Tyson v. Lanier, 32080

Decision Date05 June 1963
Docket NumberNo. 32080,32080
Citation156 So.2d 833
PartiesW P. TYSON et al., Petitioners, v. Wade H. LANIER, Jr., Osceola County Tax Assessor, et al., Respondents.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Murray W. Overstreet, Jr., and Russell S. Thacker, of Thacker & Thacker, Kissimmee, for appellees.

Paul & Sams, Miami, M. W. Wells, R. F. Maguire, Jr., of Maguire, Voorhis & Wells, Orlando, Doyle E. Carlton, of Mabry, Reaves, Carlton, Fields & Ward and Counts Johnson, Tampa, amici curiae.

TERRELL, Justice.

October 7, 1960, petitioners filed complaint in the Circuit Court of Osceola County, Ninth Judicial Circuit, alleging that their lands were not legally assessed for the year 1960 and praying that the court issue a mandatory injunction directed to respondents requiring them to reassess said lands as required by § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A. Certain taxpayers were permitted to intervene; there was an answer to the complaint in which the material allegations thereof were denied. At final hearing, after evidence taken, the chancellor found: (1) That the taxing authorities of Osceola County had disregarded and failed to comply with the provisions of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A.; (2) he enjoined the collection of complainants' taxes and required the refunding of monies paid into the registry of the court for taxes so paid. He ordered that complainants' lands be reassessed, taking into consideration § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A., and granted other relief.

Respondent appealed from this judgment to the District Court of Appeal, Second District, and petitioners cross-appealed. The district court of appeal reversed the chancellor in a 2-1 decision, Judge White dissenting. We are confronted with both an appeal and a petition for writ of certiorari from the decision of the district court of appeal.

Petitioners, who are also appellants, seek review by appeal on the theory that the district court of appeal initially passed upon the validity of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A., and further that it initially construed Section 1, Article IX, Florida Constitution, F.S.A, so as to vitiate the clear meaning of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A. Petitioners have also filed a petition for writ of certiorari in which they contend that this court has jurisdiction by virtue of the fact that the decision of the district court of appeal is in direct conflict with a decision of the Supreme Court on the same point of law and that said decision affects a class of constitutional officers, to wit, all county tax assessors.

Section 4(2), Article V. Florida Constitution, with limitations clothes this court with jurisdiction where the constitutionality of an act is brought in question. Does Section 4(2), Article V, Florida Constitution, vest us with jurisdiction of this cause? Respondents, who are appellees also, deny that any constitutional question is presented, despite the fact that a large portion of the opinion of the district court of appeal is directed to this point and in our discussion of the act as applied to the facts of this case, we have not aboided the constitutional aspect, as will be later shown.

Judge White pointed out in his dissent that the effect of the court's judgment of reversal is to strike down a legislative act that is essentially clear in its provisions and clearly within the enacting power of the legislature. The majority opinion of the district court of appeal said in effect that to adopt the interpretation of § 193.11(3) F.S.A., made by the circuit court, would render the statute of doubtful validity and probably unconstitutional as a violation of Section 1, Article IX, Florida Constitution, and the 'full cash value' requirements of § 193.11(1), F.S.A., as well as an erroneous interpretation of the legislative intent when it enacted § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes.

In discussing the statute [§ 193.11(3), Florida Statutes F.S.A.], the district court of appeal used the following language:

'In Florida, Article IX Section 1 [F.S.A.] of our Constitution requires a uniform and equal rate of taxation and further requires a just valuation of property. We will therefore attempt, with reference to these two requirements, to test the constitutionality of the construction given by the lower court to § 193.11(3).'

It is true that the effect of the opinion of the district court of appeal was to render the circuit court's interpretation of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A., of 'doubtful constitutionality.' Consequently, the district court gave said statute a different interpretation so as to render it valid. From this and other reasons later pointed out, it appears to us that the validity of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A., was not a mere abstract or shadowy issue but a real one before the district court of appeal. Evans v. Carroll, Fla.1958, 104 So.2d 375.

We do not overlook the fact that the district court of appeal rather than the circuit court passed initially on the validity of the statute. See In re Kionka's Estate, Fla.1960, 121 So.2d 644, particularly Justice O'Connell's specially concurring opinion where the question of who is the initial interpreter of an act or constitutional provision is thoroughly discussed.

In his final decree the chancellor found in terms that no constitutional question was involved. The district court of appeal found that the chancellor's interpretation of the act was of 'doubtful constitutionality' and in his dissenting opinion Judge White said that 'despite protests to the contrary, the majority interpretation of the act is composed squarely in constitutional perspective because there are constitutional aspects that cannot be avoided.' We do not discuss these views except to say that they leave the law in a state that needs clarifying. In the main we think the interpretation of the act by the chancellor was correct and the interpretation of the district court of appeal was wrong in part but account of the confused state in which they leave the law, tax assessors over the state would not know how to perform the duties imposed on them. It does seem that if there ever were a case which requires this court to assume jurisdiction and clarify the law, this is it.

As to jurisdiction by certiorari, in Zirin v. Charles Pfizer & Co., Fla.1961, 128 So.2d 594, we held that if this court has jurisdiction on any ground, it may dispose of the case on the merits. It may be that in view of the foregoing discussion jurisdiction on the conflict theory is difficult to determine, but on the theory that the decision affects a class of constitutional officers, that is to say, tax assessors, it is clear.

In State v. Robinson, Fla.1961, 132 So.2d 156, we had a case similar to this in that it involved a single justice of the peace. The taxing officers of Osceola County are parties to this suit but it involves indirectly all taxing officers throughout the state. Since tax assessors are constitutional officers and it affects their duties, jurisdiction on that ground could hardly be successfully challenged. Section 6, Article VIII, Florida Constitution.

So much for the point of jurisdiction. What has been said will certainly reveal the state of law on that point and the necessity for its clarification. Hence the reason son for this court to assume jurisdiction for the purpose of properly interpreting the act, § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A.

Petitioners and respondents have argued a number of questions to support their contentions but after all is said, we think there is only one question here and that is resolved by a correct interpretation of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A. Every question stated and discussed has to do with some aspect of the interpretation of said act. This opinion will accordingly be directed to the interpretation of § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A. As a basis for its interpretation, we use the first question propunded by petitioners which is as follows:

'The District Court of Appeal erred in holding that Section 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, is unconstitutional when construed as providing that, for purpose of valuation for tax assessment, agricultural lands are classified in a real property category separate and distinct from other types of real property.'

The title to Chapter 57-195, Acts of 1957, from which § 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A., is taken is as follows:

'An Act relating to the assessment for taxes of lands used for agricultural purposes; amending Section 193.11, Florida Statutes, by providing for assessment of such lands upon a valuation per acre as agricultural lands.'

Section 193.11(3), Florida Statutes, F.S.A., is as follows:

'All lands being used for agricultural purposes shall be assessed as agricultural lands upon an acreage basis, regardless of the fact that any or all of said lands are embraced in a plat of a subdivision or other real estate development. Provided, 'agricultural purposes' shall include only lands being used in a bona fide farming, pasture or grove operation by the lessee or owner, or some person in their employ. Provided shed nurseries, or nurseries under cover, shall not be termed agricultural and shall be excluded from this law. Lands which have not been used for agricultural purposes prior to the effective date of this law shall be prima facie subject to assessment on the same basis as assessed for the previous year, and any demand for a reassessment of such lands for agricultural purposes shall be subject to the severest scrutiny of the county tax assessor to the end that the lands shall be classified properly.'

Section 1, Article IX, Florida Constitution, provides:

'The Legislature shall provide for a uniform and equal rate of taxation, * * * and shall prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation of all property, both real and personal, excepting such property as may be exempted by law for municipal, education, literary, scientific, religious or...

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