WMH Prop. Owner v. Cnty. of Hennepin, 27-CV-20-6274

CourtTax Court of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtBradford S. Delapena, Judge
PartiesWMH Property Owner LLC, Petitioner, v. County of Hennepin, Respondent.
Decision Date09 September 2021
Docket Number27-CV-20-6274,27-CV-21-4306

WMH Property Owner LLC, Petitioner,
v.

County of Hennepin, Respondent.

Nos. 27-CV-20-6274, 27-CV-21-4306

Tax Court of Minnesota, Regular Division, Hennepin County

September 9, 2021


This matter came before the Honorable Bradford S. Delapena, Judge of the Minnesota Tax Court, on petitioner's motion for leave to amend its property tax petition.

Gary C. Eidson and Colin M. Bruns, Fabyanske, Westra, Hart & Thomson, P.A., represent petitioner WMH Property Owner LLC ("WMH").

Shannon M. Harmon, Assistant County Attorney, represents respondent Hennepin County.

ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO AMEND AND CONSOLIDATING ACTIONS

WMH moves for leave to amend its property tax petition, which misidentified the subject property. The County objects that because WMH seeks to amend after the statutory deadline for filing new actions, the proposed amendment amounts to the filing of a new and untimely petition. The County thus argues that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the amended petition.

The court, upon all the files, records, and proceedings herein, now makes the following:

ORDER

1. Petitioner's motion for leave to amend its petition is denied as moot.

2. The case is consolidated with File No. 27-CV-21-4306.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

MEMORANDUM

Bradford S. Delapena, Judge

I. Background

Petitioner WMH filed a property tax petition on April 27, 2020, challenging the 2019 assessment for property taxes payable in 2020 for a property located in Hennepin County.[1] WMH avers that it attached the incorrect property tax statement to its petition, and thus misidentified the subject property.[2] Although WMH intended to attach a statement for 523 8th Street South, Minneapolis (the "Minneapolis Property"), it instead attached one for 7901 34th Avenue South, Bloomington (the "Bloomington Property").[3]

WMH learned of its error on June 9, 2020, when the Hennepin County Attorney's Office informed counsel for WMH that there appeared to be a double filing for the Bloomington Property.[4] Recognizing its mistake, WMH sent the County a property tax statement for the Minneapolis Property and sought the County's consent to amend its petition.[5] Receiving no response, WMH filed an amended petition on June 29, 2020 (unaccompanied by a motion for leave to amend).[6] The County immediately wrote to counsel for WMH on July 2, 2020, stating its concern that the amendment was untimely, amounted to the filing of a new and untimely petition, and therefore presented a jurisdictional issue.[7]

These events occurred within the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the same period, the Minnesota legislature passed several laws extending statutory filing deadlines in response to the pandemic. The parties differ in their interpretations of whether those laws extended the relevant statutory filing deadlines for property tax petitions.

Although WMH learned that it had misidentified the subject property in June 2020 (when it filed the amended petition), it did not file a motion for leave to amend in this court until April 13, 2021, approximately nine months later.[8] The court takes judicial notice that, only one day earlier, on April 12, 2021, WMH commenced a new district court action concerning pay-2020 taxes for the Minneapolis Property and pleading the same claims (overvaluation and unequal assessment) that are at issue in the present proceeding.[9] The County did not oppose WMH's motion to amend its original petition, other than to reiterate the jurisdictional concerns it had expressed to WMH nine months earlier.[10]

We heard WMH's motion to amend on May 19, 2021, then requested supplemental briefing on whether the instant matter is properly considered a tax court or a district court proceeding for purposes of determining the applicable statutory filing deadline.[11] The parties submitted their supplemental briefs on June 9, 2021.[12]

II. Governing Law

A. Section 278 Proceedings

Minnesota Statutes chapter 278 allows taxpayers to challenge a property tax assessments. Minn. Stat. ch. 278 (2020). For petitions asserting grounds enumerated in the statute, such as unequal assessment or overvaluation, the statute provides the "exclusive means" for bringing such a challenge. Programmed Land, Inc. v. O'Connor, 633 N.W.2d 517, 523 (Minn. 2001). Nevertheless, the statute gives the taxpayer an election as to forum: The taxpayer may "have the validity of the claim, defense, or objection determined [1] by the district court of the county in which the tax is levied or [2] by the Tax Court." Minn. Stat. § 278.01, subd. 1(a); see also Walmart Inc. v. Winona Cnty., Nos. A19-1877 & A19-1878, ___ N.W. 2D ___, ___, 2021 WL 3641445, at *8 (Minn. Aug. 18, 2021) ("Although the statute permits taxpayers to bring their claims in tax court, it also provides taxpayers with the option of proceeding in district court.").

Regardless of the forum chosen, a chapter 278 petition must be filed on or before April 30 of the year in which the tax becomes payable. Minn. Stat. § 278.01, subd. 1(c). Failure to timely file and serve a petition deprives the tax court of jurisdiction to hear the matter. Kmart Corp. v. Cnty. of Clay, 711 N.W.2d 485, 488-90 (Minn. 2006); see also Odunlade v. City of Minneapolis, 823 N.W.2d 638, 646 (Minn. 2012) (noting that "[c]hapter 278 petitions have a strict time limit").

Additionally, chapter 278 requires that a property tax petition "shall clearly identify … the land involved, the assessment date, and shall set forth in concise language the claim … asserted." Minn. Stat. § 278.02.

B. Motions to Amend

The Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure "govern the procedures in the Tax Court, where practicable." Minn. Stat. § 271.06, subd. 7 (2020). Generally, the amendment of pleadings in tax court is governed by Rule 15, see, e.g., Marlow Timberland, LLC v. Cnty. of Lake, 800 N.W.2d 637, 639-40 (Minn. 2011), which provides that leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Minn. R. Civ. P. 15.01. Due to the jurisdictional nature of the time limitation for filing a chapter 278 petition, however, this court has held that it does not have jurisdiction to hear amended claims that seek to add new or different parcels of property to the original petition when those amendments are made after the statutory filing deadline. Jim Bern Co. v. Cnty. of Ramsey, No. 62-CV-17-2723, 2018 WL 911206, at *5 (Minn. T.C. Jan. 9, 2018) ("We conclude, therefore, that this court cannot acquire jurisdiction over new claims by means of an amendment after the statutory filing deadline."); see also CW Capital Asset Mgmt.—Northtown Ctr. v. Cnty. of Anoka, No. 02-CV-19-2185, 2021 WL 358643, at *7 (Minn. T.C. Jan. 29, 2021) (noting that claims "asserted for the first time after the expiration of the petition deadline in section 278.01, subdivision 1(c) are permanently time-barred, and the relation back principle applicable to amendments in Rule 15.03 does not apply to time-barred claims").[13]

C. Extension of Filing Deadlines Due to COVID-19

The Minnesota legislature and governor responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by passing several laws that extended deadlines for district court and tax court proceedings. The governor declared a peacetime emergency on March 13, 2020.[14] Approximately two weeks later, on March 28, 2020, the legislature extended the annual April 30 filing deadline for chapter 278 petitions by enacting Session Law 71:

Notwithstanding Minnesota Statutes, section 278.01 subdivision 1, paragraph (c), or any other law to the contrary, for property taxes payable in 2020 only, a petitioner filing a real or personal property tax petition under Minnesota Statutes, section 278.01, shall have until May 30, 2020, to file copies of the petition, with proof of service, in the office of the court administrator of the district court

Act of Mar. 28, 2020, ch. 71, art. 2, § 18, 2020 Minn. Laws 17, 38 ("Session Law 71").

A few weeks later, on April 15, 2020, the legislature enacted Session Law 74, which extended certain statutory deadlines as follows:

(a) The running of deadlines imposed by statutes governing proceedings in the district and appellate courts, including any statutes of limitations or other time periods prescribed by statute, is suspended during the peacetime emergency declared on March 13, 2020, in governor's Executive Order 20-01 and any extensions authorized under Minnesota Statutes section 12.31, subdivision 2, and for 60 days after the end of the peacetime emergency declaration[.]
(b) This section expires 60 days after the end of the peacetime emergency declaration described in paragraph (a) or February 15, 2021, whichever is earlier

Act of Apr. 15, 2020, ch. 74, art. 1, § 16, 2020 Minn. Laws 55, 66 ("Session Law 74"). Finally, early in 2021, the legislature further extended the February 15, 2021 deadline:

Deadlines imposed by statutes governing proceedings in the district and appellate courts, including any statutes of limitations or other time periods prescribed by statute, shall not expire from the beginning of the peacetime emergency declared on March 13, 2020, in governor's Executive Order 20-01 through April 15, 2021.

Act of Feb. 12, 2021, ch. 3, § 1 ("Session Law 3").

III. Analysis

The County objects that "it is unclear whether this Court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal regarding the Amended Petition which purports to add a property not identified in the Petition after the statutory [filing] deadline." [15] The County would not be prejudiced by the amendment and, indeed, has stated that "if the [filing] deadline was extended to April 15, 2021, it is true that the County does not object to the amendment." [16]

The parties agree that a chapter 278 petition must clearly identify the land at issue, see Minn. Stat. § 278.02, and that WMH failed to fulfill this requirement when it attached an...

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