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DeKalb County Board of Tax Assessors v. Astor Atl, LLC.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

April 1, 2019

DEKALB COUNTY BOARD OF TAX ASSESSORS
v.
ASTOR ATL, LLC.

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          MARKLE, JUDGE

         The DeKalb County Board of Tax Assessors ("the Board") appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Astor Atl, LLC ("Astor") in this dispute over the fair market value of properties Astor purchased in foreclosure sales. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Fair v. C V Underground, LLC, 340 Ga.App. 790 (798 S.E.2d 358) (2017).

         The relevant facts are undisputed. In 2015, Astor purchased three DeKalb County properties in separate foreclosure sales. Astor paid $92, 000 for the first property, located on Hill Creek Cove; $86, 000 for the second property, located on Royal Springs Court; and $103, 566 for the third property, located on Smithfield Trail.

         In 2016, the Board assessed the property taxes for each property in excess of Astor's purchase price. Specifically, the Hill Creek Cove property was assessed at a fair market value of $112, 800; the Royal Springs Court property was assessed at a fair market value of $109, 900; and the Smithfield Trail property was assessed at a fair market value of $128, 400. Astor appealed the tax assessments to the DeKalb County Board of Equalization, which upheld each assessment. Astor then appealed to the superior court.

         Before the trial court, Astor moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had purchased the properties during an arm's length bona fide sale, and therefore the maximum allowable fair market value for 2016 tax assessment purposes was limited to the 2015 purchase price under OCGA § 48-5-2 (3). The Board opposed the motion, arguing that a foreclosure sale did not qualify under the statute as an arm's length, bona fide sale as defined in OCGA § 48-5-2 (.1), and that it had appraised the property in conformity with its rules using the sales comparison approach.

         The trial court granted Astor's summary judgment motion, finding that the foreclosure sales were arm's length bona fide sales. As such, the fair market values for the 2016 tax year were limited to the purchase prices Astor had paid.

         The Board now appeals, arguing that the purchases did not meet the requirements for an arm's length, bona fide sale under OCGA § 48-5-2 (.1) because the sellers were not willing participants and were not acting in their own self interests. As a result, Astor was not entitled to "freeze" the maximum allowable fair market values at their purchase prices under OCGA § 48-5-2 (3). We are not persuaded.

         By statute, each county is authorized to assess and levy taxes annually against property based on the fair market value of that property. OCGA §§ 48-5-6 and 48-5-220.

The intent and purpose of the tax laws of this state are to have all property and subjects of taxation returned at the value which would be realized from the cash sale, but not the forced sale, of the property and subjects as such property and subjects are usually sold except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(Emphasis supplied.) OCGA § 48-5-1.

         OCGA § 48-5-2 (3) provides a limitation on the maximum allowable fair market value. Under that provision, "[n]otwithstanding 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). "Arm's length, bona fide sale" is defined as

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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