Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, No. 34426.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtBenjamin
Citation687 S.E.2d 768
PartiesMOUNTAIN AMERICA, LLC, et al, Petitioners Below, Appellants, v. Donna HUFFMAN, Assessor of Monroe County, Respondent Below, Appellee.
Decision Date25 November 2009
Docket NumberNo. 34426.
687 S.E.2d 768
MOUNTAIN AMERICA, LLC, et al, Petitioners Below, Appellants,
v.
Donna HUFFMAN, Assessor of Monroe County, Respondent Below, Appellee.
No. 34426.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted September 8, 2009.
Decided November 25, 2009.

[687 S.E.2d 771]

Syllabus by the Court

1. "`This Court reviews the circuit court's final order and ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard. We review challenges to findings of fact under a clearly erroneous standard; conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.' Syllabus Point 4, Burgess v. Porterfield, 196 W.Va. 178, 469 S.E.2d 114 (1996)." Syllabus Point 1, In re: Tax Assessment of Foster Foundation's Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).

2. "`An assessment made by a board of review and equalization and approved by the circuit court will not be reversed when supported by substantial evidence unless plainly wrong.' Syllabus Point 1, West Penn Power Co. v. Board of Review and Equalization, 112 W.Va. 442, 164 S.E. 862 (1932) (other internal citations omitted)." Syllabus Point 3, In re: Tax Assessment of Foster Foundation's Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).

3. A petition for appeal which names only one of multiple complainants appeals only the cause of the complainant named and is wholly insufficient as a petition for an appeal by any person other than the person named.

4. "A constitutional issue that was not properly preserved at the trial court level may, in the discretion of this Court, be addressed

[687 S.E.2d 772]

on appeal when the constitutional issue is the controlling issue in the resolution of the case." Syllabus Point 2, Louk v. Cormier, 218 W.Va. 81, 622 S.E.2d 788 (2005).

5. "W. Va.Code § 11-3-24 (1979) (Repl. Vol. 2008), which establishes the procedure by which a county commission sits as a board of equalization and review and decides taxpayers' challenges to their property tax assessments, is facially constitutional." Syllabus Point 4, In re: Tax Assessment of Foster Foundation's Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).

6. "Requiring a taxpayer challenging a property tax assessment in accordance with W. Va.Code § 11-3-24 (1979)(Repl. Vo. 2008) to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the assessor's assessment is erroneous does not violate the constitutional due process protections provided by section one of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution or by section ten of Article III of the West Virginia Constitution." Syllabus Point 6, In re: Tax Assessment of Foster Foundation's Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).

7. "Statutes governing the imposition of taxes are generally construed against the government and in favor of the taxpayer. However, statutes establishing administrative procedures for collection and assessment of taxes will be construed in favor of the government." Syllabus Point 1, Calhoun County Assessor v. Consolidated Gas Supply Corp., 178 W.Va. 230, 358 S.E.2d 791 (1987).

8. "To establish that a taxing statute, valid on its face, is so unreasonable or arbitrary as to amount to a denial of due process of law when applied in a particular case, the taxpayer must prove by clear and cogent evidence facts establishing unreasonableness or arbitrariness." Syllabus Point 4, Norfolk and Western Railway Company v. Field, 143 W.Va. 219, 100 S.E.2d 796 (1957); Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Haden v. Calco Awning & Window Corp., 153 W.Va. 524, 170 S.E.2d 362 (1969).

9. "`As a general rule, there is a presumption that valuations for taxation purposes fixed by an assessor are correct.... The burden is on the taxpayer challenging the assessments to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the tax assessment is erroneous.' Syllabus point 2, in part, Western Pocahontas Properties Ltd. v. County Commission of Wetzel County, 189 W.Va. 322, 431 S.E.2d 661 (1993)." Syllabus Point 8, Bayer MaterialScience, LLC, v. State Tax Commissioner, 223 W.Va. 38, 672 S.E.2d 174 (2008).

10. "A taxpayer challenging an assessor's tax assessment must prove by clear and convincing evidence that such assessment is erroneous." Syllabus Point 5, in part, In re: Tax Assessment of Foster Foundation's Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).

11. "The Equal and uniform clause of Section 1 of Article X of the West Virginia Constitution, requires a taxpayer whose property is assessed at true and actual value to show more than the fact that other property is valued at less than true and actual value. To obtain relief, he must prove that the under valuation was intentional and systematic." Syllabus Point 1, Kline v. McCloud, 174 W.Va. 369, 326 S.E.2d 715 (1984).

Michael E. Caryl, Robert S. Kiss, Heather Gail Harlan, Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, Charleston, WV, for Appellants.

Jack C. McClung, West Virginia Association of County Officials, Charleston, WV, for Amicus Curiae.

John F. Hussell, IV, Katie L. Hoffman, Joseph J. Buch, Dinsmore & Shohl, Charleston, WV, for Appellee, Donna Huffman.

Paul G. Papadopoulos, Robinson & McElwee, Charleston, WV, for Appellee, Monroe County Commission.

BENJAMIN, Chief Justice:


The instant action is before this Court upon the appeal of Mountain America, LLC, and several other individual landowners below [hereinafter "Appellants"] from a January 28, 2008, order of the Circuit Court of Monroe County denying the Appellants' Petition for Appeal from Ad Valorem Property Tax Assessments. Herein, Appellants allege

687 S.E.2d 773

that the circuit court erred in affirming the decision of the Monroe County Commission to uphold the property tax assessments made by the County Assessor, Donna Huffman. Specifically, the Appellants assert that the tax assessments are excessive and unequal as compared to the 2007 tax assessments of the property of other taxpayers in Monroe County, and that the assessments are the result of the Assessor's improper and discriminatory methods in violation of the Appellant's rights to equal and uniform taxation under the West Virginia Constitution and in violation of the Appellant's rights to equal protection of the law under the United States Constitution. In addition, Appellants assert that the process by which they seek review of the assessments before the County Commission violates their rights to due process.

In response, the Assessor alleges that she utilized the correct valuation in determining the "true and actual value" of the residue of property owned by Mountain America, LLC, as prescribed by the West Virginia Legislature and other state regulations, and that the taxpayers failed to present evidence at the Board of Equalization and Review hearing that the Assessor had significantly overvalued their properties. She also asserts that Appellants' constitutional arguments lack merit because this Court has already considered the Appellants' due process and equal protection arguments on prior occasions and found that the taxpayer appeal process is constitutional. Furthermore, she argues that the circuit court correctly found that the case file did not reflect who the taxpayers were or what specific lots were at issue, thus, the other individual taxpayers did not perfect an appeal.

The Monroe County Commission responds and argues that the raw data provided during the hearing showed that the residue was assessed at a rate which was absolutely reasonable on its face, the taxpayers did not meet their burden to show that the assessment was excessive, and the taxpayers did not submit necessary evidence as to what actually was the "true and actual value" of their property. It also argues that the circuit court correctly refused to consider any of the taxpayers' arguments regarding alleged inherent flaws in the property appeals system, as these issues were beyond the scope of an appeal and thus, more appropriate for an independent action. Likewise, the County Commission also argues that Mountain America was the only petitioner to perfect its right to appeal the County Commission's decision.1

This Court has before it the petition for appeal, all matters of record and the briefs and arguments of counsel. For the reasons expressed below, the January 28, 2008, order of the Circuit Court of Monroe County is affirmed.

I.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Appellants are the owners and developer of lots located within Walnut Springs Mountain Reserve [hereinafter "Walnut Springs"] in Monroe County, West Virginia. Walnut Springs is a residential development comprised of approximately 1,000 acres located on Bud Ridge Road near Union, West Virginia. During the last few years, Mountain America, LLC [hereinafter "Mountain America"] and its affiliated entities have undertaken to develop Walnut Springs into a residential housing development with related amenities. Mountain America and its affiliated entities have been selling tracts of property located in Walnut Springs since September 2004. Walnut Springs remains in the early stages of development.

Donna Huffman is the duly elected Assessor of Monroe County. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 11-3-1(1977) (Repl. Vol. 2008), Ms. Huffman is charged with annually assessing the true and actual value of all property located within Monroe County by July 1. During the period from July 1, 2006, to January 31, 2007, Ms. Huffman and her staff [hereinafter collectively referred to as "the Assessor"] ascertained the true and actual value of all property, real and personal,

687 S.E.2d 774

subject to ad valorem property taxation located within the county.2

During the period of July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, the purchase price of the unimproved real property sold by Mountain America and its affiliated entities was significantly higher than any other unimproved real property being sold elsewhere in Monroe County. As a result of the higher consideration being paid for the lots...

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9 practice notes
  • Tabb v. Jefferson Cnty. Comm'n, 17-0095
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 23, 2018
    ...is facially constitutional." 223 W.Va. at 16, 672 S.E.2d at 152, syl. pt. 4. In Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, 224 W.Va. 669, 683, 687 S.E.2d 768, 782 (2009), we rejected an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of the same statutory procedure including the contention that the ta......
  • Wright v. Banks, 11–1768.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 21, 2013
    ...Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).” Syllabus Point 2, Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, 224 W.Va. 669, 687 S.E.2d 768 (2009).Charles R. Wright, Ranson, WV, pro se.Stephanie F. Grove, Esq., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Charles Town, WV, for Respondent. [7......
  • Lee Trace LLC v. Raynes, s. 12–0638
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 21, 2013
    ...Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).” Syllabus Point 2, Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, 224 W.Va. 669, 687 S.E.2d 768 (2009). 3. “Title 110, Series 1P of the West Virginia Code of State Rules confers upon the State Tax Commissioner discretion in choosing an......
  • Archuleta v. U.S. Liens, LLC, 17-0528
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 26, 2018
    ...parties do not dispute that Petitioner's property is designated as Class II. See Mountain Am., LLC v. Huffman , 224 W. Va. 669, 675 n.5, 687 S.E.2d 768, 774 n.5 (2009) ("Owner-occupied properties used exclusively for residential purposes and farms are Class II property.").15 In addition to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Tabb v. Jefferson Cnty. Comm'n, No. 17-0095
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 23, 2018
    ...is facially constitutional." 223 W.Va. at 16, 672 S.E.2d at 152, syl. pt. 4. In Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, 224 W.Va. 669, 683, 687 S.E.2d 768, 782 (2009), we rejected an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of the same statutory procedure including the contention that the ta......
  • Wright v. Banks, No. 11–1768.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 21, 2013
    ...Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).” Syllabus Point 2, Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, 224 W.Va. 669, 687 S.E.2d 768 (2009).Charles R. Wright, Ranson, WV, pro se.Stephanie F. Grove, Esq., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Charles Town, WV, for Respondent. [7......
  • Lee Trace LLC v. Raynes, Nos. 12–0638
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 21, 2013
    ...Woodlands Retirement Community, 223 W.Va. 14, 672 S.E.2d 150 (2008).” Syllabus Point 2, Mountain America, LLC v. Huffman, 224 W.Va. 669, 687 S.E.2d 768 (2009). 3. “Title 110, Series 1P of the West Virginia Code of State Rules confers upon the State Tax Commissioner discretion in choosing an......
  • Archuleta v. U.S. Liens, LLC, No. 17-0528
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 26, 2018
    ...parties do not dispute that Petitioner's property is designated as Class II. See Mountain Am., LLC v. Huffman , 224 W. Va. 669, 675 n.5, 687 S.E.2d 768, 774 n.5 (2009) ("Owner-occupied properties used exclusively for residential purposes and farms are Class II property.").15 In addition to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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