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FIRE TAX UPDATE: HJTA Files Opening Brief and 14-Volume Appendix in Appeal

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association continues to fight to obtain refunds for property owners who paid the state’s now-suspended “fire prevention fee.”

On Wednesday, July 11, 2018, HJTA filed its opening brief and a 14-volume appendix to appeal the trial court’s dismissal of the fire tax case. The 14 volumes supporting the appeal demonstrate the extensive work that had been done by HJTA and the attorney general to prepare the case for trial.

HJTA’s opening brief explains that the merits of the case had been fully briefed on both sides, together with a lengthy table of undisputed facts, citations to the evidence supporting those facts, a massive compendium of exhibits and over 600 payer declarations providing the necessary sworn witness testimony. The only thing left was for the trial court to give its decision. Instead, the court dismissed the case. It was an abuse of discretion, and unfair to the more than 800,000 people affected by the fire tax.

While the gargantuan appendix represents the complexity of the case, HJTA’s opening brief presents a concise legal argument to the court of appeal. In short, it states that this is a public interest case designated by the court as a complex special proceeding exempt from any specific deadline. Even if a specific deadline had applied in the trial court, HJTA’s motion for judgment was timely presented. Dismissing a case under such circumstances violates the longstanding public policy of deciding cases on their merits.

The brief also points out that although HJTA was successful in supporting legislation that discontinued the collection of the fire tax, the case in court still has purpose because it seeks refunds of past payments for everyone who filed a Petition for Redetermination. If the court were to agree that, during the years it was collected, the “fire prevention fee” was really a tax, then refunds to the class would be in order.

HJTA hopes the court of appeal will be persuaded to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the case, and to allow the case to proceed to a decision on the merits.