State Tax Commission v. Fondren, 52018

Decision Date20 August 1980
Docket NumberNo. 52018,52018
Citation387 So.2d 712
PartiesThe STATE TAX COMMISSION of the State of Mississippi et al. v. Louis FONDREN et al. and J. C. Redd et al.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Bill Allain, Atty. Gen. by Stephen J. Kirchmayr, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., P. L. Douglas, Asst. Atty. Gen., and R. Lloyd Arnold, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., James H. Haddock, Jackson, for appellants.

Cupit & Maxey, John L. Maxey, II, Jackson, Freeland & Gafford, James L. Robertson, Oxford, for appellees.

En Banc.

SUGG, Justice, for the Court:

This appeal involves two cases consolidated for trial in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County.

Louis Fondren and others filed a bill of complaint to enjoin the State Tax Commission of the State of Mississippi from approving each county's recapitulation of its assessment rolls until such time as the Tax Commission complied with its duty to equalize assessments among the counties as provided in sections 27-35-113, 27-35-115 and 27-35-117 Mississippi Code Annotated (1972). In this suit, complainants sought to require the Tax Commission to follow the mandate of Section 112 1 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 which requires taxation to be uniform and equal throughout the state and requires property to be assessed for taxes under general laws, by uniform rules, and in proportion to its value. The Tax Commission demurred to the bill of complaint, the demurrer was sustained, and Fondren appealed.

In Fondren v. State Tax Commission, 350 So.2d 1329 (Miss.1977), we reversed and remanded for a trial on the merits holding Fondren had standing as an ad valorem taxpayer to maintain his suit, and the appeal statutes did not afford Fondren an adequate remedy at law. Further reference to Fondren will be made at appropriate places in this opinion.

After our decision in Fondren, supra, J. C. Redd and others, who are owners of taxable property in twelve (12) counties in Mississippi, filed a bill of complaint against the Tax Commission, its Chairman and Commissioners, the Chief of the Ad Valorem Division and the Chief of the Equalization Division to enjoin the Tax Commission from approving the assessment rolls of any county until the Tax Commission equalized the assessment rolls between the counties. In this case, complainants also sought recovery of all costs and expenses incurred in the lawsuit including attorneys' fees.

Following a hearing, the chancery court ordered that, beginning with the 1983 tax rolls and continuing with respect to the tax rolls for each successive year thereafter, the Tax Commission, its Commissioners, Officers and Agents, including their successors in office, were enjoined from accepting or approving the tax rolls of any county, or the recapitulation reports drawn therefrom, unless all real and personal property subject to ad valorem taxation within the county was valued and assessed as nearly as possible at its true value. True value was defined in the decree as full or one hundred percent value unless the legislature by 1983 enacted laws specifying a lesser percentage of true value for the determination of assessed value. The decree also required the Tax Commission to file progress reports with the court. The decree awarded complainants $58,000 attorneys' fees, payable out of any funds available to the Tax Commission, and retained jurisdiction of each of the consolidated cases for entry of such further orders or decrees necessary to effectuate the provisions of the final decree to the end that the defendants would be required to perform their duties to equalize assessments as required by statute in accord with the uniform and equal concept contained in Section 112 of the Constitution.

DOES THE STATE TAX COMMISSION HAVE AUTHORITY TO EQUALIZE

ASSESSMENTS BETWEEN THE COUNTIES OF THE STATE?

On appeal, the Tax Commission contends, among other things, that the court did not have the authority to require it to equalize the assessment rolls between the different counties. This is the first question involved in this appeal.

In three cases, this Court has addressed the duty and authority of the Tax Commission to equalize assessments between counties under sections 27-35-113, et seq., Mississippi Code Annotated (1972). These statutes were first enacted in 1916 when the legislature created the State Tax Commission giving it broad powers necessary to equalize assessments between counties. The statutes were first considered in Foreman v. Wheatley, 113 Miss. 555, 74 So. 427 (1917). In that case the Tax Commission ordered corrections to be made in the personal assessment roll of Washington County to increase the assessed value of certain classes of personal property, and directed the Board of Supervisors of Washington County to call a meeting for the purpose of making the changes in the personal assessment roll in accordance with the order of the Tax Commission. The board of supervisors gave notice of a special meeting, and at the meeting, elected to enter a protest against the order of the Tax Commission. The protest was heard by the Tax Commission which overruled the objections of the supervisors and entered a final order directing the increase specified in the order. The board of supervisors declined to correct the assessment roll. Upon their refusal to comply with the order of the Tax Commission, the State On The Relation of J. M. Foreman, District Attorney, filed a mandamus to compel compliance with the order of the Tax Commission. The petition filed by the district attorney was met by a general demurrer which challenged the constitutionality of the statute creating the Tax Commission and its authority to compel boards of supervisors to make any changes in assessment rolls. The demurrer was sustained. On appeal, we reversed and remanded holding the statute was constitutional and that the Tax Commission was created as a department of government with the power over boards of supervisors to equalize assessments between counties. Foreman is dispositive of the first issue presented on this appeal. It clearly defines the duties of the county tax assessors, the boards of supervisors, and the Tax Commission as these duties pertain to the assessment of property for taxation. It also shows that the interest of each individual is protected against overvaluation of his property in the assessment and equalization process by adequate remedies afforded by statute. Because of the importance of this case, we quote extensively from it.

It is agreed that section 112 of our Constitution provides the general standard for the assessment of property for taxation, and for the collection of ad valorem taxes. It furnishes the ideal rule by which the rights of taxpayers are to be measured-the guiding star for the lawmaker and every officer charged with the duty of assessing and valuing property for taxation. But the goal towards which our state has been striving has never yet been fully attained. The key words of our Constitution are "uniform," "equal," "true value," and, to accomplish results, "general laws." While property in every county is to be assessed at true value, it is a matter of common knowledge and comment that in practice this has been accomplished in name, and not in fact. The Constitution provides for a county assessor, fixes his term of office, and contemplates that this officer shall list and value all taxable property in his county. Experience for a long time indicates that the assessor generally places upon his roll unchanged the various valuations fixed by the property owner himself. The power to equalize assessments has heretofore been conferred upon the boards of supervisors, but experience further demonstrates that there are as many different standards of values in the state as there are separate boards of supervisors. The uniform rate of state tax must be applied to the unequal and varying valuations over the many counties of our commonwealth. Valuations of the same class of property has varied in adjoining counties without any real or substantial reason for the difference. It follows that heretofore one county has been contributing to the state more revenue than many other counties with the same amount of taxable property. The burden has been unequally distributed. This is the known mischief which chapter 98, Laws 1916, has undertaken to remedy. This law was intended to be a step forward toward the ideal system contemplated by our organic law. Its purpose is to accomplish the very uniformity and equality demanded by the Constitution. . . . (113 Miss. at 587, 588, 74 So. at 429)

The act itself provides no new standard of assessments. The object of the new law is to assess all property at its true value to the end that all taxable property shall bear its just proportion of the burdens. The general constitutional scheme is binding on assessors, boards of supervisors, and the courts. It is equally binding upon the state tax commission. . . . (113 Miss. at 589, 74 So. at 429, 430)

The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grounds of the demurrer challenge the constitutionality of the statute upon the ground that a compliance by the board of supervisors with the order of the state tax commissioners would deprive the individual taxpayer affected by the order of his property without due process of law in this, that the act under review does not provide for notice to be given the taxpayer of the proposed increase, does not afford an opportunity to be heard, and that it does not afford redress against an excessive or unconstitutional valuation. . . . (113 Miss. at 590, 74 So. at 430)

There is another construction, however, to be placed upon the language of the act, and according to this construction the rights of the individual taxpayer would be noticed and safe-guarded. Section 6 does provide that the meeting of the board of supervisors is to be held upon notice; this notice is a general notice by publication and for the...

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