Villines Iii et al v Harris

Decision Date10 February 2000
Docket Number99-297
Citation11 S.W.3d 516
PartiesFloyd VILLINES, III, Pulaski County Judge; B.A. McIntosh, Pulaski County Assessor; and Pulaski County Board of Equalization v. Nora HARRIS 99-297 ___ S.W.3d ___ Opinion delivered
CourtArkansas Supreme Court
Floyd VILLINES, III, Pulaski County Judge; B.A. McIntosh, Pulaski County Assessor; and Pulaski County Board of Equalization

v.

Nora HARRIS

99-297 ___ S.W.3d ___

Opinion delivered February 10, 2000

Supreme Court of Arkansas

Appeal from Pulaski Circuit Court; John S. Patterson, Special Circuit Judge on Assignment; reversed.

1. Taxation -- illegal exaction -- chancery court has jurisdiction to grant injunction against. -- Pursuant to Ark. Const. art. 7, § 15, and Ark. Code Ann. section 16-113-306 (1987), chancery courts have jurisdiction to grant injunctions against illegal or unauthorized taxes or assessments.

2. Appeal & error -- interlocutory appeal -- general rule. -- As a general rule, an appeal from an interlocutory decision brings up for review only the decision from which the appeal was taken; conversely, an appellate court will not review another interlocutory decision from which no appeal was taken; when a trial court permits an interlocutory appeal on one issue, when other issues remain to be decided, the issues raised in the appeal must be reasonably related to the order appealed from; the interlocutory appeal may not be used as a vehicle to bring up for review matters that are still pending before the trial court.

3. Appeal & error -- interlocutory appeal -- significant issue is insufficient jurisdictional basis. -- The mere fact that a significant issue is involved, standing alone, is an insufficient basis for this court to accept jurisdiction of an interlocutory appeal.

4. Appeal & error -- interlocutory appeal -- appellate court will not delve into merits of case based on preliminary injunction. -- When an appeal reaches a court through an order granting a preliminary injunction, the appellate court will not delve into the merits of the case further than is necessary to determine whether the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting the injunction; the sole question before the appellate court is whether the trial court departed from the rules and principles of equity in making the order, and not whether the appellate court would have made the order.

5. Appeal & error -- appellate jurisdiction -- supreme court's duty to raise issue. -- When the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction is essential to an action, the trial court's ruling that it has proper jurisdiction does not render that order appealable, even if that ruling is erroneous; in such a case, the supreme court retains the independent duty to raise the issue of its own jurisdiction because a final order is a jurisdictional requisite for the court to act.

6. Appeal & error -- appellate jurisdiction -- appeals from injunctions. --Despite the lack of a final order, the supreme court may exercise its appellate jurisdiction over an interlocutory order by which an injunction is granted, pursuant to Ark. R. App. P.--Civ. 2(a)(6); the rule providing for appeals from injunctions is an exception to the general rule that appeals may be taken only from a final judgment or decree. See Ark. R. App. P.--Civ 2(a)(1).

7. Appeal & error -- appellate jurisdiction -- limited review. -- The supreme court has a distinct basis and specific authority to hear an appeal from an injunction, and the extent of its review is dependent on the decision appealed from; the appellate court cannot precipitately prevent error on remand by preempting the trial court's action; the supreme court has long held that its role, for better or worse, is to decline to issue advisory opinions; the court is limited to a review of the record.

8. Courts -- circuit court wholly without authority to issue injunction --portion of order enjoining appellants from collecting tax reversed. -- The supreme court concluded that the circuit court was wholly without authority to issue an injunction; the creation of chancery courts left no vestige of equity jurisdiction in the circuit courts; injunctions are historically equitable and fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of chancery court; thus, the supreme court reversed that portion of the circuit court's order enjoining appellants from collecting any tax based on a county-wide reappraisal.

Pulaski County Attorney's Office, by: Karla M. Burnett, Amanda Mankin, and Keith Chrestman, for appellants.

Dover & Dixon, P.A., by: Thomas S. Stone and Michael R. Johns, for appellee.

W.H. "Dub" Arnold, Chief Justice.

This case presents an appeal from an interlocutory order of the Pulaski County Circuit Court granting appellee, Nora Harris, injunctive relief from appellants' assessment and collection of any real property tax as a result of or based upon the 1996 reappraisal of the real property located within Pulaski County, Arkansas. Significantly, the Court of Appeals certified the case to this court as an issue of substantial public interest, solely to determine whether the circuit court erred by enjoining appellants' continued tax assessment and collection. Accordingly, our jurisdiction is authorized pursuant to Ark. Sup. Ct. Rule 1-2(d) (1999), and Ark. R. App. P.--Civ. 2(a)(6) (1999).

Notably, the parties urge us to consider related, substantive issues, including (1) whether the circuit court erred in finding that it has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action, and (2) whether Harris stated an illegal-exaction claim. However, we decline to reach issues not properly before us on appeal. Moreover, we reiterate that our appellate jurisdiction in this matter is confined to a review of the circuit court's interlocutory order granting an injunction. See Ark. R. App. P.--Civ. 2(a)(6) (1999). In fact, the trial court stated that certain issues remain unresolved in this proceeding, including damages and class certification. Given that the issue before this court is whether the circuit court possessed the jurisdiction to grant an injunction, we hold that the circuit court erred and we reverse.

Background

Pursuant to its obligation to equalize real-property values in the county, the Pulaski County Board of Equalization held a special meeting in 1994 and approved a contract with an outside appraisal firm. The contract was executed by the county judge, the appraisals were performed, and reappraised values were placed on the tax rolls in 1996. Nora Harris, a property owner and taxpayer, appealed her reassessment to the Board of Equalization.

Subsequently, on August 14, 1996, Harris filed a complaint in the Pulaski County Court alleging that Pulaski County Judge Floyd Villines, III, and other county officials violated Arkansas statutory requirements and Pulaski County property owners' federal due-process rights via the county-wide, real-property assessment. As a result, she sought a declaratory judgment and an injunction to prevent appellees from collecting any new taxes based upon the reappraised values. After hearing arguments, Special County Judge Russ Hunt concluded that the county court lacked the power to grant an injunction pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. section 14-14-1002(a), which permits the issuance of an injunction only in the absence of a chancellor from the county. However, he granted summary judgment in favor of Harris and found that appellants violated her due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment because they failed to follow the proper Arkansas statute. Importantly, appellants failed to appeal the county court's March 21, 1997, order. Further, appellants continued to collect taxes based upon the reappraisal.1

On April 1, 1997, Harris filed a new action in the Pulaski County Chancery Court and sought an injunction prohibiting the county from issuing tax statements and collecting taxes based on the reappraisals. Pursuant to Ark. Const. art. 7, § 15, and Ark. Code Ann. section 16-113-306, chancery courts have jurisdiction to grant injunctions against illegal or unauthorized taxes or assessments. Priest v. Polk, 322 Ark 673, 912 S.W.2d 902 (1995); Pockrus v. Bella Vista Village Property Owners Assn., 316 Ark. 468, 872 S.W.2d 416 (1994). Although the Pulaski County Chancery Court apparently had subject-matter jurisdiction over Harris's claim, the parties transferred the action to circuit court.

At the Pulaski County Circuit Court, Harris again sought injunctive relief. She alleged that appellants' continued tax collection constituted an illegal exaction and violated Pulaski County property owners' constitutional rights. She also sought money damages. In response, appellants filed a motion to dismiss and argued that the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Harris's claim. After reviewing the pleadings and counsels' arguments, Special Circuit Judge John S. Patterson found that the circuit court had jurisdiction over Harris's claim, which it deemed an illegal-exaction claim. Moreover, the circuit court concluded that it had the authority to issue an injunction in light of the county court's final and unappealed order and appellants' subsequent conduct. Reserving the issues of damages and class certification, the circuit court entered an interlocutory order on December 28, 1998, enjoining appellants' assessment and collection of taxes based upon the 1996 reappraisal. From that order, comes the instant interlocutory appeal.

I. Interlocutory appeal

First, we consider the scope of the instant appeal. As a general rule, an appeal from an interlocutory decision brings up for review only the decision from which the appeal was taken, here, the granting of an injunction. See generally, 5 C.J.S. Appeal and Error § 738 (1993 & Supp. 1999). Conversely, an appellate court will not review another interlocutory decision from which no appeal was taken. Id. For example, where an appeal was certified toconsider an interlocutory appeal from the dismissal of a counterclaim and third-party complaint, the court of appeals concluded that the defendant could not bring up for review unrelated issues pertaining to the primary suit that was still pending in the trial court. See Coleman's Service Center, Inc. v. Southern...

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