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Ballard v. Newton County Bd. of Tax Assessors

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 16, 2015

BALLARD et al.
v.
NEWTON COUNTY BOARD OF TAX ASSESSORS

Taxation. Newton Superior Court. Before Judge Wynne.

Eugene D. Butt, for appellants.

W. Thomas Craig, Andrea P. Gray, for appellee.

BOGGS, Judge. Phipps, C. J. and Doyle, P. J., concur.

OPINION

Page 781

Boggs, Judge.

This appeal presents an issue of first impression: whether a tax sale qualifies as an " arm's length, bona fide sale" under OCGA § 48-5-2. The trial court concluded that it does not so qualify. We agree with the trial court and therefore affirm.

" The interpretation of a statute is a question of law. As such, we do not defer to the trial court's ruling, and we apply the 'plain legal error' standard of review." (Citations, punctuation and footnote omitted.) Clayton County Bd. of Tax Assessors v. City of Atlanta, 299 Ga.App. 233, 234 (682 S.E.2d 328) (2009). The record reveals that during various months in 2012, W.D. Ballard and Nancy Mock purchased 22 parcels of real property in Newton County at tax sales (" the property" ). In April 2013, the county tax assessors' office sent Ballard and Mock assessments of the 2013 tax value of the property as outlined in its " Appraisal Procedure Manual." The assessors did not set the 2013 value at the 2012 tax sale purchase price. Ballard and Mock appealed the property tax assessment, but the Board of Tax Assessors (" the Board" ) concluded that the value placed on the property represented " fair market value and uniformity."

[332 Ga.App. 522] Ballard and Mock appealed to the Newton County Board of Equalization (" the BOE" ), which agreed with the valuation as determined by the tax assessor. They then appealed to the superior court, claiming that " the one-year purchase price cap established by OCGA § 48-5-2 (3) should apply" to the assessed value of the property. Following the filing of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Board.

The court concluded that because the purchaser at a tax sale does not receive fee simple title to the property and does not enjoy the right of possession or the right to collect rents if the right of redemption exists, the property owner has the right to redeem the property and divest the purchaser of any rights, and the owner of the property sold at a tax sale is not a participant in the sale, there is no arm's length, bona fide sale under OCGA § 48-5-2 (.1). Therefore, the trial court reasoned, the tax sale does not qualify

Page 782

for the one-year purchase price freeze under OCGA § 48-5-2 (3). It is fro this order that Ballard and Mock appeal.

" In interpreting statutes, our rules of statutory construction provide that the ordinary signification of words shall apply, 'except words of art or words connected with a particular trade or subject matter.' OCGA § 1-3-1 (b)." Nat. City Mtg. Co. v. Tidwell, 293 Ga. 697, 698 (1) (749 S.E.2d 730) (2013). OCGA § 48-5-2 (3) provides in part: " Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter to the contrary, the transaction amount of the most recent arm's length, bona fide sale in any year shall be the maximum allowable fair market value for the next taxable year." (Emphasis supplied.) This amounts to a freeze on the ad valorem tax value of property for one year. See, e.g., Columbus Bd. of Tax Assessors v. Yeoman, 293 Ga. 107, 108 (1) (744 S.E.2d 18) (2013). For purposes of the Code Section,

" [a]rm's length, bona fide sale" means a transaction which has occurred in good faith without fraud or deceit carried out by unrelated or unaffiliated parties, as by a willing buyer and a willing seller, each acting in his or her own self-interest, including but not limited to a ...

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