Wisconsin Municipalities May Not Appeal a Board of Review’s Reduction of Property Tax Assessment

16 December 2020 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog
Authors: Eric G. Pearson

The old adage tells us that you can’t fight city hall, but a recent decision from Wisconsin’s court of appeals, which handed a victory to property taxpayers who received a favorable decision from a board of review, teaches that sometimes city hall can’t fight back.

In State ex rel. City of Waukesha v. City of Waukesha Board of Review, No. 2019AP1479 (Nov. 18, 2020), a decision from District II written by Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer and joined by Judges Mark Gundrum and Jeff Davis, the court of appeals held that the City of Waukesha had no right to seek certiorari review of a decision by its own Board of Review to reduce the municipal assessor’s valuation of real property. 

In 2017, the City of Waukesha assessed a parcel owned by Salem United Methodist Church at $51,900, but the City raised that assessment to $642,200 in 2018 due to the church’s having received and accepted an offer to sell the parcel for approximately $1 million. The church filed an objection, and the Board of Review largely accepted the church’s position, reducing the assessment to $108,700.

When the City subsequently petitioned the circuit court to issue a writ of certiorari under Wis. Stat. § 70.47(13), the Board moved to quash the writ, arguing that the statute does not allow a municipality to appeal a board of review’s determination. The Waukesha County Circuit Court rejected that argument, but the court of appeals reversed in a decision that carefully examined the statute’s text.

The court held that § 70.47(13) clearly authorizes an unhappy taxpayer to seek review in a circuit court, but it also held that the statute has no parallel provision allowing the aggrieved municipality to do so. The subsection provides:

[A]ppeal from the determination of the board of review shall be by an action for certiorari commenced within 90 days after the taxpayer receives the notice under sub. (12). . . .

Given that “the statutory provisions [i.e., subsections (12) and (13)] spell out very clearly that the Board must only ensure that the taxpayer receive[s] the Board’s decision and that the appeal time begins to run upon the taxpayer’s receipt[,]” the court held that “[i]t would be uncommon, oddly random, and potentially vague for the legislature … to leave a party that allegedly has a right to appeal (e.g., the City) to learn of that right by an unspecified, unexpressed, and indirect means.” Op. at ¶ 29.

The court did not think that the omission of a provision governing an appeal by the municipality was unintentional. It pointed out that the municipality has so much control over the assessment process and the board of review (including by appointing the board’s members) that it makes sense that the legislature would see no need to give the municipality a chance for judicial review of the occasional loss, thereby imposing additional burdens on the successful taxpayer. Op. at ¶¶ 30-40.

The court reversed and remanded with directions to quash the writ and to dismiss the City’s certiorari action.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Authors

Related Services