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The Shoals Mill Development, Ltd. v. Shelby County Board of Equalization

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 12, 2017

The Shoals Mill Development, Ltd.
v.
Shelby County Board of Equalization

          Appeal from Shelby Circuit Court (CV-16-900499)

          THOMAS, Judge.

         On May 31, 2016, the Shelby County Board of Equalization ("the Board") issued its final ad valorem tax assessment ("the assessment") on real property owned by The Shoals Mill Development, Ltd. ("Shoals Mill"). Shoals Mill filed a notice of appeal from the assessment with the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") on June 22, 2016; Shoals Mill posted the required bond and requested that the Shelby Circuit Clerk ("the clerk") serve the notice of appeal on the secretary of the Board by certified mail. See Ala. Code 1975, § 40-3-25. The clerk sent the notice of appeal, addressed to the secretary of the Board, by certified mail on June 28, 2016. The secretary of the Board received the notice of appeal on July 1, 2016.

         On September 30, 2016, the Board moved to dismiss Shoals Mill's appeal. In its motion and the accompanying brief in support of the motion, the Board argued that Shoals Mill had failed to satisfy the requirements of § 40-3-25 because the notice of appeal had not been filed with the secretary of the Board within 30 days of the assessment. Shoals Mill responded to the motion to dismiss, arguing that, pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 40-1-45, the timely mailing of the notice of appeal to the secretary of the Board satisfied the requirement of timely filing of the notice of appeal. After a hearing, the trial court, on December 2, 2016, entered a judgment dismissing Shoals Mill's appeal.

          Shoals Mill timely appealed the trial court's judgment to this court; however, because Shoals Mill's appeal to the trial court challenged the valuation of its property, Shoals Mill's appeal falls within the jurisdiction of our supreme court. See § 40-3-25; State v. Tuskegee Univ., 730 So.2d 617, 618 (Ala. 1999) (explaining that, under § 40-3-25, "appeals may be made directly to [our supreme court] only where the valuation of property is at issue"). We transferred the appeal to our supreme court, which transferred the appeal to this court, pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 12-2-7(6).

         On appeal, Shoals Mill argues that the trial court erred by dismissing its appeal because, it contends, its notice was timely filed with the secretary of the Board by virtue of its timely mailing under § 40-1-45. The Board contends, as it did in the trial court, that Shoals Mill did not comply with the requirement of § 40-3-25 that the notice of appeal be "file[d] ... with the secretary of the board of equalization" within 30 days of the assessment. According to the Board, the notice of appeal must be timely received by the secretary of the Board to satisfy § 40-3-25.

          The facts underlying this appeal are undisputed, and the issue presented is one "requir[ing] the application of law to those facts; accordingly, our review is de novo." Target Corp. v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Equalization, 197 So.3d 1006, 1007 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015). Shoals Mill filed its notice of appeal with the clerk on June 22, 2016, within 30 days of the May 31, 2016, assessment. The clerk mailed the notice of appeal to the secretary of the Board via certified mail on June 28, 2016, within the 30-day appeal period. However, the notice was not received by the secretary of the Board until July 1, 2016, after the expiration of the 30-day appeal period. Thus, we must determine whether, as the Board contends, § 40-3-25 requires that the notice of appeal be received by the secretary of the Board before the expiration of the 30-day appeal period or whether, as Shoals Mill contends, § 40-1-45 operates to make the notice of appeal timely under § 40-3-25 if the notice is timely mailed within the 30-day appeal period but received after the expiration of the period.

         "'The right of appeal in tax proceedings is a right conferred by statute and must be exercised in the mode and within the time prescribed by the statute.'" Ex parte Shelby Cty. Bd. of Equalization, 159 So.3d 1, 4 (Ala. 2014) (quoting Denson v. First Nat'l Bank, 276 Ala. 146, 148, 159 So.2d 849, 850 (1964)). Because the parties urge different constructions of the statutes at issue in the present case, we must construe § 40-3-25 and § 40-1-45. To do so, we must

"'ascertain and effectuate legislative intent as expressed in the statute.' Alabama Farm Bureau Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. v. City of Hartselle, 460 So.2d 1219, 1223 (Ala. 1984). 'To ascertain that intent, we must first focus our attention on the language of the [statute], and we must give effect to the intent clearly expressed therein if the language is unambiguous.' City of Millbrook v. Tri-Community Water System, 692 So.2d 866, 867 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997)(citing Hartselle, 460 So.2d at 1223). 'Words used in the statute must be given their natural, plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning.' Hartselle, 460 So.2d at 1223."

Yelverton's, Inc. v. Jefferson Cty., 742 So.2d 1216, 1222 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997).

"Further, it is well established that '"[s]ections of the Code dealing with the same subject matter are in pari materia. As a general rule, such statutes should be construed together to ascertain the meaning and intent of each."' New Joy Young Restaurant, Inc. v. State Dep't of Revenue, 667 So.2d 1384 (Ala. Civ. App. 1995) (quoting Locke v. Wheat, 350 So.2d 451, 453 (Ala. 1977)). Finally, '[this court] recognize[s] that a statute should be construed, if possible, to give effect to every section thereof, and that the legislature should not be deemed to have done a vain and useless thing.'
State of Alabama Home Builders Licensure Bd. v. Sowell, 699 So.2d 214 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997)."

State v. Amerada Hess Corp., 788 So.2d 179, 183-84 (Ala. Civ. App. 2000).

         An appeal of a tax assessment by a county board of equalization must comply with the requirements of § 40-3-25, which reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

"All appeals from the rulings of the board of equalization fixing value of property shall be taken within 30 days after the final decision of said board fixing the assessed valuation as provided in this chapter. The taxpayer shall file notice of said appeal with the secretary of the board of equalization and with the clerk of the circuit court and shall file bond to be filed with and approved by the clerk of the circuit court, conditioned to pay all costs ...."

         However, § 40-1-45(a) provides that the date of mailing of a document required to be filed under Title 40 ("the revenue code") will be considered the date of filing, provided that the document is mailed within the applicable prescribed period, is actually delivered to the ...


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