Mandate Unavailable to Compel Property Reassessment

In Little v. Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Boards, case no. B195610 (2d Dist. Sept. 27, 2007), the court of appeal holds that a property owner may not challenge a property assessment by way of petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085.

During the real estate downturn of the 1990s (check this out for more details), Little had successfully sought a reduction in the assessment roll base year value for his multi-unit property from $790,000 to $480,000, based on a decline in value. He then sought and obtained a second reduction to $288,000, which increased to $304,000 by 2003 from annual 2 percent increases. When the asessor’s office notified him in 2004 that it was reinstating the assessed value to $480,000, Little filed an application for a change in assessment back to $304,000. He contended that the $480,000 base year value was incorrrect because the assessor mischaracterized the type and size of the units. When that application was denied, Little filed a petition for writ of mandate in the superior court.

The assessor demurred to the petition, contending that because Little had an adequate remedy at law by way of a complaint for refund of property taxes, mandate did not lie. The superior court overruled the demurrer and denied the petition on the merits.

The court of appeal holds that the demurrer should have been sustained:

Little’s petition below sought the issuance of a peremptory writ directing the Assessor to correct the property’s base year value on the assessment roll to the 1996 base year value of $288,000, and to assess the property for 2004, 2005 and all subsequent years based upon the base year value of $288,000. Thus, Little’s petition impermissibly sought to enjoin the collection of future taxes.

California Constitution article 13, section 32, provides: “No legal or equitable process shall issue in any proceeding in any court against this State or any officer thereof to prevent or enjoin the collection of any tax. After payment of a tax claimed to be illegal, an action may be maintained to recover the tax paid, with interest, in such manner as may be provided by the Legislature.”

(Emphasis in original.)

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