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Johnson v. County of Hennepin

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 25, 2018

Ronald R. Johnson and Dee L. Johnson, Relators,
v.
County of Hennepin, Respondent.

         Tax Court Office of Appellate Courts

          Ronald R. Johnson, Dee L. Johnson, Excelsior, Minnesota, pro se.

          Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jane N.B. Holzer, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         Because the tax court did not err in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the taxpayers' motion and the record supports the tax court's findings and conclusions, the decision of the tax court is affirmed.

         Affirmed.

         Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, Justice.

         This case considers whether the tax court lacked jurisdiction to consider a motion filed in a case arising from a tax petition that was automatically dismissed by operation of law. In 2015, Ronald and Dee Johnson ("Johnsons") filed a petition in tax court challenging Hennepin County's ("County") assessment of their 2015 property taxes ("2015 petition"). Over 1 year later, the County notified the tax court that the Johnsons' 2015 petition had been automatically dismissed by operation of law because the Johnsons had not paid a portion of their 2015 property taxes by the date required by law. The Johnsons then sought to bring a motion before the tax court regarding their 2015 petition. The tax court declined to consider the Johnsons' motion, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to do so because the Johnsons' petition had been automatically dismissed by statute and had not been reinstated. Because we conclude that the tax court did not err, we affirm.

         FACTS

         On December 4, 2015, the Johnsons filed a petition with the tax court challenging the County's assessment of their real property taxes for the 2015 tax year, payable in 2016. See Minn. Stat. § 278.01, subd. 1(a) (2016) (allowing property owners to file a petition in tax court asserting that a county "partially, unfairly, or unequally assessed [the taxpayer's property] in comparison with other property"). Under section 278.01, subdivision 1(a), [1] the Johnsons' petition challenged the County's January 2, 2015 assessment of $6, 856.34. The assessment included ad valorem taxes and special assessments for 2015. In their petition, the Johnsons alleged that the County's assessment (1) estimated a market value that was greater than the property's actual market value; (2) unequally assessed their property when compared with other property; (3) incorrectly classified their property; and (4) was based, in part, on property exempt from taxation.

         Over 1 year after the Johnsons filed their petition, on December 8, 2016, the County notified the tax court that the 2015 petition had been automatically dismissed under Minnesota Statutes section 278.03 (2016). Section 278.03, subdivision 1, requires a property owner to pay the assessed taxes while a petition is pending, regardless of the pending and outstanding legal challenge to the assessment. Absent a court order "permitting the petitioner to continue prosecution of the petition without payment," if a property owner fails to pay "the amount required when due," then the petition "and all proceedings thereunder" are "automatically" dismissed. Minn. Stat. § 278.03, subd. 1.

         The County maintains that the Johnsons' petition was dismissed by operation of law because the Johnsons failed to pay their second-half tax payment. Section 278.03, subdivision 1, sets forth a timeline for two tax payments that must be paid by a property owner while a petition is pending in court. First, after a property owner files a petition, the property owner has until the following May 16 to pay 50 percent of the tax levied for the assessed year. Minn. Stat. § 278.03, subd. 1. Here, the parties do not dispute that the Johnsons timely paid this first required payment, $3, 428.17.

         Second, if the petition proceedings have not yet been completed by the following October 16, the property owner must pay a second-half payment for the tax levied-a portion of the "unpaid balance" of the tax levied (50 percent or 80 percent, depending on the amount of the unpaid balance). Id. Here, based on an affidavit of a Real Estate and Tax Specialist for Hennepin County, the tax court found that the Johnsons "did not make the required second-half payment" or any second payment by October 16, 2016. Johnson v. County of Hennepin, No. 27-CV-15-20952, 2017 WL 6813395, at *1 (Minn. T.C. Nov. 28, 2017). In fact, the record shows that after May 2016, ...


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