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Crapo v. Academy For Five Element Acupuncture, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

July 8, 2019

Edward A. Crapo, in his capacity as Alachua County Property Appraiser, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
Academy for Five Element Acupuncture, Inc., a Florida Non-Profit Corporation, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Alachua County. Toby S. Monaco, Judge.

          John C. Dent, Jr., and Jennifer A. McClain of Dent & McClain, Chartered, Sarasota, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Paul A. Donnelly and Jung Yoon of Donnelly Gross, Gainesville, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Matthew H. Mears, General Counsel, and James L. Richmond, Assistant General Counsel, Tallahassee, for Amicus Curiae The Department of Education, Commission for Independent Education.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Timothy E. Dennis, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Amicus Curiae State of Florida, Department of Revenue.

          Benjamin K. Phipps of Phipps & Howell, Tallahassee; Michael D. Minton of Dean Mead Minton & Zwemer, Fort Pierce; Gerald J. Donnini of Moffa, Sutton & Donnini, P.A., Fort Lauderdale; and Mitchell I. Horowitz of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, Tampa, for Amicus Curiae The Tax Section of the Florida Bar.

          Loren E. Levy and Stuart W. Smith of The Levy Law Firm, Tallahassee, for Amicus Curiae The Property Appraisers' Association of Florida, Inc.

         On Rehearing En Banc

          PER CURIAM.

         Alachua County Property Appraiser Edward A. Crapo appeals a circuit court decision awarding the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture, Inc. an educational property tax exemption under section 196.198, Florida Statutes. On the merits, Property Appraiser Crapo argues that the Academy does not qualify for the exemption because it is not an "educational institution" as defined in section 196.012(5)-and we agree. Procedurally, the Academy raises a tipsy-coachman argument[1] urging us to affirm the circuit court's ruling because an earlier Value Adjustment Board decision favoring the Academy was preclusive under the administrative finality doctrine-but we disagree. We therefore reverse the circuit court's judgment.

         I. Facts

         The Academy operates a not-for-profit private post-secondary school in downtown Gainesville that teaches and trains students in acupuncture, health sciences, and herbal studies. For years, while located in Broward County, the Academy received an educational tax exemption on its property. But when it moved to Gainesville in 2008 and applied for the same exemption, Property Appraiser Crapo denied it. He asserted that the Academy was not an "educational institution" under the tax code and did not qualify for the property tax exemption. The Academy petitioned the Alachua County VAB to resolve the dispute, and a special magistrate heard the case. The special magistrate concluded, with substantial hesitation, that the Academy qualified as an educational institution under section 196.012(5), and recommended that the VAB grant the exemption. The VAB did so, summarily granting the Academy's property tax exemption. Property Appraiser Crapo did not seek the de-novo hearing in circuit court authorized under section 194.036(3), Florida Statutes.

         The Academy received the educational exemption on its Alachua County property from 2008 through 2013. In 2014, Property Appraiser Crapo again raised the education exemption issue. He issued a notice to the Academy disapproving its exemption for failing to meet the definition of an educational institution. The Academy responded by again petitioning the VAB. The VAB upheld the tax exemption, the same result as in 2008. This time, however, Property Appraiser Crapo filed suit in circuit court for de-novo determination of the issue. See § 194.036(3), Fla. Stat. The circuit court ruled that the Academy qualified for the exemption.

         In addition to deciding the tax exemption issue, the circuit court considered the Academy's alternative administrative-finality argument. The Academy argued that Property Appraiser Crapo was prohibited from litigating the tax exemption issue because the underlying facts had not changed, and he lost the same issue before the VAB in 2008. But the circuit court rejected the Academy's decisional-finality argument under the theory that each tax year stands on its own.

         Property Appraiser Crapo then appealed the property tax exemption issue to this Court, and the Academy cross-appealed on the administrative-finality issue. A three-judge panel affirmed the trial court's final judgment for the Academy based on administrative finality, holding that Property Appraiser Crapo could not revisit or challenge the Academy's tax exemption any more after the VAB's 2008 decision. The panel opinion did not reach the merits of Property Appraiser Crapo's argument against the Academy's tax exemption. Property Appraiser Crapo then filed a motion for rehearing en banc, which we granted. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.331(d).

         II. Merits: The Exemption

         Real property in Florida is annually assessed and subject to an ad valorem tax unless an exemption applies. Art. VII, § 4, Fla. Const.; §§ 192.042, 196.001(1), Fla. Stat.; see also Sowell v. Panama Commons, L.P., 192 So.3d 27, 30 (Fla. 2016). One of the available exemptions under Florida law applies to property used for educational purposes by an "educational institution." § 196.198, Fla. Stat.; see also Art. VII, § 3(a), Fla. Const. (allowing for exemptions on property used for educational purposes); Nat'l Ctr. for Constr. Educ. & Research Ltd., Corp. v. Crapo, 248 So.3d 1256, 1257-58 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018). The tax code further defines an "educational institution" as follows:

"Educational institution" means a federal, state, parochial, church, or private school, college, or university conducting regular classes and courses of study required for eligibility to certification by, accreditation to, or membership in the State Department of Education of Florida, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or the Florida Council of Independent Schools . . . .

§ 196.012(5), Fla. Stat. (emphasis added).

         The parties disagree about whether the Academy falls within the section-196.012(5) definition of an "educational institution" and thus qualifies for this particular exemption. We review such questions of statutory interpretation de novo. See State v. Purdy, 252 So.3d 723, 725 (Fla. 2018). Statutes providing for an exemption to an ad valorem tax are construed strictly, such that any ambiguity is resolved against the claimed exemption. Nat'l Ctr., 248 So.3d at 1257-58 (citing Sowell, 192 So.3d at 30). A claimant bears the burden of clearly showing its entitlement to a tax exemption. Id. at 1258.

         In this case, no one disputes that the Academy is a state-licensed private post-secondary school that grants certificates and degrees in acupuncture, Chinese herbal studies, and health science. But Property Appraiser Crapo argues that the Academy is not entitled to the exemption because it is not credentialed by, and does not offer classes or courses as required for credentialing by, one of the three entities identified in section 196.012(5): the State Department of Education of Florida, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or the Florida Council of Independent Schools. Rather, the record evidence here only shows that the Academy's classes and courses satisfy licensing requirements of the Florida Commission for Independent Schools, which is not one of the entities the statute identifies. The circuit court concluded that Commission-issued licenses satisfy the statute's reference to certification by "the State Department of Education," but Property Appraiser Crapo argues that the Commission and Department are different entities for purposes of the exemption statute.

         We cannot read section 196.012(5)'s reference to the "Department" as applying equally to the Commission, because Florida law distinguishes between Commission- and Department-certified schools. Although the education statute creating the Commission places it within the Department as an administrative matter-see sections 1005.21(1), 1001.22, Florida Statutes-the Department's and Commission's school-certification regimes are not referenced interchangeably. Under section 1005.06(1), for example, institutions under the Department's jurisdiction are distinguished as "not under the jurisdiction and purview of the commission." (Emphasis added.) The statute dealing with barbering schools requires "a license issued by the Commission . . . pursuant to chapter 1005." § 476.178, Fla. Stat. But it also "shall not be construed to prevent certification [of barber training programs] by the Department of Education." Id. The same distinction between Commission licensing and Departmental certification is found in the cosmetology statute. § 477.023, Fla. Stat. It requires "a license issued by the Commission . . . pursuant to chapter 1005," but then also allows for the Department to certify cosmetology training programs. Id. An educational assistance program for National Guard members refers to institutions "licensed by the Commission" separately from training programs leading to certifications approved by the Department of Education. § 250.10(7), Fla. Stat. The Massage Practice Act does not mention Commission licensing at all, but rather defines a "[b]oard-approved massage school" as being "licensed by the Department of Education." § 480.033(9), Fla. Stat. Additionally, section 1005.05, Florida Statutes, distinguishes between the Commission and the Department with respect to pre-program application requirements for nonpublic colleges, by instructing as follows:

Colleges under the jurisdiction of the Commission for Independent Education shall apply to the commission. Colleges that are not under the jurisdiction of the commission shall apply to the Department of Education.

§ 1005.05, Fla. Stat. These statutes undermine the Academy's argument that institutional licensing by the Commission is the same as certification by the Department.

         In addition to having different school-approval regimes, we recognize that Florida law grants authority to the Commission independent from the Department, section 1005.21(1), Fla. Stat.; that Commission members are appointed through the Governor and Senate instead of via the Commissioner of Education, section 1005.21(2), Fla. Stat.; and that the Commission possesses its own rulemaking authority, section 1005.22(1)(e), Fla. Stat. The Commission's independence from the Department in these areas also indicates that their respective school-certification regimes operate on different tracks.

         In light of these statutes, we agree with Property Appraiser Crapo that the Commission's licensure is not the same as the Department's certification within the meaning of the tax-exemption statute. On the record presented, we cannot conclude that the Academy's programs satisfy the Department's certification requirements under section 196.012(5) merely because the programs satisfy the Commission's licensing requirements. Because the Academy did not carry its burden of clearly showing that it is an "educational institution" entitled to the property tax exemption, we reverse the final judgment. We also reject the Academy's alternative tipsy-coachman argument that the doctrine of administrative finality precluded further review of the tax-exemption issue the VAB addressed in 2008, and turn to that issue next.

         III. Procedure: Administrative Finality

         The Academy's alternative argument is that Property Appraiser Crapo was barred from revisiting the tax exemption issue after he lost the same issue before the VAB in 2008, and did not raise the issue in a circuit court proceeding. This argument requires us to pull together a complex constitutional, statutory, regulatory, and factual framework to decide an important issue that is deceptively simple to state: Does administrative finality attach to VAB decisions that are not subsequently litigated in circuit court?[2]

         Given the unique context of ad valorem taxation and exemptions, we must agree with Property Appraiser Crapo that administrative finality does not attach to VAB decisions. To achieve preclusive finality of a tax ruling requires either going directly to circuit court in the first instance, or filing suit in circuit court for de novo review and disposition of an issue previously presented to the VAB. The decision of a circuit court, if not appealed, then has preclusive effect. If the circuit court's decision is appealed, the appellate court's decision becomes the law of the case (absent further review and disposition by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court). A VAB decision alone does not have preclusive effect.[3]

         A. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         This analysis requires an understanding of the laws and rules establishing and governing the office of property appraiser and its authority over tax exemptions, VABs and their authority and processes, circuit court jurisdiction and standards for review of tax questions, and the oft-repeated maxim in tax law that "each year stands on its own." We address these topics in turn.

         (1) Property Appraisers and Exemptions

         Each Florida county has a property appraiser, who is an elected and independent constitutional officer charged with determining whether real property situated within the county is subject to ad valorem taxation; and if so, valuing the property and assessing tax on it. Art. VIII, § 1(d), Fla. Const.[4] Each property appraiser also has authority to determine whether property is entitled to a tax exemption. § 196.011, Fla. Stat. (requiring tax-exemption applications to be filed with property appraisers); § 196.193, Fla. Stat. (requiring property appraisers to review tax-exemption applications and determine whether to grant or deny them). This is an annually-repeating process, as discussed in greater detail below.

         A property appraiser denying an initial or renewal application must notify the applicant, who then can choose any or all from among three options to challenge the denial: request an informal conference with the property appraiser under section 194.011(2), Florida Statutes; petition the VAB for review under section 194.011(3); or file suit in circuit court under section 194.171, either first among these options or after exercising one or both of the others. Each of these statutes provides that the dispute-resolution steps available before filing suit in circuit court are optional. It is not necessary to confer informally before seeking a VAB hearing or filing suit, and it is not necessary to go to a VAB hearing before filing suit.

         Property appraisers also have the statutory right to file suit in circuit court after a VAB rules against them. § 194.036(1), Fla. Stat. (authorizing property appraisers to initiate circuit court proceedings (a) upon determining and asserting that the VAB contravened a provision of constitution, statute, or rule; (b) if the VAB arrives at an assessed value exceeding the property appraiser's assessed value by more than percentage amounts set forth; and (c) if the property appraiser asserts that the VAB is consistently and continuously violating the law or rules, thus triggering review by the Department of Revenue and potential action against the VAB).[5] Property Appraiser Crapo sued in circuit court under section 194.036(1)(a), asserting an erroneous construction and application of the educational tax exemption statute.

         (2) VABs

         Each Florida county has its own VAB, the members of which are two members of the county's governing body, one member of the school board, and two citizen members-one homestead property owner and one commercial business owner. § 194.015, Fla. Stat. The members of the VAB are not elected by the public or appointed by the Governor. The board of the governing body of the county chooses two members of the governing body to serve on the VAB, the school board elects one of its members to serve on the VAB, and then the governing body and the school board each appoint one of the other two VAB members. Id. Each VAB must have private counsel, who must have more than five years' experience practicing law. Id. To resolve factual issues in many proceedings, the VAB appoints a special magistrate, who does not have to be a lawyer, except in cases involving exemptions, in which the special magistrate must be a lawyer admitted to the Florida Bar for at least five years. § 194.035(1), Fla. Stat.

         The VAB has specific authority to hear disputes involving exemptions. § 194.032(1)(a)3., Fla. Stat. The VAB's role in exemption cases is to determine whether the taxpayer meets the statutory criteria for the specific exemption at issue. See Fla. Admin. Code R. 12D-9.027(4). The VAB must support all conclusions of law with findings of fact supported by record evidence, or the lack thereof. Fla. Admin. Code R. 12D-9.032(1)(a).

         While it is tempting to try to analogize VAB decisions to a variety of other non-judicial processes, it is important to respect the differences between them.[6] The statutes expressly provide that a VAB is not an administrative tribunal under chapter 120 of the Florida Statutes. § 194.034(1)(i), Fla. Stat. ("Chapter 120 does not apply to hearings of the value adjustment board."). Whereas appellate courts have jurisdiction to review the merits of orders entered in chapter-120 proceedings, circuit courts review de novo the issues presented to VABs, giving no precedential effect to VAB decisions. § 194.036(3), Fla. Stat.

         A VAB is also not a local governing body like a city or county commission. It does not promulgate ordinances, determine and regulate local land use, or otherwise govern a locale. See Broward Cty. v. G.B.V. Int'l, Ltd., 787 So.2d 838 (Fla. 2001) (illustrating county commission function of regulating land use subject to limited and deferential court review); Haines City Cmty. Dev. v. Heggs, 658 So.2d 523 (Fla. 1995) (recognizing right of judicial review of local administrative action of evicting tenant from public property, under increasingly narrow standards at each step of review); City of Deerfield Beach v. Vaillant, 419 So.2d 624 (Fla. 1982) (noting right to review but explaining narrow scope of review of civil service board decision on employee termination). A VAB merely serves to informally resolve tax disputes or attempt to do so, and because of the de novo standard that applies in circuit court and the circuit court's original, exclusive jurisdiction, VAB decisions have no weight whatsoever in circuit court litigation. See § 194.036(3), Fla. Stat.[7]

         (3) Circuit Court Jurisdiction

         Two important concepts apply to circuit court adjudication of tax disputes: exclusivity and de novo review. The Florida Constitution gives circuit courts "exclusive original jurisdiction . . . in all cases involving legality of any tax assessment or toll" unless the Legislature changes that by general law. Art. V, § 20(c)(3), Fla. Const. (emphasis added). Far from having been changed by general law, this requirement remains codified at section 194.171(1) of the Florida Statutes ("The circuit courts have original jurisdiction at law of all matters relating to property taxation."), and at section 26.012(2)(e) ("[Circuit courts] shall have exclusive original jurisdiction: . . . In all cases involving legality of any tax assessment or toll or denial of refund.") (emphasis added). Thus, as already noted, it is not necessary for a taxpayer to seek informal resolution with the property appraiser or the VAB before filing suit in court. § 194.011(2), (3), Fla. Stat. Both the property appraiser and the taxpayer can go straight to circuit court to litigate an assessment or exemption issue, and skip the VAB altogether. § 194.171, Fla. Stat.

         Regardless of the prior history of a dispute, review in circuit court is de novo: "The circuit court proceeding shall be de novo, and the burden of proof shall be upon the party initiating the action." § 194.036(3), Fla. Stat. In circuit court proceedings, there is no presumption of correctness as to exemptions. § 194.301(2)(d), Fla. Stat. ("If the challenge is to the classification or exemption status of the property, there is no presumption of correctness, and the party initiating the challenge has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the classification or exempt status assigned to the property is incorrect.").

         Thus, although proceedings in circuit court after earlier informal attempts at dispute resolution are sometimes called "appeals," a VAB decision is not "appealable" in the formal sense of an appeal as a review proceeding. Crossings, 991 So.2d at 801 n.6 ("While this process is referred to as an 'appeal' of the board's decision, actions brought in the circuit court pursuant to section 194.032, now section 194.036, are original actions, not appeals." (quoting Williams v. Law, 368 So.2d 1285, 1286 (Fla. 1979))). In circuit court proceedings, the VAB resolution has no precedential value and is owed no deference; the property appraiser's decision is reviewed de novo. § 194.036(3), Fla. Stat.

         (4) "Each year stands on its own."

         The general maxim of "each year stands on its own" is foundational to the understanding of tax law, and has been extended to the context of tax exemptions and not merely valuations. Page v. City of Fernandina Beach, 714 So.2d 1070, 1072 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998) ("The taxable status of property is determined on January 1 of each year. See Section 192.042, Florida Statutes (1973). This is the date on which the tax assessor determines whether a particular parcel of property is entitled to exemption from taxation for the tax year.") (emphasis added) (citing Overstreet v. Ty-Tan, Inc., 48 So.2d 158 (Fla.1950)); Southlake Cmty. Found. v. Havill, 707 So.2d 361, 363 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998) (reaching merits of tax exemption denial following earlier memorandum from property appraiser that property was exempt); S. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Broward Cty., 665 So.2d 272, 274-75 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995) (accepting the rule that every tax year stands alone and finding on the facts presented that the rule was not violated); Op. Att'y Gen. Fla. 74-98 (1974) ("[T]he very nature of a tax exemption and the laws establishing the same preclude the application of this [preclusive] doctrine in tax exemption cases. . . . Each years . . . exemption must stand or fall on its own validity, unconnected with . . . any prior or subsequent year . . . ."); see also Container Corp. of Am. v. Long, 274 So.2d 571, 573 (Fla. 1st DCA 1973) ("Ad valorem taxes assessed against property in this state for any given tax year must stand or fall on its own validity, unconnected with the assessment made against that land during any prior or subsequent year."), superseded by statute in certain agricultural-exemption cases Tilton v. Gardner, 52 So.3d 771, 778 & n.5 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010).

         This year-standing-alone concept reflects the nature of taxation and the annual taxation process established in the Florida Statutes. Property owners seeking tax exemptions must apply annually, and failure to file "shall constitute a waiver of the exemption privilege for that year." § 196.011(1)(a), Fla. Stat. After initially granting a tax exemption, the property appraiser in subsequent years mails the taxpayer a renewal application, but the property appraiser retains the discretion to deny even a renewal application. § 196.011(6)(a), Fla. Stat. ("Such renewal application shall be accepted as evidence of exemption by the property appraiser unless he or she denies the application.") (emphasis added). The property appraiser also can request the county's governing body to waive the requirement of annual application for exemption as to properties not excluded from such waiver by statute, which then shifts to the property owner the burden of notifying the property appraiser proactively of any changes that may affect the exempt status of the property, subject to penalties for failure to do so. § 196.011(9)(a), Fla. Stat. Even in that context, which was the process followed in this case, the statute contemplates the property appraiser's discretion to deny an exemption. § 196.011(9)(e), Fla. Stat. ("If an exemption for which the annual application is waived pursuant to this subsection will be denied by the property appraiser in the absence of the refiling of the application, notification of an intent to deny the exemption shall be mailed to the owner of the property prior to February 1.") (emphasis added).[8]

         The corollary to the maxim that "each tax year stands on its own" is that no taxpayer has a vested right to a tax exemption. Sowell, 192 So.3d at 30-31 (relying in part on the statutory procedures for tax exemptions as evidencing the absence of a vested right to an exemption); see also City of Largo v. AHF-Bay Fund, LLC, 215 So.3d 10, 14-15 (Fla. 2017) (noting nonprofit exemption statute requires taxpayer to take affirmative steps to request exemption on an annual basis; the exemption is not automatic and can be waived); Spencer Estates of Fla., LLC v. Havill, 125 So.3d 795, 796 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) (affirming circuit court's refusal to entertain taxpayer's attempt to punish property appraiser for failing to grant exemption in 2009 and 2010, where pending case determining taxpayer's entitlement to exemption involved only tax year 2008; "[e]ach [tax] year stands on its own"); Davis v. Macedonia Housing Auth., 641 So.2d 131, 132 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) (expressly rejecting trial court's ruling that taxpayer was to be granted charitable tax exemption for future years "absent a material change in applicable law or a material change in Plaintiff's status or operation," because exemption can be waived and entitlement to exemption must be affirmatively demonstrated annually).

         B. Analysis

         This unique and detailed legal framework brings us to agree with Property Appraiser Crapo: administrative finality does not attach to a VAB decision that is not subsequently adjudicated in circuit court. Chief among the legal principles driving this result are the status of Florida's property appraisers as elected, independent constitutional officers; the exclusive original jurisdiction of circuit court in tax assessment matters under the constitution and sections 26.012(2)(e) and 194.171(1); the de-novo standard of review required by section 194.036(3); and the one-year-at-a-time concept embedded in rules, regulations, and longstanding tax law practice and procedure. These foundational principles permeate the processes set forth in the governing statutes, establishing an annual process subject to annual renewal or revisitation, embodying the concept that "each tax year stands on its own." The statutory scheme makes it clear that, while VAB proceedings may often be useful in informal dispute resolution, they are not to be accorded preclusive effect.

         The dissent seems to argue that the Legislature's creation and regulation of VABs, and the role given them, at least does not preclude the possibility that VAB decisions have administrative finality effect. See Fla. Export Tobacco Co. v. Dept. of Revenue, 510 So.2d 936, 955 (Fla. 1st DCA), review denied, 519 So.2d 986 (Fla. 1987). In Export Tobacco, this Court held that the statutory authorization of tax refund remedies before the Comptroller or in Chapter-120 proceedings did not divest the circuit courts of original exclusive jurisdiction in tax assessment matters and did not confer res judicata effect upon such proceedings, and that only the Legislature can specify the extent of an administrative agency's quasi-judicial functions. 510 So.2d at 955. If the Legislature had intended for VAB decisions to have administrative finality, it surely would not be difficult to pinpoint the statute so providing-but there is none. To the contrary, the Legislature has expressly retained a statutory structure under which VAB decisions have no legal significance whatsoever in subsequent circuit-court litigation.

         The dissent also argues that it is unfair not to give administrative-finality effect to VAB decisions because it forces taxpayers to defend their requests for exemptions year after year even if they think their property and its ownership and use have not changed from previous years when exemptions were granted. This argument is misplaced for several reasons. First, as a threshold factor, this argument overlooks that the statutory and regulatory framework mandates a year-at-a-time process. Even if an exemption is granted, and re-application waived in favor of an automatic renewal, it is only subject to the appraiser's statutory right to require a new or updated application. No one goes into this with an absolute "right" to avoid interacting with the property appraiser for more than a year.

         Second, the nature of the dispute here was, and is, a threshold legal question-the proper interpretation of the educational exemption statute. Even if a tax-exemption statute does not change, there remains the possibility of differing interpretations of it over time as a body of law develops on it. This is especially true for a narrowly-applicable tax-exemption statute such as the one at issue here. One would not expect hordes of lawsuits generating reams of precedent on every arcane tax exemption, and indeed judicial precedent can be entirely lacking. A property appraiser's initial interpretation of an exemption statute may lie alone and untested until some precedent is created on the issue, or until a change of professional judgment-or a change of property appraiser-occurs. In either event, the property appraiser has not only the right but the duty to advance and apply the interpretation deemed legally correct at the time. A new office-holder should not be bound by erroneous positions taken by a predecessor and not adopted by an Article-V court. Our disposition of the Academy's licensing issue is a perfect example: it turns out Property Appraiser Crapo's professional judgment to deny this exemption was correct.

         Third, the Academy's argument is one-sided, claiming a right to revisit VAB decisions upon a change in taxpayer facts but not upon a change in circumstances on the property appraiser side. But a change on the taxpayer side of the equation cannot be the only route into circuit court. We can envision several circumstances under which a property appraiser may choose to litigate an issue that was not previously taken into circuit court. In addition to a change in interpretation of the law or the election of a new property appraiser, a property appraiser might choose not to fight an adverse VAB decision in any given tax year for a variety of reasons: lacking the budget or personnel or both to litigate; a cost/benefit analysis making the issue not worth fighting in any particular year; or changes in tax rates, an increase in the number and value of exemptions claimed, and economic conditions. When a significant issue arises that in a property appraiser's estimation of the balance of factors merits litigation, the property appraiser must be free to litigate in the first instance without being bound by prior VAB decisions; otherwise, the express statutory requirement of a de-novo standard of review in a circuit court denominated in the constitution as having original and exclusive jurisdiction is meaningless. The alternative would force property appraisers to preemptively litigate all significant tax exemptions annually lest they be penned in by their own equitable or economic-reality forbearance of a prior year. They simply do not have the resources to do that, and if they had to do it, the result would be to impose significant additional costs and delays on taxpayers who otherwise would get a bye for one or more years.

         Finally, even putting aside the practical point that it is highly unlikely any elected property appraiser would "force" the same taxpayer to dispute an exemption ruling year after year, the statutes even-handedly provide taxpayers as well as property appraisers the means to obtain finality: file suit in circuit court. Taxpayers are free to try for a favorable ruling informally and then go to court if necessary, but also can go directly to circuit court. In either approach, taxpayers have available and within their control a clear path for obtaining finality.

         In the unique context of ad valorem taxation, which by constitution, statute, and rule operates on a year-at-a-time cycle and mandates de-novo review in a circuit court having original and exclusive jurisdiction, we reject the Academy's administrative-finality argument, and reverse the circuit court's judgment.

         Reversed.

          Ray, CJ, and Wolf, Lewis, Roberts, Rowe, Bilbrey, Kelsey, Winokur, and MK Thomas, JJ, concur

          Osterhaus, J, concur s in part in an opinion in which B.L. Thomas, J., joins.

          Makar, J., dissents in an opinion in which Wetherell and Jay, JJ., join.

          Osterhaus, J., concurring in part.

         I concur in the Court's per curiam opinion, except for the part about administrative finality. I don't see the need to decide in broad strokes whether Value Adjustment Board decisions merit decisional finality because, regardless of the answer to this issue, the Academy's tipsy-coachman argument loses. See Palm Beach Fla. Hotel & Office Bldg. Ltd. P'ship v. Nantucket Enters., 211 So.3d 42, 45 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) (avoiding adjudication of a first impression issue where the underlying evidence failed to support the argument). Administrative finality doesn't apply where the facts have materially changed. Here, even if administrative finality applies to VAB exemption decisions, the 2008 decision did not fit the new facts and changed ...


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