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Fulton County Bd. of Tax Assessors v. Toro Props. VI, LLC

Court of Appeals of Georgia

September 8, 2014

FULTON COUNTY BOARD OF TAX ASSESSORS
v.
TORO PROPERTIES VI, LLC (two cases)

Cert. applied for.

Taxation. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Lee.

R. David Ware, W. Shannon Sams, Pat D. Dixon, Jr., for appellant.

John F. Woodham, Martenson, Hasbrouck & Simon, Robert D. Feagin III, for appellee.

Boggs and Branch, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Barnes, Presiding Judge.

In these companion cases, the Fulton County Board of Tax Assessors (the " Board" ) appeals from the superior court's grant of attorney fees to Toro Properties VI, LLC (" Toro" ) after Toro's successful ad valorem tax appeals challenging the Board's valuation of two parcels of commercial real property. The Board asserts that the superior court lacked jurisdiction to award litigation costs and attorney fees and, further, that the trial court's award runs contrary to the public policy of Georgia. We disagree and affirm.

The facts of this case are undisputed. Toro is the owner of two adjacent parcels of

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commercial real property located in Fulton County and which contain a large, multi-unit apartment complex. For tax year 2011, the Fulton County Board of Equalization (" FCBOE" ) determined the respective fair market values of the parcels to be $1,913,500 (" Parcel 1" ) and $5,504,000 (" Parcel 2" ). Pursuant to the procedures set forth in OCGA § 48-5-311 (g),[1] Toro appealed each of the FCBOE's valuations to the superior court.[2] Toro then moved for summary judgment and asserted that, contrary to the finding of the FCBOE, the actual fair market value of Parcel 1 was $1,083,600 and the actual fair market value of Parcel 2 was $3,116,400. The Board did not oppose the motions and, consequently, the superior court entered two orders on November 20, 2012, both entitled " Final Order and Judgment Setting Value" (the " Valuation Orders" ), in which it set the values accordingly.

Subsequently, on May 6, 2013, Toro filed motions pursuant to OCGA § 48-5-311 (g) (4) (B) (ii) contending that, because the actual fair market value of each parcel was determined by the superior court to be 80 percent or less of the valuation set by the FCBOE, Toro was entitled to recover its litigation costs and attorney fees in both appeals. The Board opposed the motions, but did not challenge the Valuation Orders. Instead, the Board argued, in part, that the superior court lacked jurisdiction to grant the motions after the expiration of the term of court in which the Valuation Orders were issued and that any such award would be contrary to Georgia's public [329 Ga.App. 27] policy. Following a hearing, the superior court rejected the Board's argument and awarded Toro its litigation costs and attorney fees (the " Fee Awards" ). In each of the Fee Awards, the superior court expressly provided that " [t]here being no further issue pending before the Court in this case, in accordance with OCGA § 9-11-54 (b), the Court certifies this is the Final Order and Judgment terminating this case and the Clerk shall therefore close the file." This appeal follows.

The Board argues that the Valuation Orders constituted final judgments that terminated the actions as to the parties and their claims, and that the later-issued Fee Awards amounted to an unauthorized attempt by the superior court to modify the final judgments outside the term of court in which they were rendered. Because the trial court did not expressly reserve the right to do so in the Valuation Orders, the Board contends that the Fee Awards " frustrate[ ] the interest of judicial economy and [are] contrary to public policy." We disagree.

The very premise of the Board's argument -- that the Valuation Orders terminated the proceedings in the superior court -- is misguided. Pursuant to OCGA § 48-5-311 (g) (4) (B) (ii), upon appeal to the superior court of a valuation of commercial property set by the FCBOE, " [i]f the final determination of value ... is 80 percent or less of the valuation set by the [FCBOE] ..., the taxpayer, in addition to the interest provided for by this paragraph, shall recover costs of litigation and reasonable attorney's fees incurred in the action." Thus, by its express terms, the statute mandates the issuance of an award following the superior court's final determination as to value if that value triggers the statutory threshold. See Fulton County Bd. of Tax Assessors v. LM Atlanta Airport, LLC, 313 Ga.App. 439, 441 (721 S.E.2d 640) (2011) (recognizing that an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs under OCGA § 48-5-311 (g) (4) (B) (ii) is required if the statutory conditions are met); SPH Glynn, LLC v. Glynn County Bd. of Tax Assessors, 326 Ga.App. 196, 201 (2) (756 ...


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