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Hammons v. Weber County

Supreme Court of Utah

May 2, 2018

Jesse and Alison Hammons, Appellants,
Weber County, Weber County Commission, Jan Zogmaister, Kerry Gibson, and Matthew Bell, Appellees.

          On Direct Appeal Second District, Ogden The Honorable Michael D. DiReda No. 140905091

          T.R. Morgan, Scott L. Hansen, Ogden, for appellants

          Barton H. Kunz II, Salt Lake City, for appellees

          Chief Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce, and Judge Bates joined.

          Due to her retirement, Justice Durham did not participate herein; and District Court Judge Matthew Bates sat.

          Justice Petersen became a member of the Court on November 17, 2017, after oral argument in this matter and accordingly did not participate.


          Durrant, Chief Justice


         ¶1 The Property Tax Act[1] establishes a tax exemption for primary residential property.[2] In 2007 and 2008, Jesse and Alison Hammons paid taxes on their primary residence, but later learned that Weber County had not given them the residential exemption. In 2012, they asked the county to refund their taxes or to apply what they considered to be the overpayment as a credit against future taxes. The county denied their request. After the Weber County Tax Review Committee and the Weber County Commission also denied their claims, the Hammonses filed a notice of claim with the county and a complaint with the district court. They claimed that the county had violated Utah Code sections 59-2-103 and 59-2-103.5. These sections establish the residential exemption and set forth procedures to obtain the exemption. The district court entered a judgment on the pleadings, dismissing the Hammonses' causes of action.

         ¶2 The Property Tax Act affords taxpayers three avenues to challenge the assessment of their property taxes. Under Utah Code section 59-2-1004, a "taxpayer dissatisfied with the valuation or the equalization of the taxpayer's real property" may appeal to the board of equalization within a prescribed time period. Section 59-2-1327 provides that if a "person whose property is taxed claims the tax is unlawful, that person may pay the tax under protest to the county treasurer. The person may then bring an action in the district court against the officer or taxing entity to recover the tax or any portion of the tax paid under protest." And under section 59-2-1321, a taxpayer may argue "that property has been either erroneously or illegally assessed, " and, after producing "sufficient evidence, " may receive a refund or a credit towards future taxes.

         ¶3 The Hammonses are not dissatisfied with the valuation or equalization of their property, and so their claims do not fall under section 1004. They did not pay the 2007 or 2008 taxes under protest, so their claims cannot fall under section 1327. So their challenges to the taxes they paid in 2007 and 2008 must fall under section 1321, which we have said requires taxpayers to point to an "error or illegality that is readily apparent from county records."[3] The Hammonses have not challenged this requirement, nor have they shown that the alleged errors or illegalities were readily apparent, so we affirm the judgment of the district court.


         ¶4 Jesse and Alison Hammons have a primary residence in Liberty, Utah. Although they have occupied the house since 2005, Weber County records listed a Clearfield post office box as the address for their property until 2008. The county gave the Hammonses the residential exemption on their property taxes in 2005 and 2006, but in 2007 the county assessor flagged the Hammonses' property as a possible non-primary residence, citing the fact that the Hammonses listed a post office box instead of a physical address. The assessor then sent the Hammonses a letter, requiring them to submit a signed statement of primary residence. The Hammonses did not receive the letter and did not submit the statement. The assessor reclassified the Hammonses' property as non-primary residential, which resulted in the Hammonses losing their primary residential tax exemption for the 2007 tax year.

         ¶5 The Hammonses paid the 2007 taxes, but later realized that their property had been reclassified and that they had not received the residential exemption. They contacted the county and were told that it required a change of address form to have their property's physical address listed on county records. They submitted the form in August 2008. They also asked for a refund of the taxes that had been paid due to the incorrect reclassification of their property, but were told that the time for appeal had passed.

         ¶6 Despite changing their address on county records, the Hammonses did not receive the primary residential exemption in 2008. They again paid taxes on the full value of their property, and they again realized they had done so after they had paid. They contacted the county and this time were told that they had to submit a signed statement of primary residence in order to have their property reclassified as primary residential and receive the exemption. The Hammonses completed the signed ...

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