Columbia School District asks for appeal in tax case

The appeal hinges on how many people should be given back “erroneously paid” taxes.
Friday, July 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:45 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]

Lawyers for the two defendants in a property-tax lawsuit against the Columbia School District have asked the Missouri Supreme Court to hear the case following an unfavorable decision by an appeals court.

Alex Bartlett, attorney for the Columbia School District, and John Patton, attorney for Boone County Collector Pat Lensmeyer, each filed on Wednesday an application for transfer with the Supreme Court. A decision on whether to hear the case will likely come on the court’s next hand-down date, Aug. 24, although the Supreme Court clerk’s office said the decision could come earlier.

The suit was filed by Henry Lane, a local anti-tax activist, and eight co-plaintiffs and charged that the district set its 2001 tax rate at an illegally high level. A three-judge panel from the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in May. Bartlett said the appeals court’s decision could affect all the state’s political subdivisions, defined in the Missouri statutes as any unit or agency of the state authorized to levy taxes. He said that given the wide-ranging implications of the decision, the chances for the case being heard by the Supreme Court are “50-50.”

Patton said Lensmeyer’s principal concern was an order that refunded taxes to the plaintiffs. The court of appeals ruled that a statute subsection regarding taxes “mistakenly or erroneously paid” was applicable.

The appeals court modified its decision June 29 to clarify that because of the statute of limitations on the “mistakenly or erroneously” subsection, only the nine plaintiffs were eligible for a partial refund of their 2001 property taxes.

The appeals court also denied the defendants’ requests to re-hear the case or transfer it to the Supreme Court, which required that the lawyers file for a hearing directly with the state high court.

The clerk’s office said the Supreme Court takes about 10 percent of cases requested for transfer.

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