Two Appellate Courts Address Property Taxes
Two Texas appellate courts ruled on property tax issues, one dealing with property renditions and the other with late appraisal roll changes. Texas Attorney General John Cornyn issued one opinion that addressed the concealed handgun law and governmental units.
The Houston 1st District Court of Appeals held that business property owners are required by law to render their property for taxes and that the word "shall" in Tax Code Section 22.01 for rendering income-producing personal property was mandatory. In Robinson v. Budget Rent-A Car Systems, et al, the appellate court reversed the trial court's decision and enjoined the property owners to render their property for tax year 1998 as well as future tax years. The appellate court also looked at the award of attorney fees and affirmed the trial court's decision.
Harris County Appraisal District appealed the trial court's decision that several car companies were not required to render their income-producing personal property. The trial court had held that rendering property was directory, rather than mandatory. The car companies also appealed the trial court's decision on denying their request for attorney's fees.
On August 31, 2000, the appellate court reviewed whether Tax Code Section 22.01 was directory or mandatory and how compliance with the provision was handled. The appellate court stated that "we generally construe the word 'shall' as mandatory, unless legislative intent suggests otherwise." The court said that it looked at the plain meaning of the words used and found that "shall" was mandatory for rendering property.
The appellate court also found that the appraisal district's use of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 65.016 to enforce compliance by the car companies to render their property was proper. The court held that "an appraisal district may judicially compel a non-rendering taxpayer, through injunction, to prepare and file a rendition statement or to turn over rendition information to the appraisal district." The court said that Tax Code Section 22.01 was a revenue law of the state. It found that the Texas Supreme Court "determined that because [a] statute pertained to public revenues, the statute was a revenue law of this state, the remedy of which is an injunction to prevent, prohibit, or restrain the violation."
On the issue of attorney fee's, the appellate court affirmed that the car companies were not entitled to attorney's fees. The car companies had argued that they were prevented from presenting their evidence in support of their claim for attorney's fees. The appellate court found that the court records showed that the car companies' attorney presented evidence on the total charges and was cross-examined. The appellate court concluded that the car companies were not denied the opportunity to present evidence and were not entitled to attorney's fees.
Late appraisal changes
On December 21, 2000, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, 2nd District, reversed the trial court's judgment in Tarrant Appraisal District v. Gateway Center Associates, Ltd. In that case, the trial court held that the Tarrant Appraisal Review Board had to order changes in the appraisal rolls for tax years 1991 through 1994.
Tarrant Appraisal District (CAD) had appraised about 80 acres owned by Gateway Center Associates, Ltd. (Gateway) as qualified open-space agricultural from 1991 to 1994. In those years, the CAD sent appraisal notices showing both the market and agricultural values on the land. In 1996, the CAD determined that the land's use had changed to a non-agricultural use and triggered the rollback tax. Gateway paid the rollback tax under protest and filed for a correction with the Tarrant Appraisal Review Board to change the property values. The review board denied the correction, and Gateway sued. The trial court ordered the review board to change the values. The CAD appealed the trial court's decision.
The appellate court concluded that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear this case and that Tax Code Section 25.25(d) on correction of a one-third over appraisal was improperly applied to this case. The appellate court held that Gateway did not timely challenge the appraised market value of the property.
The court's ruling stated: "Because owners of agricultural land are informed of the appraised market value of their land in the notices of appraised value, they are sufficiently alerted to any error in the appraised market value at the time of the appraisal. Therefore, even though they are not taxed on the market value of their land, these owners have the right to protest the appraised market value immediately upon receiving their notice of appraised value, long before any rollback tax may be imposed because of a change in use." It further said that: "Any motion made pursuant to section 25.25(d), including a motion to correct the appraised market value of agricultural property, must be filed before the date the yearly property taxes -- not the rollback taxes -- on the subject land become delinquent."
The appellate court also looked at the right of due process to the property owner. It stated that due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. The court held that Gateway had notice of the appraised market value and the opportunity to be heard but "Gateway simply did not take advantage of these opportunities when it had them."
In Opinion No. JC-0325, issued January 5, 2001, General Cornyn concluded that a governmental unit has statutory authority to bar entry to its property by a concealed handgun licensee carrying a weapon. He held that the governmental unit must either provide individualized verbal notice to the licensee or erect a sign or other written communication in compliance with Penal Code Section 30.06.
Penal Code Section 30.06 provides for statutory notice to concealed handgun licensees that entry on a governmental property while carrying a concealed handgun is prohibited. He found, however, that a governmental unit may not order its own rules, regulations, or policies barring holders of concealed handgun license from carrying their weapons onto the government's property.
State Representative Pete P. Gallego, Chair of the Committee on General Investigating, asked for the attorney general's opinion on a government body prohibiting concealed handguns on its property.
In reviewing Government Code Chapter 41, Subchapter H, on the concealed handgun laws, General Cornyn said that a governmental body does not have general authority to prohibit the guns by its own rules, but may bar them under the Penal Code Section 30.06