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Montgomery v. Spartanburg County Assessor

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

November 16, 2016

William J. Montgomery, Respondent,
v.
Spartanburg County Assessor, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2013-002697

          Heard September 8, 2016

         Appeal From The Administrative Law Court Deborah Brooks Durden, Administrative Law Judge

          Ray Nelson Stevens, Michael Enrico Kozlarek, and Walter Hammond Cartin, all of Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, LLP, of Columbia; and Virginia M. Dupont, and John Holladay Harris, both of Spartanburg County Attorney's Office, of Spartanburg, for Appellant.

          James G. Carpenter and Jennifer J. Miller, both of Carpenter Law Firm, PC, of Greenville; and Lewis Warren Clayton, III, of MSI-Viking Gage, LLC, of Greenville, for Respondent.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         In this action from the Administrative Law Court (ALC), the Spartanburg County Assessor (Assessor) appeals the ALC's order granting William J. Montgomery's motion for summary judgment. Assessor argues the ALC erred in its definition of "fair market value for agricultural purposes" in section 12-43-220(d) of the South Carolina Code (2014). We reverse.

         I. FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Montgomery owns a tree farm located in Pauline, South Carolina. The property includes three buildings-two storage buildings for farm equipment and one mobile home that is used as an office for the farming operation. The parties agree the structures are related to the agricultural use of the property and are neither residences nor used for any other for-profit business.

         For the 2011 tax year, the Assessor valued Montgomery's property for taxation purposes at $40, 641. The Assessor reached its valuation by valuing the land at $12, 211 using the soil capability valuation method, valuing the structures on the land at $28, 430 using the fair market value of the improvements, and adding the two figures together.

         Mongtomery appealed the Assessor's valuation to the ALC. Montgomery argued the entire tract, including the buildings, must be assessed as agricultural real property and the value of the buildings is subsumed in the statutory calculation of the agricultural real property value. The Assessor conceded the structures were agricultural real property and should be assessed using the 4% ratio; however, the Assessor argued section 12-43-220(d)(2)(A) only provides the process for valuing the land used for agricultural purposes, not the structures.

         The ALC granted summary judgment in favor of Montgomery. The ALC found Montgomery's entire farm "must be classified and assessed as agricultural real property and the Assessor may not carve out and separately assess a small portion of the tract (such as the structures attached thereto) . . . ." Accordingly, the ALC found the Assessor improperly assessed Montgomery's property and ordered the property be "assessed and taxed based on its agricultural use value alone without adding a separate value for the improvements on the [p]roperty.'' This appeal followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "Tax appeals to the ALC are subject to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA)." CFRE, LLC v. Greenville Cty. Assessor, 395 S.C. 67, 73, 716 S.E.2d 877, 880 (2011). "Accordingly, we review the decision of the ALC for errors of law." Id. at 74, 716 S.E.2d at 881. "Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law, which we are free to decide without any deference to the [ALC]." Id.

         III. ...


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