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Arnegard v. Cayko

May 11, 2010

CAMERON ARNEGARD AND MARY S. ARNEGARD, PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS
v.
RICHARD CAYKO, CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, FRANCES OLSON, MCKENZIE COUNTY AUDITOR, AND MCKENZIE COUNTY, DEFENDANTS AND APPELLEES



Appeal from the District Court of McKenzie County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable David W. Nelson, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

AFFIRMED.

[¶1] Cameron and Mary Arnegard appealed from a summary judgment dismissing their lawsuit against Richard Cayko, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners; Frances Olson, McKenzie County Auditor; and McKenzie County ("County"). The Arnegards argue they are entitled to a property tax exemption for the residence located on their farm. We affirm, concluding the Arnegards failed to present evidence establishing that they qualify for the tax exemption.

I.

[¶2] The Arnegards own an agricultural operation in McKenzie County and reside in a house located on their farm. In 2006, the Arnegards applied for a property tax exemption for their residence under N.D.C.C. § 57-02-08(15). The exemption was approved.

[¶3] In 2007, the Arnegards were informed they were not eligible for the tax exemption and were required to pay property taxes on their home because they did not meet the requirements for the exemption. The Arnegards paid the amount assessed under protest and appealed the decision to the Board of County Commissioners. The Board denied the appeal, and the Arnegards filed an action in the district court requesting a judgment for the amount they paid in property taxes on the residence with interest, costs, and attorney fees. The County later rejected the Arnegards' 2008 tax exemption application, and the Arnegards amended their complaint to include their 2008 taxes.

[¶4] Both parties moved for summary judgment. The County argued the Arnegards do not meet the statutory requirements for the farm residence exemption because their nonfarm income exceeded $40,000 and the ratio of their nonfarm income to farm income made them ineligible. The district court granted the County's motion for summary judgment, concluding that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that the Arnegards do not qualify for the exemption under the plain language of the statute.

II.

[¶5] Summary judgment is a procedural device for promptly resolving a controversy on its merits without a trial if there are no genuine issues of material fact or if the only issues to be resolved are questions of law. Schleuter v. Northern Plains Ins. Co., Inc., 2009 ND 171, ¶ 6, 772 N.W.2d 879. The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party meets that burden the party opposing the motion must present competent admissible evidence to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Davis v. Enget, 2010 ND 34, ¶ 6, 779 N.W.2d 126. The opposing party must demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact by presenting enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to rule in their favor. Id.

[¶6] The standards for reviewing a court's decision whether to grant summary judgment are well-established:

In deciding whether the district court appropriately granted summary judgment, this Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and the opposing party will be given the benefit of all favorable inferences that can reasonably be drawn from the record. On appeal, we decide "whether the information available to the district court precluded the existence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitled the moving party to judgment as a matter of law."

Schleuter, 2009 ND 171, ¶ 6, 772 N.W.2d 879 (quoting Farmers Union Mut. Ins. Co. v. Associated Elec. & Gas Ins. Servs. Ltd., 2007 ND 135, ¶ 7, 737 N.W.2d 253 (citations omitted)). Whether a district court properly granted summary judgment is a question of law, which we will review de novo on the entire record. Schleuter, at ¶ 6.

[¶7] Our decision in this case requires us to construe and apply the farm structure and improvement exemption. Under N.D.C.C. § 57-02-08(15), all farm structures and improvements located on agricultural lands are exempt from taxation. The statute specifically provides a tax exemption for a farm residence:

b. It is the intent of the legislative assembly that this exemption as applied to a residence must be strictly construed and interpreted to exempt only a residence that is situated on a farm and which is occupied or used by a person who is a farmer and that the exemption may not be applied to property which is ...


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