County Executive for Montgomery County v. Supervisor of Assessments of Montgomery County, 220

Decision Date27 June 1975
Docket NumberNo. 220,220
Citation340 A.2d 246,275 Md. 392
PartiesCOUNTY EXECUTIVE FOR MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Maryland, et al. v. SUPERVISOR OF ASSESSMENTS OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

H. Christopher Malone, Asst. County Atty., Rockville (Richard S. McKernon, County Atty. and Robert G. Tobin, Jr., Deputy County Atty., Rockville, on the brief), for appellants.

Robert H. Metz, Silver Spring (R. Robert Linowes and Linowes & Blocher, Silver Spring, on the brief), for Warren K. Montouri, part of appellees; no brief filed on behalf of other appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C. J., and SINGLEY, SMITH, DIGGES, LEVINE, ELDRIDGE and O'DONNELL, JJ.

DIGGES, Judge.

This case concerns whether the Maryland Tax Court, an appellate administrative agency, may impose through its statutory rule-making power preconditions, in addition to those specifically provided by legislative enactment, to its acquiring jurisdiction over an appeal. The Montgomery County Council and James P. Gleason, the County Executive, 1 appellants both in this Court and before the Maryland Tax Court, appeal from an order of that agency dismissing their 'petition of appeal' for lack of jurisdiction because they, within the applicable statutory time period, failed to name the taxpayer as a respondent. As we conclude that this petition of appeal need not have designated anyone as a respondent in order for the agency's jurisdiction over the appeal to have attached, we will reverse and remand the case for further proceedings.

The record shows that Felix and D. Montouri owned an unimproved parcel of real estate in Rockville, Maryland known as 'Dan' and consisting of 10.003 acres, which the Supervisor of Assessments for Montgomery County, an appellee, 2 on June 13, 1972, valued for tax purposes at $506,520 for the 1972 levy year. On July 12, 1972, the owners, pursuant to the statute then in effect, Maryland Code (1957, 1969 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 225(b), requested a hearing before Montgomery County's Appeal Tax Court, the county's 'final assessing authority,' which had the power to review the decision made by the Supervisor of Assessments. 3 While this matter was pending before that county agency, although it is not clear from the record exactly when, Warren K. Montouri, the other appellee, acquired ownership of the property. 4 Thereafter, the Appeal Tax Court advised the parties, by notice dated June 19, 1973, that it had lowered the assessed value of the land to $379,890. This action so displeased the appellants that they filed, on July 18, 1973, a petition of appeal with the Maryland Tax Court. The only respondent named in that petition, however, was the Supervisor of Assessments for Montgomery County and he, on August 6, 1973, moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the appellants 'failed to name parties necessary to this proceeding, namely, the taxpayers and owners of the premises in question, Felix and D. Montouri.' (Actually at that time Warren K. Montouri appears to have been the owner.) There matters stood until February 2, 1974, when the appellants filed a petition to add Warren K. Montouri as a respondent, which in turn prompted him to file an opposition petition together with a motion to dismiss the appeal. After a hearing on Montouri's motion, the Maryland Tax Court ordered the appeal dismissed on August 21, 1974, on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction; from this dismissal the appellants took a timely appeal to this Court pursuant to Code (1957, 1975 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 229(l).

Before discussing the specific issue involved in this appeal, we note that, under Code (1957, 1971 Repl.Vol.) Art. 41, § 318(1),

'The Maryland Tax Court (has) . . . jurisdiction to hear appeals from the decision, determination, or order of any final assessing or taxing authority of the State, or of any agency, department, or political subdivision thereof, with respect to the valuation, assessment, or classification of property, or the levy of a tax, or with respect to the application for an abatement or reduction of any assessment, or tax, or exemption therefrom.' See Code (1957, 1975 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 224 (creating the Maryland Tax Court). See and compare Mont. Co. Council et al. v. Supv's or Assess. for Mont. Co. et al., -- Md. --, 340 A.2d 302 (decided June 27, 1975).

The question presented here is whether the appellants' petition of appeal, filed pursuant to sections 256 and 229 of Article 81, was sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the Maryland Tax Court. 5. In order to resolve this issue it is first necessary that we examine the provisions of these two sections, the pertinent parts of which read as follows:

§ 256(a) 'Any taxpayer . . . or the county commissioners of any county ((which has been interpreted by County Council v. Supervisor, 274 Md. 116, 123, 332 A.2d 897, 901 (1975) to include the appropriate corporate entity of a county)) where an appeal tax court has been duly created claiming to be aggrieved because of any assessment or classification, or because of any increase, reduction, abatement, modification, change or alteration or failure or refusal to increase, reduce, abate, modify or change any assessment, or because of any classification or change in classification, or refusal or failure to make a change, by any final assessing authority under § 255 of this article, may by petition appeal to the Maryland Tax Court therefrom as provided in § 229 in this article, and said Court shall hear and determine all such appeals within sixty days from the entry thereof. Such appeal shall be taken . . . within thirty days after the date of the action or failure or refusal to act complained of . . .. No appeal on behalf of a taxpayer shall be allowed under this section from a failure or refusal to abate, reduce, or reclassify an existing assessment unless application in writing for such action shall have been filed by the appellant with the final assessing authority appealed from within the time limited for the filing of a demand for a hearing by § 255 of this article.

'(b) Contents of petition.-A petition of appeal provided for by subsection (a) of this section shall set forth that the assessment or classification is illegal, specifying the ground of alleged illegality, or is erroneous by reason of overvaluation or undervaluation, or that the assessment is unequal in that it has been made at a higher proportion of value than other property of the same class, or said petition may assign any other errors which may exist in the particular case for which an appeal is allowed, and on account of which petitioner claims to be injured.' Code (1957, 1975 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 256.

§ 229(a) 'Petition and response.-All appeals to the Court, of whatever nature, shall be noted by the filing of a written petition which shall set forth succinctly the nature of the case, the facts involved and the question or questions to be reviewed by the Court. The opposing party shall make such response as the Court may by rule prescribe.' Code (1957, 1975 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 229(a).

Plainly, these sections of the Code do not require that the petition of appeal name a respondent. Indeed, the only provision of the Code which even arguably abliges the appellants, directly or indirectly, to designate the taxpayer as a respondent in their petition of appeal is section 229(b), which states that the Maryland Tax Court

'shall have power, subject to the provisions of this article, to adopt such reasonable rules of procedure relating to pleadings, notices, hearings and arguments as it may deem proper.' Code (1957, 1975 Repl.Vol.) Art. 81, § 229(b). 6

The Maryland Tax Court, relying on the authority granted by section 229(b), promulgated rules of procedure, effective April 1, 1964, Rule 1(a) of which declares that:

'All proceedings shall be initiated by filing with the Court a Petition of Appeal. . . . In an appeal by an assessing or taxing authority or representative thereof, the taxpayer shall be designated as Respondent.'

Based on these statutory provisions and its own rule, the Maryland Tax Court concluded that it was without jurisdiction to entertain the petition of appeal. The agency reasoned that since it is a jurisdictional requirement of section 256(a) that the petition of appeal be filed within the appropriate 30-day time span (see LaBelle v. State Tax Comm., 217 Md. 443, 451-52, 142 A.2d 560 (1958)) and since, by its own Rule 1(a), the appellants were required in their appeal petition to name the...

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