VERM v. Harris County Appraisal District, (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] July 1, 2008)
Verm v. HCAD (Tex.App.- Houston [1st. Dist.] July 1, 2008)(Yates)
(
property tax appeal, no violation of due process)
AFFIRMED: Opinion by
Justice Brock Yates  
Before Justices Brock Yates, Guzman and Brown
14-06-01046-CV Ray A Verm & Jane Verm, as the Property Owners and the Property Owners
v.
Harris County Appraisal District and the Appraisal Review Board of Harris County Appraisal District
Appeal from 190th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court
Judge: Jennifer Elrod Walker  

RAY A. VERM & JANE VERM, AS THE PROPERTY OWNERS AND THE PROPERTY
OWNERS, Appellants,
v.
HARRIS COUNTY APPRAISAL DISTRICT AND THE APPRAISAL REVIEW BOARD OF
HARRIS COUNTY APPRAISAL DISTRICT, Appellees.

No. 14-06-01046-CV.
Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District, Houston.
Memorandum Opinion filed July 1, 2008.
Panel consists of Justices YATES, GUZMAN, and BROWN.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LESLIE B. YATES, Justice

In this ad valorem property tax case, appellants, Ray A. Verm and Jane Verm, the individual owners of the
property at issue, challenge the trial court's rendition of summary judgment in favor of appellee, Harris County
Appraisal District (HCAD),[1] on the Verms' claims that the subject property was unequally appraised. In their
sole issue, the Verms argue the trial court erred in granting HCAD's motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

The Verms own real property located in Harris County, Texas. After HCAD appraised the property at a value of
$923,419 for the 2005 tax year, the Verms filed a protest. Their designated agent, an employee from a tax
consulting firm, represented them at the protest hearing held before a three-member panel of the Harris
County Appraisal Review Board (the Board). At the hearing, the Verms' agent recommended to the panel that
the property should be appraised at $890,500. The chief appraiser and representative of HCAD concurred that
the property should be valued at $890,500, and the Board subsequently issued an Order Determining Protest,
setting the appraised value at $ 890,500. The order informed the Verms that they had forty-five days to appeal
the Board's decision in district court. The Verms filed suit against HCAD in district court, alleging that the
property had been unequally appraised.[2] HCAD filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that under
Section 1.111(e) of the Tax Code, an agreement as to the property's value between HCAD and the Verms
prohibited the Verms' appeal as a matter of law. The trial court granted HCAD's motion for summary judgment.

In a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine
issue of material fact and that judgment should be granted as a matter of law. See TEX. R. CIV. P. 166a(c);
KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison County Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999). A defendant is
entitled to summary judgment upon either conclusively negating at least one of the essential elements of each
of the plaintiff's causes of action or by conclusively establishing all the elements of an affirmative defense.
Johnson v. Felts, 140 S.W.3d 702, 706 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, pet. denied). In order to
conclusively negate at least one of the requisite elements, the motion must identify or address the cause of
action or defense and its elements. Id. Under this traditional standard, this court must take as true all evidence
favorable to the nonmovant and must make all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. KPMG Peat
Marwick, 988 S.W.2d at 748.

HCAD moved for summary judgment on the Verms' claims based solely on the ground that the Verms, through
their designated agent, had reached a final and enforceable agreement with HCAD regarding the value of the
property. The Tax Code provides that an agreement between a property owner or the owner's agent and the
chief appraiser is final if the agreement relates to a matter which may be protested to the appraisal review
board or a matter on which a protest has been filed but not determined by the board. See TEX. TAX CODE
ANN. § 1.111(e)(1) (Vernon 2008).

The Verms argue the trial court erred in granting summary judgment pursuant to section 1.111(e) of the Tax
Code because (1) the HCAD chief appraiser's concurrence at the hearing with the value the Verms' agent
suggested did not amount to an agreement, (2) an agreement requires one or both parties to have acted upon
the agreement, and here neither party acted upon the matter, and (3) in any event the Verms' protest was
determined by the Board, making section 1.111(e) inapplicable. We recently addressed similar arguments in
Sondock v. Harris County Appraisal District, 231 S.W.3d 65 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, no pet.). The
Sondock property owners had appealed from a summary judgment in favor of HCAD, alleging that no
agreement with HCAD was reached. Id. at 68-69. A transcript of the hearing before the Board panel indicated
that the HCAD representative had concurred with the valuation suggested by the property owners' agent. Id. at
68. Because the Tax Code does not define the term "agreement," we looked to the ordinary meaning of the
term and concluded that an agreement is "`the act of agreeing; harmony of opinion; accord.'" Id. at 69 (quoting
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). We found that HCAD and the property owners
were in harmony of opinion regarding the appraised value of the property and thus they had reached an
agreement. Id. We also concluded that by deleting the requirement of Board approval, the legislature intended
to make it easier for parties to reach agreements in the event of a dispute involving taxable property, and
therefore validating agreements where there was a meeting of the minds furthered that purpose. See id.; see
also TEX. TAX CODE ANN. § 1.111(e)(1).

Although the record does not contain a transcript of the hearing, the Verms' brief to this court states that at the
hearing their agent requested an appraised value of $890,500 and that the HCAD chief appraiser "concurred"
with this value. HCAD did not contradict these facts as contained in the Verms' brief, and thus we take them as
true. See TEX. R. APP. P. 38.1(f) (in a civil case, an appellate court is to accept as true facts stated in the
appellant's brief unless another party contradicts those facts). As in Sondock, we find that when HCAD
"concurred" with the Verms' valuation, the Verms and HCAD reached a final agreement as to the value of the
subject property. See Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 69; see also Hartman v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., 251
S.W.3d 595, 601 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. denied) ("It is the fact of agreeingCthe harmony of
opinionsCthat creates the agreement.").

Moreover, the agreement was reached while the Board was still deliberating, and therefore it related to a
matter in which a protest had been filed but not yet determined by the Board. See Tex. Tax Code Ann. §
1.111(e)(1); Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 69; BPAC Tex., LP v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., No. 01-03-01238-CV,
2004 WL 2422033, at *1, 3 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 28, 2004, no pet.) (mem. op) (holding that
concurrence as to property value between owner's agent and HCAD representative during hearing constituted
a final agreement enforceable under section 1.111(e)). Although the Verms contend that no agreement can
exist because the parties did not act on the agreement or inform the Board panel that an agreement had been
reached, "[w]e do not read section 1.111(e) to require such actions." Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 69; see also
Hartman, 251 S.W.3d at 600 (holding that by announcing same opinion regarding property's value to panel,
property owner and HCAD were informing panel of their agreement and "acting" upon the matter, and that
section 1.111(e) does not require a formal announcement such as "we agree"). The Verms also claim that by
issuing an Order Determining Protest, the Board never accepted or reviewed any alleged agreement. We
addressed a similar argument in Sondock and concluded that because the agreement was final the moment it
was reached, that agreement rendered any determination by the Board regarding value, such as the Order
Determining Protest, irrelevant. Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 69.

The Verms further argue that interpreting section 1.111(e) as precluding judicial appeal in this case
unconstitutionally denies them their due process rights. The collection of taxes constitutes deprivation of
property; therefore a taxing authority must afford a property owner due process of law. See McKesson Corp. v.
Div. of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco, 496 U.S. 18, 36 (1990); Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 70. Texas courts
have found due process satisfied in cases involving taxation where the taxpayer is given an opportunity to be
heard before an assessment board at some stage of the proceedings. See Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 70; ABT
Galveston Ltd. P'ship v. Galveston Cent. Appraisal Dist., 137 S.W.3d 146, 155 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.]
2004, no pet.); Denton Cent. Appraisal Dist. v. CIT Leasing Corp., 115 S.W.3d 261, 266 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth
2003, pet. denied).

We addressed this argument in Sondock and stated, "We cannot imagine how the [property owners] were
deprived of due process when they were given the opportunity to present their arguments to a legal panel and
they reached an agreement fully satisfying their stated contentions." Sondock, 231 S.W.3d at 70. The Verms
presented their protest to the panel, were provided a hearing before the panel on the matter, and raised no
further complaints after the HCAD representative concurred with their proposed property valuation.
Accordingly, we find the Verms were afforded due process. See id.; see also Hartman, 251 S.W.3d at 601
(holding property owners who had opportunity to be heard before appraisal review board were provided due
process); BPAC Tex., LP, 2004 WL 2422033, at *3 (holding that when property owner chose to reach
agreement with HCAD, it was not deprived of its statutory due process right to appeal appraisal board's order
because agreement, not order, determined outcome). We overrule the Verms' issue and hold the trial court did
not err in granting summary judgment in HCAD's favor.

We affirm the trial court's judgment.

[1] Although the Harris County Appraisal Review Board is listed in the style of this case, service was not perfected on the Board
and therefore it was not party to the lawsuit or this appeal. In addition, while only HCAD moved for summary judgment, the
judgment in this case is final for purposes of appeal. See Sondock v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., 231 S.W.3d 65, 67 n. 1 (Tex.
App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, no pet.) (stating that even though service was not perfected as to Harris County Appraisal Review
Board, judgment was still final as to the Board).

[2] The Verms' original petition also alleged that the property had been excessively appraised, but they later nonsuited this claim.