GARY JOINER, successor to MIKE WELLS, Pasco County Property Appraiser, Appellant,
PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA, and MIKE FASANO, as Pasco County Tax Collector, Appellees.
from the Circuit Court for Pasco County; Linda Babb, Judge.
E. Levy of The Levy Law Firm, Tallahassee, for Appellant.
Acosta MacMillan, Senior Assistant County Attorney,
Clearwater, for Appellee Pinellas County, Florida, a
political subdivision of the State of Florida.
Frederick T. Reeves of Frederick T. Reeves P.A., New Port
Richey, for Appellee Mike Fasano, as Pasco County Tax
Pinellas County, Florida, has filed an "Alternative
Motion for Rehearing, Rehearing En Banc, for Certification to
the Supreme Court of Florida as an Issue of Great Public
Importance, or for Clarification." We deny
Appellee's requests for rehearing and rehearing en banc
but grant the motions for clarification and certification.
The prior opinion dated May 3, 2019, is accordingly
withdrawn, and the attached opinion is issued in its place.
further motions for rehearing will be entertained.
Pasco County Property Appraiser (Pasco Property Appraiser)
appeals the entry of final summary judgment in favor of
Pinellas County declaring the 12, 400 acres of property it
owns within Pasco County immune from ad valorem taxation.
This case presents an issue of first impression: whether a
county's immunity from taxation extends
extraterritorially to property that it owns in another
county. We conclude that it does not and reverse.
400 acres of real property, located entirely within Pasco
County, consists of thirty-six parcels of land, collectively
known as the Cross Bar Ranch and the A1 Bar Ranch
(collectively, the Property). Pinellas County has paid ad
valorem taxes on the Property since its acquisition in 1976
January 2014, a certified public accountant employed by the
Division of Inspector General for the Pinellas County Clerk
and Comptroller conducted an updated audit that suggested
that some or all of the parcels of the Property may be exempt
from taxation. In May 2015, Pinellas County filed suit
against the Pasco Property Appraiser seeking declaratory and
injunctive relief concerning Pinellas County's immunity
from paying ad valorem taxes on the Property and
reimbursement for Pinellas County's payments for 2014
through 2016. The parties filed cross motions for summary
judgment on purely legal grounds. Pinellas County's
motion was granted, and the Pasco Property Appraiser filed
court reviews pure questions of law de novo. See Kirton
v. Fields, 997 So.2d 349, 352 (Fla. 2008);
D'Angelo v. Fitzmaurice, 863 So.2d 311, 314
(Fla. 2003). Resolution of the legal question here turns upon
whether any property owned by a county, regardless of the
property's geographic location, is immune from taxation
or whether this immunity is confined to property that a
county owns within its own borders.
Park-N-Shop, Inc. v. Sparkman, 99 So.2d 571 (Fla.
1957), the Florida Supreme Court held that ad valorem taxes
could not be levied by the city and county against property
owned by the county but leased to a private business, because
the property of a county "is immune from
taxation." Id. at 573. The Pasco Property Appraiser
argues that Park-N-Shop is distinguishable because
its stated rationale-that the county should not assess taxes
against its own land, pay the money to itself, then surcharge
lessees for that amount-does not apply where a county is
taxing a sister county. As such, it argues that a
county's immunity from taxation does not apply in
situations where one county is seeking such immunity of lands
located outside of its jurisdictional boundaries. We agree.
Pasco Property Appraiser contends that in the case of
overlapping sovereignty, the sovereign acting outside of its
territory must be treated as a private entity. Because the
Property is within the jurisdictional boundaries of Pasco
County, and subject to the authority of Pasco County as a
result, the Pasco Property Appraiser argues that those lands
are subject to taxation. The Pasco Property Appraiser
commends the analogous reasoning of Georgia v. City of
Chattanooga, 264 U.S. 472 (1924), in which the United
States Supreme Court held that the State of Georgia, which
had purchased land in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was not immune
from condemnation of the lands by the city because land
"acquired by one state in another state is held subject
to the laws of the latter and to all the incidents of private
ownership." Id. at 480.
Pasco Property Appraiser also warns that extraterritorial
application of immunity from taxation "would result in a
skewed application of the doctrine and ultimately have unjust
and impractical consequences." What if, the Pasco
Property Appraiser queries, Pasco County purchases the Don
CeSar hotel on St. Pete Beach in Pinellas County? It could
operate a lucrative, for-profit enterprise, avoiding payment
of ad valorem taxes to Pinellas County solely based upon its
status as the property's owner. Not only would this
deprive Pinellas County of substantial revenues, the Pasco
Property Appraiser claims, but it would also elevate one
county above another despite the fact that each county's
sovereignty is coequal.
County, on the other hand, argues that it is a political
subdivision of the State of Florida and, as such, is afforded
an "inherent sovereign immunity" from taxation.
See Dickinson v. City of Tallahassee, 325 So.2d 1, 3
(Fla. 1975) (holding state, county, and county school board
were immune from tax levied by city); see also Canaveral
Port Auth. v. Dep't of Revenue, 690 So.2d 1226, 1228
(Fla. 1996) (holding that a port authority was not immune
from ad valorem taxation because, unlike a county, it was not
a political subdivision of the state);
Park–N–Shop, 99 So.2d at 573– 74.
Emphasizing the distinction between an exemption and
immunity, Pinellas County contends that there is no power to
tax the state or its political subdivisions because they are
immune. Dickinson, 325 So.2d at 1 ("Exemption
presupposes the existence of a power to tax whereas immunity
connotes the absence of that power." (quoting
Orlando Utils. Comm'n v. Milligan, 229 So.2d
262, 264 (Fla. 4th DCA 1969))). Because each county's
sovereign immunity emanates not from the county itself but
rather from the state, it argues that property owned by a
county anywhere in the state is immune from ad valorem
County challenges the Pasco Property Appraiser's argument
that there are geographical limits on a county's
sovereign immunity on the grounds that it presupposes that
each county is in and of itself a sovereign, when a county is
only a piece or subdivision of the state, which is actually
the sovereign. On this basis, Pinellas County contends that
the cases cited by the Pasco Property Appraiser relating to
territory outside of a state are distinguishable.
parties also address whether a statutory exemption from
taxation applies depending on the use of the county-owned
property. However, the record is not sufficiently developed
to address this argument, and it was not the basis for the
Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes confer upon each
county the authorization to tax all property in the county.
See art. VII, § 9, Fla. Const. (providing that
counties shall be authorized by law to levy ad valorem
taxes); § 125.016, Fla. Stat. (2014) (authorizing
counties to levy ad valorem tax "upon all property in
the county"). Pinellas County's argument necessarily
implies that this constitutional grant of authority to tax
real property within a county's boundaries must yield to
the common law immunity from taxation of another county who
owns property situated therein. None of the cases cited by
Pinellas County supports this assertion.
gravamen of Pinellas County's argument is simply that
because counties are subdivisions of the State, their
sovereign immunity is derivative of the State's sovereign
immunity; and since the State's sovereign immunity is
statewide, so should a county's be:
The constitutional sovereign immunity of the State of Florida
flows to its subdivisions and cloaks both Pinellas County and
Pasco County. Each county's sovereign immunity emanates,
not from the county itself, but rather, from the state.
Therefore, Pinellas County's properties are immune from
ad valorem taxation within the State of Florida.
County cites no authority for the proposition that a
county's immunity from taxation extends beyond its
territorial boundaries, relying instead on the foregoing
counties are political subdivisions of the State, their ad
valorem taxation power must necessarily yield to the immunity
of the State, whose boundaries subsume all county property.
But that does not mean that a county's taxation authority
must yield to the immunity of another county, whose
boundaries, of course, are neither overlapping nor
coextensive with any other county.
county's assertion of immunity from municipal taxes on
property the county owns within its own boundaries, see
Dickinson 325 So.2d at 3, the State's assertion of
immunity from county taxation is not extraterritorial.
However, a state that owns property outside its territorial
boundaries cannot assert immunity from taxation by the
jurisdiction in which that property lies, such as another
state. In fact, this court is unaware of any political
entity-not states, not Indian tribes, not ...