On July 18th, The First District Court of Appeal (DCA) affirmed the ruling of the lower court in the case of Ariola v. Jones, that involves some 2,400 residential parcels on Pensacola Beach. The three judge panel agreed that Pensacola Beach leaseholders are equitable owners and are subject to ad valorem property taxes on their improvements. This time the ruling included a 15 page opinion http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2011/07-18-2011/10-2050.pdf
Danny Kepner, the lead attorney in this case, will file motions with the First District Court of Appeal by the August 2nd deadline. The motions will ask for a rehearing of the case and also request certification of this case to the Florida Supreme Court because of its public importance. None of the cases involving taxation of leasehold improvements have made it to Florida’s highest court. All the other Escambia County appeals on taxation of improvements were simply affirmed, without a written opinion. The Florida Supreme Court will not consider cases that are simply affirmed. We anticipate a response from the First District Court of Appeal sometime in August. If they do not grant either motion, the plaintiffs in this case still have the right to petition the Supreme Court directly for consideration.
Following the decision in Navarre Beach case known as Ward v. Brown, the Santa Rosa Property Appraiser taxed the land as well as the improvements. This case made its way through the courts. On April 21st the First District Court of Appeal affirmed that the Navarre Beach leaseholders are the equitable owners of both the real property (land) and improvements. This appellate panel wrote a 9 page opinion http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2011/04-21-2011/10-4072.pdf They also certified this case to the Florida Supreme Court as is being petitioned in the Pensacola Beach case (Ariola v. Jones). The Navarre Beach opinion ends with “Given the significance of the issues presented herein, we certify to the Florida Supreme Court the following as a question of great public importance:
WHETHER SECTION 196.199(2)(b), FLORIDA STATUTES, IS INAPPLICABLE TO THE REAL PROPERTY AT ISSUE BECAUSE APPELLANTS ARE THE EQUITABLE OWNERS OF THAT PROPERTY?
Having the First District Court of Appeal certify a case does not guarantee that the Supreme Court will consider the case. The Supreme Court will be asked to hear the Navarre Beach case. We will continue to follow this case as well since taxation of the land on Pensacola Beach will be included in 2011 tax bills that come out in the fall.
For more information, visit the tax litigation website at http://pbeachtaxsuit.com/