Monday, May 2, 2016

Court of Appeals: Property taxpayer failed to prove it could sue DeKalb

Raw Properties Inc (RPI) owns commercial property on Snapfinger Road in DeKalb County. In 2010, RPI failed to pay property taxes on one of its properties. DeKalb County sent several delinquent notices to an old Decatur address for RPI, but the property owner had moved to Sparta. RPI notified DeKalb of its new address, but most of the late notices went to the Decatur address. The DeKalb County tax commissioner’s office says it also notified RPI of the delinquency by phone several times over the course of one month in 2011.  The taxes remained unpaid; the property was subsequently auctioned at a county tax sale. RPI was able to redeem the property later but had to pay the 20 percent premium for redemption. RPI sued tax commissioner Claudia Lawson’s office in Raw Properties v. Lawson.

The trial court ruled in favor of DeKalb. During appeal, DeKalb County argued that they shouldn’t have been sued in the first place, because tax commissioners serve as ex officio sheriffs, and different standards apply for sovereign immunity for sheriffs in cases of improper paperwork. The Georgia Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial level for consideration of the sovereign immunity claim. The trial court found that DeKalb was immune in this case. In February, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decisions, writing that RPI failed to prove that the DeKalb County tax commissioner’s sovereign immunity was waived in this case.

While the original tax sale stands, the court left open the possibility that Raw Properties could still sue for damages through separate methods.

Although the decision isn't friendly to taxpayers, it serves as another reminder that, generally speaking, failure to receive a tax bill does not relieve you of your obligation to pay. Property ownership and its ensuing tax liability are not responsibilities to be taken lightly under Georgia law.

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