Cantrell v. Sanders, 54125

Citation1980 OK 43,610 P.2d 227
Decision Date25 March 1980
Docket NumberNo. 54125,54125
PartiesJohn CANTRELL, in his official capacity as County Treasurer of Tulsa County, Oklahoma; and Cheryl Clay, in her official capacity as County Assessor of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, Appellants, v. David H. SANDERS, John V. LaPlant, and David W. Griffith taxpayer-property owners in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, Appellees.
CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma

Appeal from the District Court of Tulsa County; Jane P. Wiseman, Special District Judge.

The appellants, Tulsa County officials, appeal from a summary judgment in favor of the appellee-taxpayers in their suits for refunds. The district court held that the Tulsa County Board of Equalization did not have the authority to hear and correct the taxpayers' grievances and that the county assessor had unconstitutionally assessed the taxpayers' property at a higher ratio than that applied to other real property in Tulsa County. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

AFFIRMED.

S. M. Fallis, Jr., Dist. Atty., and John F. Reif, Asst. Dist. Atty., Tulsa, for appellants.

Barrow, Gaddis, Griffith & Grim by William Farrior, Tulsa, for appellees.

LAVENDER, Chief Justice:

This appeal is prosecuted by the County Treasurer and County Assessor of Tulsa County, Oklahoma. They appeal from a judgment of the District Court of Tulsa County granting a partial refund of ad valorem taxes to three taxpayers, David H. Sanders, John V. LaPlant, and David W. Griffith. The taxpayers asserted, and the district court held, that their property had been unequally taxed because it had been unconstitutionally assessed at a higher ratio than that applied to other real property in Tulsa County. We agree.

I

In 1977 and 1978 the Tulsa County Assessor, who was then Wilson Glass, divided the real property in Tulsa County into ten categories, four of which had two sub-categories. Against the value of property in these various categories eight different "assessment percentages" often called "ratios" were applied to arrive at the assessment. 1

The taxpayers' property was assessed as "Commercial-Industrial improved (Code E)" at 25% of the fair cash value. Sanders paid his 1977 taxes under protest and filed a suit for a refund in 1978. A year later LaPlant and Griffith did the same with their 1978 taxes. The cases were consolidated in the district court.

II

The initial question before us on this appeal is whether the taxpayers could bring a suit for a refund in the district court without first seeking relief from the Tulsa County Board of Equalization. They filed their actions under 68 O.S.1971 § 2469, which provides for a direct suit for refund "(i)n all cases where the illegality of the tax is alleged to arise by reason of some action from which the laws provide no appeal." 2 The "action from which the laws provide no appeal" that they attacked was that of the county assessor in applying different assessment percentages to different categories of property.

The assessor and treasurer contend that this is a matter of the "equalization" of the "assessed valuation" of the taxpayers' property, over which the county board of equalization has exclusive original jurisdiction. 3 Thus, they argue, the taxpayers failed to exhaust their administrative remedies and the district court was without jurisdiction to hear their cases. 4

Insofar as assessments are concerned, the authority of a county board of equalization is limited. Assessment involves two steps: (1) the valuation of property, and (2) the application of an assessment percentage to that value. The result is the "assessed valuation." A county board of equalization may "equalize, correct and adjust the assessed valuation of real and personal property," but only "by raising or lowering the valuation . . . to conform to the fair cash value thereof . . . ." 5 The action of the county assessor that the taxpayers were challenging had nothing to do with the determination of the fair cash value of their property; rather, it was only the assessment percentage applied to their property that they attacked. A county board of equalization has no authority, constitutional or legislative, to set the assessment percentage, nor does it have the authority to raise or lower that percentage. Setting the assessment percentage is the statutory duty of the county assessor pursuant to 68 O.S.Supp.1974 § 2435. 6

As the district court held, the setting of the assessment percentage is essentially a policy decision of the county assessor. The county board of equalization has no authority to alter this policy decision. To require the taxpayers to seek relief from the county board of equalization from the assessor's selection of an assessment percentage, as opposed to the appraisal of the property's value, would be futile. No appeal is provided for in the statutes from the assessor's selection of an assessment percentage; therefore, the provisions of section 2469 apply. The taxpayers could file a suit for a refund directly upon payment under protest. They did this, and the district court therefore had jurisdiction to hear their cases.

III

The next, and ultimate, question on this appeal is whether the actions of the Tulsa County Assessor in applying to these taxpayers' properties different assessment percentages from the percentages applied to other properties resulted in an unconstitutional unequal burden of taxation. We hold that it did.

Under the Tulsa County Assessor's system of assessment there are ten categories of real property, actually fourteen since four have two sub-categories. Against the value of property in these various categories eight different percentages are applied to arrive at the assessed valuation, ranging from a high of 25.000% to a low of 6.000%. The result of this system is that fourteen different taxpayers in Tulsa County with properties of equal value, each falling into a different one of the fourteen categories, would pay eight different amounts of taxes. For example, if each of the fourteen properties had a use value of $100,000, the assessed valuations would range from $25,000 to $6,000. Then, assuming that against these assessed valuations a tax of 80 mills is levied, 7 the ad valorem taxes of these fourteen taxpayers with properties of equal value would range from a high of $2,000 to a low of $480. It is this disparity in tax burdens that the taxpayers here complain of.

Article 10, section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution provides in part:

Taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects.

Under the Tulsa County Assessor's system, taxes are not uniform upon real property. Implicit in the argument of the taxpayers is that in this case the applicable "class of subjects" is all real property. The assessor and treasurer argue, however, that each category created by the county assessor is a "class of subjects" under the constitution. They make this argument under article 10, section 8 of the Oklahoma Constitution, as it was amended in 1972. We do not find the authority argued for in that provision.

The first sentence of article 10, section 8, which carries the heading "Valuation of property for taxation," reads:

All property which may be taxed ad valorem shall be assessed for taxation at its fair cash value, estimated at the price it would bring at a fair voluntary sale, except real property and tangible personal property shall not be assessed for taxation at more than thirty-five percent (35%) of its fair cash value, estimated at the price it would bring at a fair voluntary sale.

All this does is establish the general rule that all property taxable ad valorem must be valued at its "fair cash value" that is, its market value and carve out the first exception to that rule. The first exception is that real property and tangible personal property may not be assessed at more than 35% of its market value. 8

The second sentence of article 10, section 8 provides the second exception to the general rule. It reads:

Provided, however, that no real property shall be assessed for ad valorem taxation at a value greater than thirty-five percent (35%) of its fair cash value for the highest and best use for which such property was actually used, or was previously classified for use, during the calendar year next preceding the first day of January on which the assessment is made.

The second exception is that the assessment of real property, in addition to being limited to 35% of its value, is further limited to 35% of its use value, as opposed to its market value. This sentence does not provide, or even intimate, that different properties of equal use values can be saddled with unequal tax burdens. Rather, it provides that all real property must be valued at its use value. In 1972 this was a new notion in Oklahoma ad valorem taxation. Previously, all assessments had been made on the basis of market value. The change was proposed by the Legislature and adopted by the People to protect land located in prime locations but used for agricultural purposes from grossly inflated valuations due to the proximity of metropolitan areas, industrial areas, highways, lakefront locations, or the like. Nothing in the language of the change indicates any purpose of allocating tax burdens.

The third sentence of article 10, section 8 reinforces the assertion that the amendment was aimed at land used for agriculture. It reads:

Provided, further, that the transfer of property without a change in its use classification shall not require a reassessment based exclusively upon the sale value of such property.

An agricultural tract close to a city may have, for example, a value of $100,000 as farmland (use value), yet because of its location have a market value of $200,000. This proviso ensure that if the land is sold for $200,000, it will not be reassessed based exclusively upon the sale value so long as it continues to be classified for agricultural use.

The fourth...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16 cases
  • Fair School Finance Council of Oklahoma, Inc. v. State
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • November 24, 1987
    ...Okl., 552 P.2d 1134 [1975] (Poulos I ); Okl., 552 P.2d 1138 [1976] (Poulos II ) and Okl., 646 P.2d 1269 [1982] (Poulos III ).15 Okl., 610 P.2d 227 [1980].16 Poulos I, supra note 14 at 1136-1137.17 Poulos I, supra note 14 at 1137.18 Poulos II, supra note 14 at 1139.19 Cantrell v. Sanders, su......
  • Eog Resources v. State Bd. of Equalization
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • October 21, 2008
    ...which complaint is made. 27. United Airlines, Inc. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 1990 OK 29, ¶¶ 12-15, 789 P.2d 1305. See also Cantrell v. Sanders, 1980 OK 43, ¶¶ 4-7, 610 P.2d 227; Dobson Cellular Sys. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 1998 OK CIV APP 62, ¶¶ 5-7, 957 P.2d 28. South Tulsa Citiz......
  • Muskogee Fair Haven Manor Phase I, Inc. v. Scott, 86993
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • March 31, 1998
    ...his statutory (or administrative) remedies. This is not a case in which no statutory appeal process was available (see Cantrell v. Sanders, 1980 OK 43, 610 P.2d 227, 229), nor is it one in which declaratory and injunctive relief was sought after paying an allegedly illegal tax under protest......
  • Liddell v. Heavner
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • January 29, 2008
    ...of use for the purpose of applying standards to facilitate uniform assessment procedures in this state...." (emphasis added) 23. Cantrell v. Sanders, 1980 OK 43, ¶ 14, 610 P.2d 227, 231 (noting that entirely different procedures are used for the valuation of residential, commercial, industr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT