Remanded For A "Re-Look" Of Fee Denial On Two Grounds.
Ox as "ye oppressed tax-payer" pulling cart of municipal, county, poor, state, courthouse, road, school, and local taxes. George Yost Coffin, creator. 1880-1900. Library of Congress.
Although involving a somewhat complicated probate partnership reassessment dispute where the public agency found the tax appeal was untimely, Bent v. The Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board, Case No. B270835 (2d Dist., Div. 2 Apr. 11, 2017) (unpublished) does demonstrate that a fee request denial can result in a remand where the trial judge did not follow the correct legal standards—in that situation, an abuse of discretion did occur. There, plaintiff actually obtained reversal of a determination that his tax appeal was untimely filed even though eventually losing on the merits. His $153,281.25 fee request under the private attorney general statute was denied, and his $7,500 request for fees under Government Code section 800 (allowing this amount for capricious public agency action in an administrative setting) was denied.
The 2/2 DCA reversed the fee denials. On the 1021.5 request, it was determined that: (1) the lower court looked only at the taxpayer's motive rather than broader societal importance on the public interest enforcement prong; (2) the trial judge found that taxpayer only enforced existing law and had a personal stake in the matter, legally erroneous because a substantial benefit can flow from enforcement of existing rights and a personal stake does not disqualify a litigant from seeking 1021.5 fees under the significant benefit prong; and (3) the lower court did not engage in a proportionality analysis on the financial burden prong, focusing only on the financial motivation for the taxpayer to file the appeal. On the 800 request, the public agency showed no substantial reason as to why it ignored a statutory taxation provision in contesting things below. Reversed and remanded, although no opinion was expressed on how discretion should be exercised once the proper legal standards were adhered to.