EL Castillo Retirement Residences v. Martinez

Decision Date17 December 2014
Docket NumberNo. 35,148.,31,704.,35,148.
Citation346 P.3d 1164
PartiesEL CASTILLO RETIREMENT RESIDENCES, Petitioner–Appellee, v. Domingo MARTINEZ, Assessor, Santa Fe County, Respondent–Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Jones, Snead, Wertheim & Clifford, P.A., Carol A. Clifford, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee.

Bridget A. Jacober, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant.

OPINION

ZAMORA, Judge.

{1} Domingo Martinez, Santa Fe County Assessor (the Assessor), appeals a district court order granting El Castillo Retirement Residences (El Castillo) a charitable property tax exemption pursuant to Article VIII, Section 3 of the New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Property Tax Code, NMSA 1978, Section 7–36–7(B)(1)(d) (2008). As a result of the Assessor's failure to perfect his appeal as to the statutory exemption, we do not have jurisdiction to review whether El Castillo is entitled to a charitable property tax exemption under Section 7–36–7(B). We further conclude that El Castillo does not meet the constitutional requirements for a charitable property tax exemption, and therefore reverse on this issue.1

BACKGROUND

{2} El Castillo, a Santa Fe continuing care retirement community, filed a claim for a charitable property tax exemption that was denied by the Assessor. El Castillo appealed that decision to the Santa Fe County Valuation Protests Board (the Protests Board), claiming a charitable property tax exemption under Section 7–36–7(B) and under Article VIII, Section 3. The Protests Board determined that El Castillo was ineligible for the exemption under Section 7–36–7(B). The Protests Board, however, declined to decide whether El Castillo qualified for the exemption under Article VIII, Section 3, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

{3} El Castillo appealed to the district court, requesting that the Protests Board's decision to deny El Castillo's claim for a charitable property tax exemption under Section 7–36–7(B) be reversed. El Castillo also requested that the district court exercise its original jurisdiction to grant El Castillo's constitutional claim for a charitable property tax exemption. At the time, the Assessor agreed to the district court's exercise of original jurisdiction over El Castillo's constitutional property tax exemption claim.

{4} The parties stipulated that the record made before the Protests Board would substitute for the presentation of evidence and testimony to the district court. El Castillo's appeal was briefed and argued based on evidence presented to the Protests Board. After making original findings of fact, the district court determined that El Castillo qualified for a charitable property tax exemption under both Article VIII, Section 3 and Section 7 –36–7(B). The district court's judgment was entered on September 29, 2011. The Assessor filed a notice of appeal on October 25, 2011, and a docketing statement on December 28, 2011.

DISCUSSION

{5} Due to the procedural posture of this case, we first discuss whether the Assessor properly perfected his appeal. We then turn to the Assessor's jurisdictional challenge. And finally, we consider the merits of the Assessor's constitutional claim.

I. Perfection of the Appeal

{6} The Protests Board's decision and order addressed the statutory aspect of El Castillo's claim for a charitable property tax exemption but, based on a lack of jurisdiction, did not address the constitutional aspect of the claim. As a result, El Castillo's claim was separated into two distinct appellate procedural paths: (1) the statutory claim, reviewable by the district court in its appellate jurisdiction; and (2) the constitutional claim, reviewable by the district court in its original jurisdiction. See NMSA 1978, § 7–38–28(A) (1999) (“A property owner may appeal an order made by the director or a county valuation protests board by filing an appeal pursuant to the provisions of [NMSA Section 39–3–1.1 (1999) ].”); see also § 39–3–1.1(A) (stating that agency decisions placed under the authority of the section by specific statutory reference, are appealable to the district court); Rule 1–074(A) NMRA (stating that “appeals from administrative agencies [may be heard by] the district courts when there is a statutory right of review to the district court); Victor v. N.M. Dep't of Health, 2014–NMCA–012, ¶ 24, 316 P.3d 213 (“Constitutional challenges that exceed the scope of [an administrative agency's] review are subject to the original jurisdiction of the district court.”).

{7} [W]hen a district court has exercised both its appellate and original jurisdiction, the appellant should pursue an appeal by filing a Rule 12–505 [NMRA ] petition to address issues stemming from the exercise of the district court's appellate jurisdiction, and a direct appeal to address issues stemming from the exercise of the district court's original jurisdiction.” Victor, 2014–NMCA–012, ¶ 18, 316 P.3d 213 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). An appeal to this Court from a judgment of the district court in its original jurisdiction is perfected by filing a notice of appeal and a docketing statement. See Rule 12–202(A) NMRA (stating that a notice of appeal shall be filed with the district court); Rule 12–208(A) NMRA (stating that the docketing statement shall be filed in the Court of Appeals). This Court's review of an administrative decision appealed to the district court is by writ of certiorari. Georgia O'Keefe Museum v. Cnty. of Santa Fe, 2003–NMCA–003, ¶ 25, 133 N.M. 297, 62 P.3d 754 ; see § 39–3–1.1(E) (permitting a party to petition the Court of Appeals for a writ of certiorari to review the district court's decision in an administrative appeal); Rule 12–505(A)(1) (stating that the Court of Appeals reviews district court decisions that address administrative proceedings pursuant to Rule 1–074, Rule 1–077 NMRA, or Section 39.3.1.1); see Rule 12–505(B) (“A party ... may seek review of the [district court's] order by filing a petition for writ of certiorari with the Court of Appeals.”).

{8} In this case, the Assessor filed a notice of appeal and a docketing statement which were sufficient to perfect the appeal of the constitutional issue heard by the district court in its original jurisdiction. However, the Assessor failed to file a petition for writ of certiorari to perfect his appeal as to the statutory issue first decided by the Protests Board and reviewed by the district court in its appellate jurisdiction.

{9} In some instances, a non-conforming document may be accepted as a petition for writ of certiorari, if it provides sufficient information. Wakeland v. N.M. Dep't of Workforce Solutions, 2012–NMCA–021, ¶ 7, 274 P.3d 766. While a notice of appeal will not suffice, [a] docketing statement will generally substantially comply with Rule 12–505 so as to permit this Court to review it as a substitute for a petition for writ of certiorari.” Wakeland, 2012–NMCA–021, ¶ 16, 274 P.3d 766. In order to be considered as a timely non-conforming petition for writ of certiorari, the docketing statement must be filed within thirty days of the district court's judgment or order because “the time requirement for filing a petition for writ of certiorari is a mandatory precondition to the exercise of an appellate court's jurisdiction to review a petition on its merits.” Id. ¶ 18.

{10} In light of Wakeland, we construe the Assessor's docketing statement as a non-conforming petition for writ of certiorari. However, the Assessor filed his docketing statement on December 28, 2011, which was ninety days after the district court entered its order dismissing the complaint.2 Therefore, although we accept his docketing statement as a non-conforming petition for writ of certiorari, it was untimely under Rule 12–505(C).

{11} When a petition for writ of certiorari is untimely, this Court will not excuse untimely filing “absent a showing of the kind of unusual circumstances that would justify an untimely petition.” Wakeland, 2012–NMCA021, ¶ 20. Untimely filing of a petition for writ of certiorari may be justified by unusual circumstances such as: “when (1) there is error on the part of the court[;] or (2) when the filing is not very late, and there are other unusual circumstances that were not caused by the court system but that were not within the control of the party seeking appellate review.” Mascareñas v. City of Albuquerque, 2012–NMCA–031, ¶ 23, 274 P.3d 781 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Assessor does not argue the existence of unusual circumstances that would justify an untimely petition, and we are aware of none.

{12} Accordingly, we deny the Assessor's petition for writ of certiorari. As a result, we do not have jurisdiction to review the question of whether El Castillo is entitled to a charitable property tax exemption under Section 7–36–7(B). This appeal is therefore limited to the constitutional issue decided by the district court in the exercise of its original jurisdiction. See Mascareñas, 2012–NMCA–031, ¶ 24, 274 P.3d 781 (This Court lacks jurisdiction to address the merits of [the] administrative appeal because the appeal was untimely and unusual circumstances do not justify the untimeliness.”).

II. Assessor's Constitutional Issue

{13} The Assessor's remaining issue is whether El Castillo meets the constitutional requirements for a charitable property tax exemption. Within that issue, the Assessor argues that the district court did not have original jurisdiction to consider the constitutional exemption and that subject matter jurisdiction is fundamentally encompassed within that determination. Initially, we note that our district courts are recognized to be courts of general jurisdiction. Ottino v. Ottino, 2001–NMCA–012, ¶ 6, 130 N.M. 168, 21 P.3d 37. Each has “original jurisdiction in all matters and causes not excepted in [the Constitution of the State of New Mexico], and such jurisdiction of special cases and proceedings as may be conferred by law, and appellate jurisdiction of all cas...

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