Sempre Limited Partnership v. Maricopa County – 6/22/2010

July 1, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A Taxpayer Whose Application That Property Be Classified as Being Used For Agricultural Purpose Has Been Denied Does Not Need to Seek Administrative Review Before Filing a Direct Appeal in Tax Court .

In early 2007, Maricopa County (the “County”) notified Sempre Limited Partnership (“Sempre”) that, for purposes of the 2008 tax year, the County had valued its property on the basis that it was not used for agricultural purposes.  Several months later, Sempre appealed the valuation in tax court.  The County moved to dismiss on grounds that Sempre had not exhausted its administrative remedies.  The County argued that A.R.S. § 42-16201 requires taxpayers whose applications that property be classified as being used for agricultural purposes have been denied must exhaust their administrative remedies before proceeding to tax court.  The tax court granted the County’s motion to dismiss, which Sempre appealed. 

On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Sempre did not need to seek administrative review before filing a direct appeal in the tax court.  The Court concluded that although the language of A.R.S. § 42-16201 could be interpreted to require exhaustion of administrative remedies, that interpretation was precluded by A.R.S. § 42-16201(A) – which provides that “[a] property owner who is dissatisfied with the valuation or classification of the property as determined by the county assessor may appeal directly to the court . . .  regardless of whether the person has exhausted the administrative remedies under this chapter” – and A.R.S. § 42-15104 – which provides that “[a] person who is not satisfied with the valuation or classification of the person’s property determined by the assessor may . . . [a]ppeal to tax court pursuant to § 42-16201.”  According to the Court of Appeals, these two statutes “plainly and unequivocally” authorize a taxpayer dissatisfied with the assessor’s valuation of classification to appeal directly to the tax court.  The Court thus rejected the County’s contention that A.R.S. § 42-16201 required Sempre to exhaust its administrative remedies before appealing the valuation to the tax court.  Because the tax court had dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal remanded the case for further proceedings.  

Judge Orozco authored the opinion; Judges Hall and Kessler concurred.