The last thing a taxpayer wants to happen in their fight against a government agency over a property tax assessment is another taxing authority stepping in to interfere. Unfortunately, this can and does occur, complicating the challenge and requiring the taxpayer to incur addition costs in defending one or more additional claims. Fortunately, taxpayers have recourse when they feel the intervention of a taxing authority in their case is unwarranted. Recently, the Santa Rosa Dunes Owners Association did just that when it argued the School District of Escambia was not allowed to bring its claim because the claim violated the longstanding rule that public officials may not challenge the constitutionality of the legislative enactments.
The School District of Escambia presented the argument that the public official standing doctrine was applicable in only very specific circumstances. Specifically, the School District felt the public official standing doctrine prevented public officials from challenging the constitutionality of the statutes the public officials were “charged with administering.” However, the Court disagreed with the School District’s interpretation of the public official standing doctrine. The public official standing doctrine was intended to prevent separate branches of government from acting outside the scope of their authority. In short, it is the legislature’s job to create laws and the executive branch’s job to enforce them. When one challenges the other in judicial court, it brings all three branches into conflict and undermines the system. The Court supported the assertion that the public official standing doctrine allowed for the broad prohibition of ministerial officers from challenging legislative enactments.
In addition, the Court went one step further in finding that even if the School District was correct it it’s position that the public official standing doctrine should be limited to prevent public officials from challenging the very statutes they are charged with administering, the School District would still not be able to intervene in the case. The reasoning for this was because the School District was, in fact, affected by the statute being challenged. Therefore, even if the School District’s argument was correct, they still failed to win the case based on it. Lastly, the School District claimed to apply for a narrow exemption to the public official standing doctrine and the Court disagreed. As a result, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Santa Rosa Dunes Owners Association and denied the School District of Escambia’s request to intervene in the case.
If a government agency is attempting to encroach upon your ad valorem property tax challenge by inserting itself into the case, there are options available if you act quickly. A competent state and local tax attorney can navigate the process of challenging the intervention of the foreign party as well as the process of defending yourself or your business against an unlawful ad valorem property tax assessment. Government agencies can, and often are, wrong in their interpretations of not only tax laws but also the very laws that govern their agency. If left unchecked, these agencies will move forward encroaching upon taxpayer rights. The result could be a devastating assessment and/or the loss of your case due the improper inclusion of an extraneous party. If you believe you are a victim of a government agency improperly imposing ad valorem property taxes or improperly intervening on your challenge to ad valorem property taxes, call today for a free consultation on your case.
Jeanette Moffa is an attorney who concentrates on state and local taxes at Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, P.A. She is an executive council member of the American Bar Association Tax Section State and Local Tax Committee and the Florida Bar Tax Section. Ms. Moffa is an author of both the CCH’s Expert Treatise Library: Sales and Use Tax as well the ABA’s Sales and Use Tax Deskbook. In addition, her regular columns on state and local tax issues can be found in State Tax Notes and Actionline, a publication from the Florida Bar’s Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section. She also serves as assistant editor to the Sales and Use Tax Deskbook and Actionline. Ms. Moffa is a regular speaker at the American Bar Association Tax Section conferences, the Institute of Professionals in Taxation, the Florida Bar Tax Section, the Florida Bar Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section, and the FICPA. In her free time, she teaches as an adjunct professor at Broward College.