is at variance with the valuation finally equalized, then the Board of Tax Roll Corrections has no discretion, and "it shall be the duty of the board . . . to correct such error."

¶12 12 O.S. 1981 § 1451 authorizes a district court to issue a Writ of Mandamus to compel the performance of any act which the law specially enjoins as a duty of a board. Our conclusion that the Board of Equalization has authority to equalize and revalue the property beyond the statutory date of adjournment compels the further conclusion that the certificate issued by the Equalization Board was entitled to recognition by the Board of Tax Roll Corrections in order to correct the tax rolls. The trial court correctly issued its Writ of Mandamus. The opinion of the Court of Appeals must be vacated and the order of the District Court is affirmed.

¶13 HODGES, V.C.J., and LAVENDER, SIMMS, HARGRAVE, WATT, JJ., concur.

¶14 ALMA WILSON, KAUGER, JJ., concur in result.

¶15 OPALA, C.J., disqualified.

Footnotes:

1 We described the Oklahoma County situation in State ex rel. Independent School Dist. No. 1 v. Barnes, 762 P.2d 921, 922-923 (Okla. 1988).

2 Section 2460 was repealed by Laws 1988, c. 162, § 165; Laws 1991, c. 249, § 4, eff. Jan. 1, 1992. The present procedure for a taxpayer complaint with the assessor and appeal to the equalization board is described in 68 O.S. 1991 §§ 2876 , 2877.

3 68 O.S.Supp. 1985 § 2459 , repealed by Laws 1988, C. 162, § 165, effective January 1, 1992, stated in part:

The county boards of equalization shall hold sessions commencing on April 1, or the first working day thereafter, and ending not later than May 31, for the purpose of equalizing, correcting, and adjusting the assessment rolls in their respective counties to conform to the fair cash value of the property assessed, as defined by law. Provided, further, in counties having an assessed valuation in excess of Five Hundred Million Dollars ($500,000,000.00), said sessions shall commence on the fourth Monday in January and end not later than the third Monday in September.

4 Section 2479 was repealed by Laws 1988, C. 162, § 165; Laws 1991, c. 249, § 4, eff. Jan. 1, 1992, and the present version is codified at 68 O.S. 1991 § 2871 .

5 The present version of § 2459 is codified at 68 O.S. 1991 § 2863 .

6 68 O.S. 1981 § 2476 was repealed by Laws 1988, C. 162, § 165; Laws 1991, c. 249, § 4, eff. Jan. 1, 1992. Now codified at 68 O.S. 1991 § 2943 .