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Giddings v. SRT-Mountain Vista, LLC

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

February 4, 2019

TANYA GIDDINGS, Bernalillo County Assessor, Petitioner-Petitioner,
v.
SRT-MOUNTAIN VISTA, LLC, ROBERT FOX, and LINDA FOX, Respondents-Respondents.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Carl J. Butkus, District Judge

          Robles, Rael & Anaya, P.C. Charles H. Rennick Marcus J. Rael, Jr. Albuquerque, NM for Petitioner

          Sutin, Thayer & Browne, P.C. Frank C. Salazar Larry Curtis Vernon Albuquerque, NM for Respondent SRT-Mountain Vista, LLC

          Vance, Chavez & Associates, LLC Claud Eugene Vance Albuquerque, NM for Respondents Linda Fox and Robert Fox

          OPINION

          JULIE J. VARGAS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} On motion of the Bernalillo County Assessor (Assessor), the district court certified this appeal to resolve three issues arising from two consolidated district court cases. First, we conclude the district court has appellate jurisdiction to review decisions of the Bernalillo County Valuation Protests Board (Board) based upon the Assessor's petitions for writs of certiorari. Second, we determine the Assessor to be an aggrieved party, entitling her to review of the Board's decision under Rule 1- 075(B) NMRA. Third, we hold that residential property transfers between individuals or their trusts, and their wholly-owned limited liability companies constitute a "change of ownership" as defined by NMSA 1978, Section 7-36-21.2(E) (2010).

         I. BACKGROUND

         {¶2} The consolidated district court cases from which the Assessor appeals arose from separate and unrelated decisions by the Board regarding the properties of two taxpayers. As such, we set forth the relevant factual and procedural backgrounds of each case leading up to consolidation in the district court.

         A. The SRT-Mountain Vista, LLC Proceeding

         {¶3} SRT-Mountain Vista, LLC (SRT) is a New Mexico limited liability company wholly owned by The Philip J. Salley Revocable Trust (Trust) and managed by Philip J. Sal ley. Prior to April 24, 2013, the SRT subject property was owned by the Trust. On that date, Sal ley, as trustee of the Trust, executed a special warranty deed granting the subject property to SRT for purposes of refinancing the property.

         {¶4} Following the transfer from the Trust to SRT, the Assessor valued the subject property at its "current and correct" taxable value for the 2014 tax year, without applying any limitations on increased value provided for in Section 7-36-21.2(A). SRT protested the Assessor's valuation to the Board, arguing there was no "change of ownership" as defined in Section 7-36-21.2(E), and that the subject property therefore qualified for the limitation on property value accorded by Section 7-36-21.2(A). The Board found "[t]he 2013 warranty deed clearly and indisputably transferred fee ownership from the Trust to the LLC[, ]" but that the transfer did not constitute a "change [of] ownership" for purposes of Section 7-36-21.2(E) because "the property had the same ultimate owner owning the property."

         B. The Robert and Linda Fox Proceeding

         {¶5} Robert and Linda Fox created Fox Trust, a revocable inter vivos trust, to serve as the sole owner of various LLCs. Prior to 2013, these LLCs owned the Fox subject properties. On January 23, 2013, and February 5, 2013, the LLCs granted the subject properties to Richard and Linda Fox as joint tenants for purposes of refinancing. After refinancing the properties, Robert and Linda Fox granted the properties back to the various LLCs that previously owned them.

         {¶6} Following these conveyances, the Assessor valued the subject properties at their "current and correct" taxable values for the 2014 tax year, without regard to the valuation limitation set forth in Section 7-36-21.2(A). Robert and Linda Fox protested the Assessor's valuation to the Board, arguing that notwithstanding the transfers, there was no "change of ownership" under Section 7-36-21.2(E). The Board found "[t]he 2013 warranty deeds clearly and indisputably transferred fee ownership from the LLCs to [Robert and Linda Fox] and back to the LLCs/Trusts[, ]" but that the transfers did not constitute "changes of ownership" within the meaning of Section 7-36-21.2(E) "because in each case the property had the same ultimate owners owning the same proportion of each property."

         C. The District Court Proceedings

         {¶7} After the Board issued its decisions in both cases, the Assessor filed petitions for writs of certiorari in the district court, seeking reversal of the Board's decisions on the grounds that they were arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with ...


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