In Genesis Ministries, Inc. v. Brown, Case No. 1D15-1310 (Fla. 1st DCA February 16, 2016), the First District Court of Appeal held that a challenge to a property tax lien does not need to be filed within 60 days of the certification of the tax roll.
Genesis Ministries had enjoyed a religious use exemption from ad valorem assessments on its property from 2005 through 2012. In 2013, the Santa Rosa County Property Appraiser recorded a tax lien against the property stating that Genesis was not entitled to the exemption and owed $298,000, which included penalties. In August 2014, after selling the property, Genesis paid off the tax lien under protest and subsequently filed suit. The property appraiser moved to dismiss on the grounds that the claim was barred by Section 194.171(2), Florida Statutes. As relevant here, that statute requires suits “to contest a tax assessment” to be filed no later than “60 days from the date the assessment being contested is certified for collection under s. 193.122(2).” The trial court granted the motion to dismiss.
In reversing the trial court’s decision, the First DCA noted that the Florida Supreme Court has previously held that the 60 day deadline is deemed to apply “broadly.” See Ward v. Brown, 894 So. 2d 811, 812 (Fla. 2004). Nevertheless, the court ruled that the plain language of Section 194.171(2) does not pertain to actions contesting tax liens, but rather only to actions contesting “a tax assessment.” The court stated that challenges to tax assessments are based on the certification of the tax roll, which is why that event triggers the deadline to file suit. By contrast, the court found, the tax lien at issue was not based on the certification of the tax roll, but rather the property appraiser’s “retrospective determination under section 196.011(9)(a) that Genesis was not entitled to the tax exemption it received from 2005 to 2012.” The First DCA further noted that applying the 60 day deadline to challenges to tax liens would require adding additional language to the statute in order for it to facially apply to such challenges. The court recognized that it does not have that power.
Finally, the court stated that due process concerns weighed against applying the 60 day deadline to challenges to tax liens. A taxpayer has the ability to challenge an assessment (or denial of an exemption) with the value adjustment board before the tax roll is certified. There is no equivalent administrative review right with respect to the recording of a tax lien. Therefore, the court held, if the 60 day deadline applied to challenges to tax liens, a taxpayer’s only right to challenge the lien would be in the 60 day period. Given that the property appraiser is not required to give the taxpayer actual notice of the tax lien, a taxpayer would be required to repeatedly check the public records to see if a lien had been recorded. The court doubted “that the Legislature intended such a draconian result.”
Genesis also challenged the denial of the exemption for 2013, but that part of the case involved different issues than 2005-2012 and is not addressed in this post.