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Inc. v. La Paz County

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division, Department T

September 12, 2013

CHURCH OF THE ISAIAH 58 PROJECT OF ARIZONA, INC., Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
LA PAZ COUNTY, ARIZONA; GEORGE NAULT, La Paz County Assessor; and LEAH CASTRO, La Paz County Treasurer; RICHARD OLDHAM and OLDHAM FAMILY TRUST, Defendants/Appellees.

Appeal from the Arizona Tax Court Cause No. TX2011-000063 The Honorable Dean M. Fink, Judge

Alliance Defending Freedom Leawood, KS By Erik W. Stanley Co-Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant

Steven D. Keist, PC Glendale By Steven D. Keist Co-Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant

Warnock, MacKinlay & Carman, PLLC Prescott By Andre E. Carman Co-Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant

Tony Rogers, La Paz County Attorney Parker By R. Glenn Buckelew, Deputy County Attorney Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees

OPINION

MARGARET H. DOWNIE, Judge

¶1 Church of the Isaiah 58 Project of Arizona, Inc. ("Taxpayer") appeals the dismissal of its complaint by the Arizona Tax Court. We affirm and hold that because taxing authorities acted under semblance of authority, the tax court appropriately dismissed Taxpayer's claims for injunctive relief. Additionally, the counts of the complaint seeking declaratory relief were properly dismissed because Taxpayer did not pay the assessed taxes before filing suit.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2 Taxpayer purchased the real property at issue in these proceedings ("the Property") in August 2006. Among other activities, Taxpayer holds church services and Bible study at the Property, which is located in Quartzsite, Arizona.

¶3 According to Taxpayer, it requested a tax exemption from the La Paz County Assessor ("the Assessor") after acquiring the Property, but was advised in October 2006 that it must pay property taxes for that year.[1] Taxpayer, though, did not pay the 2006 taxes.

¶4 On February 20, 2007, Taxpayer filed an Affidavit for Organizational Tax Exemption. By letter dated June 19, 2007, the Assessor requested additional information to "complete [Taxpayer's] application." Specifically, the Assessor explained that a "Letter of Determination" from the Internal Revenue Service ("I.R.S.") was "a pre-requisite to the property tax exemption process." On September 5, 2007, Taxpayer advised the Assessor it was not required to obtain the requested I.R.S. letter and stated it "had decided not to file for a 501(c)(3) letter of determination." Taxpayer did, however, provide a copy of its Articles of Incorporation.

¶5 Due to the delinquent 2006 taxes, the La Paz County Treasurer ("the Treasurer") sold a tax lien on the Property, issuing a Treasurer's Tax Lien Certificate to Richard Oldham and the Oldham Family Trust and Decedent Trust (collectively, "the Oldhams"). The Assessor also assessed taxes against the Property for subsequent years. When those taxes became delinquent and remained unpaid, they were added to the tax lien.[2]

¶6 On June 23, 2009, Taxpayer sent the Assessor a copy of correspondence it had received from the Arizona Department of Revenue ("ADOR"). The ADOR letter stated that Taxpayer was exempt from state income tax pursuant to A.R.S. § 43-1201(4) and that Taxpayer's property "used or held primarily for religious worship" was exempt from taxation under A.R.S. § 42-11109(A). Based on the ADOR letter, the Assessor granted Taxpayer an exemption for 2009, with the proviso that the exemption did not apply to that portion of the Property east of South Moon Mountain Road.[3] Taxpayer received the exemption despite the fact that the statutory deadline for submitting exemption requests had expired for tax year 2009. See A.R.S. § 42-11153(A).

¶7 Taxpayer filed a seven-count complaint in the tax court in March 2011, requesting:

• Count 1: injunctive relief against "Illegal Tax";
• Count 2: injunction against foreclosure;
• Count 3: declaratory relief (entitlement to ...

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