Florida Record

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Appeals court won't reopen dispute over Coral Gables land valuation

State Court

By Scott Holland | Dec 12, 2019


MIAMI — A state appeals panel has affirmed a lower court’s ruling in a consolidated case concerning property tax assessments.

The root issue involves Merrick Park, an outdoor mall, which leases its land from the city of Coral Gables. Merrick pays taxes on the buildings, while the city pays taxes on the land. Both tax bills are sent to Merrick’s post office box in Chicago. Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Spencer Eig consolidated the complaints involving Merrick, the city and Miami-Dade County property appraiser Pedro Garcia.

According to a Florida Third District Court of Appeal opinion issued Dec. 4, Eig granted the county’s motion to strike part of Merrick’s counterclaim and dismiss another in one case and also rejected the city’s motion to intervene in another. The appellate panel consolidated the appeals. Judge Ivan Fernandez wrote the opinion, and judges Bronwyn Miller and Monica Gordo concurred.

For the 2016 tax year, Garcia assessed Merrick’s buildings at $81 million and valued the city’s land at $51.1 million. After a hearing with the value adjustment board, the buildings were dropped to $67.1 million and the land to $43.4 million. The county’s tax collector, Marcus Saiz de la Mora, filed a complaint to challenge the reduction for the buildings, but not the land, which prompted counterclaims from Merrick and the city seeking further value reductions.

The panel rejected all the arguments advanced by Merrick and the city, ruling Eig properly adjudicated the matter and explaining the flaws in the plaintiffs’ attempts to continue their complaints with respect to the assessed valuation of the land.

“We are cognizant of appellants’ assertion that affirming the trial court’s orders on appeal will result in a scenario where neither Merrick nor the city can assert an additional challenge to the 2016 tax assessment value of the city’s land,” Fernandez wrote. However, the panel said, a court isn’t allowed to keep jurisdiction over a lawsuit contenting an assessment if it isn’t filed within the outlined statutory period, regardless of if the ultimate result is “harsh” to one of the parties.

The only count remaining before the trial court is Merrick’s request for a further reduction on the buildings.

Representing Merrick and the city are Vodel Mandler & Rodriguez PA and attorney Thomas Ward.

The county officers are represented by Miami-Dade County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams and assistant attorney Ileana Cruz.

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Florida Third District Court of Appeal