HELMUT J. MUELLER LIMITED PARTNERSHIP; JOSEF MATUSCHKA; CHICAGO PROPERTIES, LIMITED PARTNERSHIP; JEROME P. GLUNZ; and JOHN P. GLUNZ, Appellants (Plaintiffs),
KATHY TREANOR, in her official capacity as Washakie County Assessor, Appellee (Respondent).
from the District Court of Washakie County The Honorable
Robert E. Skar, Judge
Representing Appellant: David M. Clark, Greear Clark King,
P.C., Worland, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee: Tyler J. Garrett, Hathaway & Kunz,
LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming.
DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.
Appellants, Helmut J. Mueller Limited Partnership (Mueller);
Josef Matuschka; Chicago Properties, Limited Partnership
(Chicago Properties); Jerome P. Glunz; and John P. Glunz
challenged the Washakie County Assessor's (Assessor) 2014
notices of assessment, which classified Taxpayers' four
properties as either residential or vacant residential for
tax purposes. The appellants (collectively,
"Taxpayers") argue their properties qualify for
classification as agricultural lands. The Washakie County
Board of Equalization (county board) agreed with Taxpayers
and reversed the Assessor's valuations. However, the
Wyoming State Board of Equalization (state board) reversed
the county board's decision, and the district court
affirmed the state board's decision. We affirm the
district court's order.
This case presents a single issue, which the Assessor
Was the county board's decision unsupported by
substantial evidence when it determined that the Taxpayers
satisfied the fourth requirement for attaining agricultural
land status under Wyo. Stat. Ann. §
Taxpayers separately own four parcels of land, each around
160 acres in size, in Washakie County, Wyoming. In March 2014,
the Assessor issued notices of assessment for Taxpayers'
properties. As had been done since Taxpayers purchased their
properties, the assessments classified the Glunz, Matuschka,
and Mueller parcels as "residential vacant" and the
Chicago Properties parcel as "residential".
Taxpayers appealed their respective assessments to the county
board, arguing each property should be classified as
agricultural land. Along with their notices of appeal,
Taxpayers submitted signed affidavits to verify their
properties met the four statutory requirements for
classification as agricultural land. See Wyo. Stat. Ann.
§ 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(I)-(IV) (Lexis Nexis 2013). In
response, the Assessor wrote to Taxpayers requesting
financial records to support the affidavits and allow the
Assessor to review the reclassification requests prior to the
county board's hearing. Taxpayers did not respond to the
request and, instead, waited to provide documentation in
their prehearing disclosures. Consequently, the Assessor did
not reclassify the properties and the parties proceeded to
Taxpayers called two witnesses at the hearing. First, Mr.
Bryan O'Donnell testified that he leased and grazed
cattle on Chicago Properties' parcel. Mr.
O'Donnell's lease was new, however, and did not take
effect until after the notice of assessment. Taxpayers next
called Mr. Mike Reilly, the president of the board of
directors of the Otter Creek Grazing Association (Otter
Creek). Otter Creek leased the four parcels for grazing prior
to and through the assessment period. The leases required Otter
Creek to pay $8 per acre per year and to maintain fencing (a
total of $1, 280 per year for each 160-acre parcel). Mr.
Reilly testified, however, that Otter Creek paid $14 per acre
per year, and in turn Taxpayers paid Otter Creek around $6
per acre for fence maintenance. He emphasized that Otter
Creek paid Taxpayers by the acre, not by AUM.
Regarding Otter Creek's revenue and activities, Mr.
Reilly testified that the association generated more than $1,
000 in annual revenue from selling bulls and from selling
forage to its members and to non-members. He stated that
Otter Creek generally earned more than $1, 000 in annual
revenue from each of Taxpayers' properties, but he did
not provide any details supporting this statement. Mr. Reilly
stated the association used "common sense" in
determining the number of cattle to graze on Taxpayers'
properties and did not overuse the properties each year so it
could graze the properties again the following year. He
testified that Taxpayers' properties were "well
utilized" and Otter Creek generally used each property
to the extent of its productive capacity. Mr. Reilly did not
provide any details about Otter Creek's specific use of
The Assessor also testified at the county board's
hearing, stating that once Taxpayers provided her with their
grazing leases, she considered whether Taxpayers'
properties qualified as agricultural land by relying on a
method applied in the state board decision, In re Richard
& Glenda Hlavnicka from a Valuation Decision of the
Fremont County Assessor 2005 Property Valuation, Docket
No. 2006-87, 2006 WL 3327972 (Wyo. Bd. of Equalization Sept.
7, 2006). Based on her understanding of that case, the
Assessor evaluated Taxpayers' properties through a
hypothetical calculation by supposing the lands were
agricultural, applying the required agricultural valuation
procedures under the Department of Revenue's (Department)
rules and 2014 Agricultural Land Valuation Study, and then
comparing the results of those calculations to Taxpayers'
grazing lease revenue. She offered into evidence the
worksheets she prepared for each property and testified that,
in each case, Taxpayers' revenues were far below the
properties' expected production values under the
Department's study. She testified that she had applied the
same method when considering similar requests to reclassify
properties as agricultural land.
Taxpayers challenged the Assessor's calculations and
proposed their own, slightly different, comparison in a
demonstrative exhibit. Taxpayers did not enter that exhibit
into evidence or present a witness to testify about
Taxpayers' method and calculations. Instead,
Taxpayers' attorney used the demonstrative exhibit in his
arguments to the board and when cross-examining the Assessor.
In response to the questioning, the Assessor asserted the
calculations in the exhibit were incorrect.
Following the hearing, the county board reversed the
Assessor's valuations, concluding Taxpayers had
demonstrated, by a preponderance of the evidence, that their
properties met the four requirements under Wyo. Stat. Ann.
§ 39-13-103(b)(x)(B) to be taxed as agricultural land.
The Assessor timely appealed to the state board. The state
board affirmed the county board's conclusions on the
first three statutory requirements, but it reversed the
county board's order due to a lack of substantial
evidence to support the county board's determination that
Taxpayers met their burden on the ...