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North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District v. Washoe County Board of County Commissioners

Supreme Court of Nevada

October 3, 2013

NORTH LAKE TAHOE FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, Appellant,
v.
WASHOE COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS; and Tammi Davis, Washoe County Treasurer, Respondents.

Page 584

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 585

Reese Kintz, LLC, and Devon T. Reese, D. Geno Menchetti, and Ryan W. Herrick, Incline Village, for Appellant.

Richard A. Gammick, District Attorney, and David C. Creekman, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Respondents.

BEFORE HARDESTY, PARRAGUIRRE and CHERRY, JJ.

OPINION

CHERRY, J.:

This case arises out of actions taken by respondents Washoe County Board of County Commissioners and Washoe County Treasurer Tammi Davis to provide refunds to Incline Village and Crystal Bay property owners who paid excessive property taxes as a result of improper appraisals. To cover the cost of the refunds plus interest, respondents withheld amounts from property tax distributions made to the various county taxing units that had previously benefited from the excessive property taxes, essentially offsetting the refunded amounts against the distributions. Those taxing units from which distribution amounts were withheld include appellant North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District (FPD), which petitioned the district court for a writ of mandamus compelling respondents to cease withholding portions of the distributions.

The district court denied relief, and on appeal, we are asked to consider the propriety of these withholdings under our current statutory scheme. We must also consider whether judicial interference in this matter is precluded by the political question doctrine. To assist with this latter assessment, we take this opportunity to adopt the factors set forth in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962). In applying these factors, we conclude that because respondents were within their authority to withhold distributions, and because the manner in which they did so was discretionary, the political question doctrine precludes judicial review.

Page 586

We thus conclude that the district court properly denied writ relief.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

FPD provides all emergency and nonemergency fire services, along with emergency medical services, to the Incline Village/Crystal Bay area. It was formed under NRS Chapter 474 (County Fire Protection Districts) and is funded pursuant to the requirements set forth in NRS 474.190. Like other taxing units, including Washoe County, the Washoe County School District, the State of Nevada, the Incline Village General Improvement District, and the supplemental city/county relief tax account, FPD obtains funding from property tax distributions. Slightly more than half of FPD's budget is made up of its bimonthly distributions of the real property taxes.

Pursuant to our decision in Berrum v. Otto, 127 Nev. ___, ___, 255 P.3d 1269, 1274-75 (2011), in which we held that the Washoe County Treasurer had a duty under NRS 360.2935 to refund, with interest, unconstitutionally imposed and collected property taxes in Incline Village and Crystal Bay, the County Commissioners considered various ways in which the refund and interest payment could be funded. The County Commissioners ultimately decided to pay for the refund and interest by reducing future property tax distributions proportionately among the various taxing units. Thus, in August 2011, the County Commissioners directed Treasurer Davis to make the refunds and interest payments and to withhold ...


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