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June 03, 2013

MSC Opinion: Michigan Tax Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claim for mandamus to enforce terms of property-tax ballot proposition

In Hillsdale County Senior Services, Inc. v. County of Hillsdale, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the Michigan Tax Tribunal possesses jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claim for mandamus because the claim falls within the scope of MCL 205.731(a). Plaintiffs seek to enforce a property-tax ballot proposition that provided for the levy of an additional 0.5 mill property tax in Hillsdale County to fund plaintiff Hillsdale County Senior Services ("HCSS").

Hillsdale County voters approved in August 2008 a proposal to increase the limitation on the County's general ad valorem taxes by .5 mill ($0.50 per $1000 of taxable value) until 2022 in order to enable HCSS to provides services to senior citizens. However, in the two fiscal years 2009'2011, the County declined to levy and spend the full .5 mill for budgetary reasons. The circuit court granted the plaintiffs' subsequent writ for mandamus and ordered the County to levy the full .5 mill for 2010 through 2022. The Court of Appeals vacated this judgment based on its conclusion that the case falls within the exclusive and original jurisdiction of the tax tribunal. The Supreme Court then granted the plaintiffs' leave to appeal.

The Court concluded that MCL 205.731(a) granted the tax tribunal original and exclusive jurisdiction over the case as a 'proceeding for direct review of a final decision . . . of an agency relating to . . . rates . . . under the property tax laws of this state.' In analyzing each of the four required elements, the Court found that (1) the appeal was a proceeding for direct review of the final decision by the County's Board of Commissioners not to levy and spend the full 0.5 mill; (2) the board constitutes an 'agency' under MCL 205.703(a); (3) the dispute related to 'rates' in that it pertained to the 'amount of a charge' by the County to its property taxpayers; and (4) the issue arose under MCL 400.576 (specifically allowing the defendant to 'levy up to 1 mill [property tax] for services to older citizens') and Article IX, Section 6, of the Michigan Constitution (governing property taxes). The Court further concluded that its prior decisions did not provide a basis for divesting the tribunal of its jurisdiction in this case, as jurisdiction is determined by the subject matter of the proceeding, not on the type of relief requested, and the case presented no extraordinary circumstances.

In sum, the Court concluded that the tax tribunal possesses jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claim for mandamus to enforce the property-tax ballot proposition because the claim falls within the scope of MCL 205.731(a), and the Court's prior decisions did not provide a basis for divesting the tribunal of its jurisdiction. Justice Cavanagh concurred in the result only.

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