WHITE HORSE PARTNERS LLLP et al.
MONROE COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSORS.
DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.
Dillard, Chief Judge.
property-tax appeal, White Horse Partners LLLP and Loblolly
Investments LLLP ("Appellants") challenge an
adverse decision from the Monroe County Board of Equalization
("the Board"). Prior to a jury trial in an appeal
of the Board's tax assessment of their property,
Appellants filed motions in limine as to the Board's
testimony and evidence on the value of standing timber, and
the trial court denied those motions. A jury then returned a
verdict upholding the Board's assessment of
Appellants' property. Appellants now argue that the trial
court erred in failing to exclude (1) the expert testimony
proffered by the Board regarding estimates of timber value
and (2) inadmissible hearsay testimony of out-of-court
appraisers. For the reasons set forth infra, we
record shows that Appellants own a 250-acre tract of
timberland in Monroe County, the use of which has, for
decades, been continuously devoted to the commercial
production of timber. In 2008, as part of a countywide
revaluation of rural properties, the Board increased the
property tax fair market value for Appellants' land from
the 2007 rate of $309, 175 to a new rate of $834, 900, which
was later reduced to $626, 200 after an appeal. Appellants
testified that their line-item expenses for property taxes
rose to $25.87 per acre, and they subsequently appealed the
value to the superior court.
the scale of the project and level of expertise required, the
Board's 2008 revaluation of rural properties was
conducted by a third-party appraisal firm. According to the
president of that firm, a mass appraisal of all agricultural
tracts in the County was conducted by extrapolating from
twenty-three comparable sales. Prior to using a comparable
sale in the study, the firm would attempt to remove the value
of standing timber from the sale price in order to reach the
"bare land value." Thus, on the spreadsheet
compiled by the firm president, the estimated value of
standing timber was the difference between the comparable
properties' sale price and their adjusted sale price.
to trial, Appellants filed motions in limine to exclude the
firm president's testimony and evidence as to estimates
of timber value on the basis that his estimates were too
speculative. And after hearing argument on the motions, the
trial court denied them. Then, at trial, the court also
permitted the Board to present, over objection, rebuttal
testimony on the value of timberland that was based upon a
report the court did not admit into evidence but
about which it permitted the Board's witness to testify.
Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict upholding the
Board's 2008 assessment of the Appellants' property,
and the trial court then denied Appellants' motion for
new trial. This appeal follows, in which the Appellants
challenge the trial court's denial of their motions in
limine and the admission of certain evidence.
general rule, admission of evidence is "a matter resting
within the sound discretion of the trial court, and appellate
courts will not disturb the exercise of that discretion
absent evidence of its abuse." With this guiding principle
in mind, we turn now to Appellants' enumerations of
First, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in failing
to exclude the estimates of timber value proffered by the
Board's expert when they were too speculative. More
specifically, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in
admitting the testimony of the firm president as an expert.
initial matter, we note that Appellants refer to and rely
upon OCGA § 24-9-67.1, a statute that was repealed by
the enactment of our new Evidence Code (which became
effective January 1, 2013, and which applies in this case
because it was tried after that date). Georgia's
expert-witness requirements are now codified in OCGA §
24-7-702. We take this opportunity, yet again, to remind our
trial courts and lawyers of the importance of relying upon
the new Evidence Code, as well as its accompanying case law,
in addressing evidentiary issues arising after the new
code's effective date.
To that end, OCGA § 24-7-702 (b) provides as follows:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will
assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert
by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may
testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if:
(1)The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data;
(2)The testimony is the product of reliable principles and
(3)The witness has applied the principles and methods
reliably to the facts of the case which have been or will be
admitted into ...