Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Kuperman v. Assessment Appeals Bd. (Cal. Ct. App. - March 20, 2006)

Ah, the value of a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. The injustices that you can help to correct. The plights that you can attempt to alleviate. The benefits you can grant to the world.

Oh, wait a minute. That's not what it should be used for. Instead, maybe the recipient should just hang out at his home in Fallbrook and consistently challenge -- in every possible forum -- the assessed valuation of a 50-acre parcel that you purchased. That's what it's for.

Or at least that's apparently the theory of Lawrence C. Kuperman, a member of the local Bar down here. Larry buys a 50 acre parcel in De Luz in 1996 for $185,000. Not bad. Not bad at all. Especially since a mere three years earlier, in 1993, the very same parcel sold for $300,000.

The San Diego Assessor's Office thinks, hey, this alleged purchase price looks a bit low. Maybe there are some shenanigans going on here. But, in the end, after an appraisal, the Assessor's Office decides that it's fine with a $185,000 valuation. So Kuperman obtains an assessment at the lower value. Again: Not bad.

But then, six years later, Kuperman decides: Hey, why not demand an even lower valuation? His reason? Oh, I just discovered that SDG&E has an easement over the land. A recorded easement. Oh, did I mention? I'm an attorney. A U. Chicago graduate, no less. Someone who's very, very capable of suing my title company in the event they miss a recorded easement. (Parenthetically, I looked up various lawsuits in San Diego both by and against Lawrence Kuperman. Let's just say that there's more than one.)

Anyway, Kuperman demands that the Assessor's Office lower the base valuation of his parcel to a mere $38,242. For fifty acres. In San Diego.

The Assessor's Office -- shockingly -- refuses, and denies his application. (Did I mention that it was beyond the four-year limitations period for such claims? It was.)

So Kuperman appeals to the Board. And loses. So he files a writ of mandamus in the Superior Court. And loses. And he then appeals to the Court of Appeal. And loses. In this opinion by Justice McConnell.

Admittedly, there's a concurrence by Justice Aaron, who also agrees that Kuperman should lose, but for somewhat different reasons. In any event, Kuperman loses again. With a resulting cost award.

I do feel a tiny bit bad for Kuperman, since his title company doesn't sound that great. But that's why we let you sue them. You don't file a time-barred claim against the Assessor. Either in addition or instead.

Plus, one more thing. You know what this is all about, right? Something that's not mentioned in Justice McConnell's opinion, but perhaps should be. Remember that Kuperman's not challenging the current assessed valuation of his property. You can do that any time. If the property (given the easement) is really only worth $38,000 -- rather than $185,000 -- at this point, you can easily get that changed. But that's not what Kuperman wants. (Which is not surprising, given the increase in property values since 1996). Rather, he wants the base assessment to be $38,000, and hence any increases limited to 1% of that figure. So even if the property is in fact worth $150,000 now, he wants it assessed at $40,000.

Not exactly the kind of "justice" that really gets your juices flowing. Writ denied. Affirmed. End of story.