Pedro J. Garcia, etc., et al., Appellants,
Dadeland Station Associates, Ltd., Appellee.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower
Tribunal No. 15-28448, Gisela Cardonne Ely, Judge.
Abigail Price-Williams, Miami-Dade County Attorney, and Jorge
Martinez-Esteve and Bruce Libhaber and Daija Page Lifshitz,
Assistant County Attorneys, for appellants.
Kopelowitz Ostrow, and Julie Feigeles and John J. Shahady
(Fort Lauderdale), for appellee.
Levy Law Firm and Loren E. Levy and Jon F. Morris, for The
Property Appraisers' Association of Florida, Inc., as
LAGOA, SALTER and FERNANDEZ, JJ.
County, its Property Appraiser, and its Tax Collector
(collectively, the "County"), appeal an adverse
final summary judgment in favor of Dadeland Station
Associates, Ltd. ("Dadeland Station") regarding the
County's property tax assessment of the land
("Land") leased by Dadeland Station from the County
in 1994. We affirm the trial court's determination that
the County improperly assessed and collected property taxes
from Dadeland Station on the Land based on the County's
flawed extrapolation from controlling precedent.
Station constructed substantial buildings and other
improvements on the Land leased from the County, but those
improvements have continuously been separately assessed and
taxed by the County. In the present case, the County
apparently sought to modify well-settled law by asserting a
claim that Dadeland Station was the "equitable
owner" of the Land beneath the improvements, such that
Dadeland Station should be taxed on the Land as well as the
1994 until 2014, the Land was assessed in the County's
name and was immune from property tax. In 2014, however, the
Supreme Court of Florida issued its opinion in Accardo v.
Brown, 139 So.3d 848 (Fla. 2014). Accardo held
that a lessee is considered the equitable owner of land held
pursuant to a "perpetually renewable" lease,
because the lessee's interest under such a lease "is
not materially different from the interest of a lessee under
a lease for a term of years providing the right for the
lessee to obtain title for nominal consideration upon the
termination of the lease." Id. at 856.
Concluding that the Accardo decision broadly
expanded the reach of "equitable ownership, " the
County issued an assessment to Dadeland Station for 2015
property taxes on the Land. Dadeland Station paid the taxes
under protest and filed a suit to recover the payment under
section 194.171, Florida Statutes (2015).
County's interpretation overreached. Accardo did
not expand "equitable ownership" in terms that
would apply to Dadeland Station's 90-year lease of the
Land. That lease did not include a nominal purchase option or
perpetual rights of renewal. After Accardo, a
circuit court in Escambia County found equitable ownership by
a lessee under a 99-year lease that included a right to
negotiate a renewal on terms mutually agreeable to the
parties, but the First District reversed that decision:
This is not a case entailing the taxation of land where the
lessee has the right to the perpetual renewal of its lease,
the lessee has the right to purchase the property for nominal
consideration at the end of the lease, the lessor holds legal
title merely as security, or the lessee otherwise has
perpetual dominion over the property.
Island Resorts Invs., Inc. v. Jones, 189 So.3d 917,
922 (Fla. 1st DCA), review denied, SC16-1007, 2016
WL 3961178 (Fla. July 21, 2016).
Station's lease of the Land also lacks the indicia of
equitable ownership described in Island Resorts
Investments, Inc. and Accardo. The trial court
correctly entered ...