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Mountain Vista Retirement Residence v. Fremont County Assessor

Supreme Court of Wyoming

September 2, 2015

MOUNTAIN VISTA RETIREMENT RESIDENCE, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
FREMONT COUNTY ASSESSOR, Appellee (Respondent)

Page 270

Appeal from the District Court of Fremont County. The Honorable Norman E. Young, Judge.

For Appellant: Thomas N. Long and Aaron Lyttle of Long Reimer Winegar Beppler LLP, Cheyenne, WY. Argument by Mr. Lyttle.

For Appellee: Jodi A. Darrough, Deputy Fremont County Attorney, Lander, WY.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL,[*] KITE, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.

OPINION

Page 271

HILL, Justice.

[¶1] Mountain Vista Retirement Residence (Mountain Vista) challenged the Fremont County Assessor's 2012 property tax assessment to the Fremont County Board of Equalization (County Board), claiming an exemption. The County Board affirmed the county assessor's determination that Mountain Vista is nonexempt from paying property taxes. The Wyoming State Board of Equalization (State Board of Equalization) affirmed the County Board, as did the district court. On appeal, Mountain Vista argues that it should be exempt based upon its status as a charitable or benevolent association. We will affirm the County Board.

ISSUES

[¶2] Mountain Vista presents three issues on appeal:

1. Whether the Fremont County Board of Equalization (the County Board) erred in determining that Mountain Vista Retirement Residence (Mountain Vista) is not entitled to exemption from ad valorem tax as a charitable or benevolent association because it serves a limited number of people, notwithstanding the substantial benefit to the entire public of providing senior independent living services at or below cost.
2. Whether Chapter 14, § 13(a)(ii) of the Department of Revenue's rules, forbidding a tax-exempt senior housing facility from charging costs or allowing residents to provide their own furnishings, as interpreted by the County Board and applied to Mountain Vista, exceeds the Department of Revenue's statutory authority.
3. Whether the County Board erred in determining that Mountain Vista uses its property for primarily commercial purposes, despite the fact that Mountain Vista's provision of independent living services not available in commercial housing is central, rather than collateral, to its charitable purpose.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶3] The Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act governs this Court's review of a decision by a county board. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(c) (LexisNexis 2015) provides in pertinent part:

(c) To the extent necessary to make a decision and when presented, the reviewing court shall decide all relevant questions of law, interpret constitutional and statutory provisions, and determine the meaning or applicability of the terms of an agency action. In making the following determinations, the court shall review the whole record or those parts of it cited by a party and due account shall be taken of the rule of prejudicial error. The reviewing court shall:
. . . .
(ii) Hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings and conclusions found to be:
(A) Arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law;
. . . .
(B) In excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limitations or lacking statutory right;
. . . .
(E) Unsupported by substantial evidence in a case reviewed on the record of an agency hearing provided by statute.

[¶4] In Britt v. Fremont County Assessor, 2006 WY 10, 126 P.3d 117 (Wyo. 2006), we explained how we apply this statute in our review:

We review both the agency's findings of fact and law:
" Considerable deference is accorded to the findings of fact of the agency, and

Page 272

this Court does not disturb them unless they are contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Amoco Production Co. v. Wyoming State Bd. of Equalization, 12 P.3d 668, 671 (Wyo. 2000). An agency's conclusions of law can be affirmed only if they are in accord with the law. Id. at 672. Our function is to correct any error that an agency makes in its interpretation or application of the law."
EOG Resources, Inc. v. Wyoming Dep't of Revenue 2004 WY 35 86 P.3d ...

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