Beals v. Wagner, No. 23108.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtMEIERHENRY, Justice.
Citation2004 SD 115,688 N.W.2d 415
PartiesRichard Duane BEALS and Melva Beals, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Connie L. WAGNER in her official capacity as Day County Treasurer, Defendant and Appellee.
Decision Date13 October 2004
Docket NumberNo. 23108.

688 N.W.2d 415
2004 SD 115

Richard Duane BEALS and Melva Beals, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
Connie L. WAGNER in her official capacity as Day County Treasurer, Defendant and Appellee

No. 23108.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Considered on Briefs On August 23, 2004.

Decided October 13, 2004.


688 N.W.2d 416
William E. Coester, Milbank, South Dakota, Attorney for plaintiffs and appellants

Danny R. Smeins, Day County State's Attorney, Webster, South Dakota, Attorney for defendant and appellee.

MEIERHENRY, Justice.

[¶ 1.] Richard and Melva Beals appeal the trial court's ruling that the hearing examiner's decision did not overturn the county's valuation of Beals' property and thus, Beals are not entitled to a refund of 1999 taxes, which were paid according to the County's initial valuation. We affirm.

FACTS

[¶ 2.] Richard and Melva Beals own real estate in Day County. This real estate was previously classified as non-agricultural land for real estate tax purposes but was vacated and reclassified as agricultural land in June of 1998. However, these changes were not properly recorded with the Register of Deeds until February of 1999. This resulted in the property being classified as non-agricultural property by the Day County Director of Equalization for the year 1999 and real estate taxes were calculated accordingly. Beals appealed the tax assessment to the South Dakota Department of Revenue. They contended that it was an error for the County to use the non-agricultural classification rather than the agricultural classification when calculating Beals' taxes. They further contended that as a result of the incorrect classification, the County's valuation of the real estate was in excess of its full and true value. A hearing was held and the hearing examiner issued a decision requiring the property to be "reclassified as agricultural property, if not already, and value[d] as such". The decision also contained a conclusion of law stating:

Petitioners bear the burden of producing sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the assessed valuation of their property was in excess of its full and true value. Petitioners did not meet that burden.

Neither party appealed the decision. Pursuant to the decision, Day County reclassified the property as agricultural for the year 1999 and adjusted the tax accordingly.1 Day County did not alter the original valuation of the property because the County maintained that the original valuation had not been overturned by the hearing

688 N.W.2d 417
examiner's decision. Beals paid the tax demanded under protest and filed a claim in the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court against Connie Wagner, Day County Treasurer, for recovery of the alleged wrongfully collected tax.2 Beals claim that in addition to reclassification, the original valuation of the property had been overturned and revaluation of their property was required by the hearing examiner's decision. Beals further claim the revaluation would have reduced their 1999 real estate taxes and entitled them to a refund

[¶ 3.] At trial, Beals' refund claim was combined with two appeals involving Day County's valuation of Beals' real property for years 2000 and 2001. The two appeals and the refund claim were tried together. The two appeals were dismissed pursuant to Stipulation and Agreement of the parties, leaving only the matter of the refund claim for the trial court.3

[¶ 4.] The trial court dismissed the refund claim. It found the hearing examiner's decision affirmed the county's original valuation and did not require revaluation of the reclassified property and thus, the Day County Treasurer committed no error in calculating and collecting the taxes owed by Beals. Beals appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 5.] At issue is the interpretation of and compliance with the decision of the hearing examiner. The former is a question of law and the latter is a mixed question of law and fact and both are reviewed de novo. Erdahl v. Groff, 1998 SD 28, ¶ 15, 576 N.W.2d 15, 18; Matter of Groseth Intern., Inc., 442 N.W.2d 229, 232 (S.D.1989); Permann v. South Dakota Dept. of Labor, 411 N.W.2d 113, 115-17 (S.D.1987).

ISSUES
I. Whether the trial court erred in determining Beals were not entitled to a refund under the hearing examiner's decision.
II. Whether stipulations made as to the valuation of the real estate in question applied to the calculation of real property taxes due for 1999.

DECISION

Interpretation of the Hearing Examiner's Decision

[¶ 6.] The source of this dispute lies primarily in the parties' different interpretations of the hearing examiner's decision. Neither party appealed the decision, thus making it final as to the issues it addressed. This Court has held, "[I]f the prior final judgment or order has been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, it `is conclusive as to all rights, questions, or facts directly involved and actually, or by necessary implication, determined therein,' whether the court was correct at the time or not." Moe v. Moe, 496 N.W.2d 593, 595 (S.D.1993) (quoting Raschke v. DeGraff, 81 S.D. 291, 295-96, 134 N.W.2d 294, 297 (1965)). This Court has further held, "[A]ny claim over which an administrative agency had jurisdiction that is raised and rejected by the agency, is subsequently barred from being retried on the merits in the courts under the doctrine of res judicata." McElhaney v. Anderson, 1999 SD 78, ¶ 13, 598 N.W.2d 203, 206. The parties had the right to appeal but did

688 N.W.2d 418
not do so. Thus, res judicata applies and the decision of the hearing examiner is final and binding. Only the meaning and enforcement of the decision are at issue here

[¶ 7.] Although the hearing examiner's decision is not the perfect example of clarity, we conclude that the decision affirmed the County's original valuation of Beals' property, and did not require revaluation. The stated issue in the decision was whether "the subject property [was] assessed higher than actual market value or assessed higher than comparable property". Under South Dakota law at the time of the hearing, there was a presumption that the County's assessment was correct.4 See Kocer v. Bon Homme County Com'rs, 1999 SD 155, ¶ 14, 604 N.W.2d 1, 4; Clarkson and Co. v. Harding County, 1998 SD 74, ¶ 6, 581 N.W.2d 499, 502; Richter Enter., Inc. v. Sully Cty., 1997 SD 61, ¶ 7, 563 N.W.2d 841, 843.

[¶ 8.] The hearing examiner placed the burden of overcoming this presumption on the taxpayers, Beals, as required by our law at that time. Id. Based on the evidence presented, the hearing examiner concluded Beals had not met the burden of overcoming the presumption in favor of the County's assessment; consequently, the County's valuation was not...

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