JEFFERSON CITY — A former attorney with the Missouri Department of Revenue and his wife, a retired school teacher, have had their property tax credit appeal denied by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Charles and Mary Harter, who were found to have improperly calculated their income eligibility for the state's property tax credit, had petitioned for a review of an Administrative Hearing Commission. Following a hearing, the commission had determined that their Social Security and annuity payments should have been included in their income for property tax credit purposes.
The commission also ruled that the Harters were only eligible for a reduced credit for the 2010 tax year and not eligible for the years 2011-13 because their income exceeded the maximum upper limits of eligibility under state statute.
In their appeal, the Harters did not contest the Department of Revenue's assessment of their Missouri adjusted gross income or taxes due in years 2010-13. Instead, they only challenged a determination regarding their eligibility for – and the proper amount of – the property tax credit in those years.
The Supreme Court issued its order Jan. 31.
In the opinion, Justice Paul Wilson noted that the Harters "misperceived" the nature of the commission’s role and misstated the commission’s decision in determining Mary Harter's disability.
"The Court rejects the Harters’ claim that the Commission lacked authority to dispose of the issues raised in their petitions by summary decision," Wilson wrote. "The Commission’s procedure for summary decision no more violates the 'right' to a hearing...than this Court’s rules permitting summary judgment violate the constitutional right to a jury trial."
Wilson wrote that the commission properly calculated the Harters' income for property tax purposes during challenged period. He also found that it properly included the total amount of public and private pensions and annuities
He further noted that the Harters did not offer a definition of "annuity" under federal tax law.
"Instead, they maintain only that, because some portions of some annuities are not taxable as income under federal law, such portions cannot be included as 'income' for purpose of determining their eligibility for the PTC (property tax credit)," he wrote.
Wilson wrote that the court rejects the Harters' claim that the Administrative Hearing Commission lacked authority to take up the issues raised in their petitions by summary judgment.
"If there are no disputed issues of material fact, the Commission’s procedure for summary decision no more violates the 'right' to a hearing under section 621.050.1 than this Court’s rules permitting summary judgment violate the constitutional right to a jury trial under article 1, section 22(a), of the Missouri Constitution," he wrote.
"Trials (in the latter instance) and hearings (in the former) are the means by which disputed issues of material fact are decided. When there are no such disputes, a mechanism for summary disposition serves the best interests of all involved. Here, because no disputed issues of material fact were raised by the Harters’ petition, a summary decision by the Commission was appropriate."
Justices Patricia Breckenridge, Zel Fischer, Laura Stith, George Draper and Mary Russell concurred in the opinion.