law-tax-suit-delinquency | property tax appraisal appeals judicial review suit | HCAD property tax protest appeals


At any time after its tax on property becomes delinquent, a taxing unit may file a suit to foreclose the lien
securing payment of the tax. Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 33.41(a) (Vernon 2008). In delinquent tax suits, as here, the
court may appoint a master to perform the duties required by the court. Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 33.71(a) (Vernon
2008). At the conclusion of a hearing by the master that results in a recommendation of a final judgment or on
the request of the referring court, the master shall transmit to the referring court all papers relating to the case,
including the master’s signed and dated report. Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 33.72(a) (Vernon 2008). A party is
entitled to a hearing in the referring court by timely filing an appeal of the master’s recommendation. Tex. Tax
Code Ann. § 33.74(a) (Vernon 2008). An appeal to the referring court must be in writing and must specify the
findings and conclusions of the master that are objected to and “the appeal shall be limited to those findings and
conclusions.” Id. 33.74(c). As to the issues appealed from the tax master’s recommendations, the referring court
is limited to hearing evidence de novo. See Hebisen v. Clear Creek Indep. Sch. Dist., 217 S.W.3d 527, 531–32
(Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, no pet.); Godwin v. Aldine Indep. Sch. Dist., 961 S.W.2d 219, 221 (Tex.
App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1997, no writ); see also Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 33.74(d).

In a trial de novo, the reviewing court shall try each issue of fact and law in the manner that applies in other civil
suits. Tex. Gov. Code Ann. § 2001.173 (Vernon 2008); PR Inv. & Specialty Retailers Inc. v. State, 251 S.W.3d
472, 476 (Tex. 2008); Godwin, 961 S.W.2d at 221. A trial de novo is not an appeal, but a new, independent
action that retains all the attributes of the original action in the reviewing court. See Godwin, 961 S.W.2d at 221.
Thus, the burden of proof remains on the proponent of the action. See id.

In an action for delinquent taxes, once the taxing authority meets its initial burden to show that taxes are due
and delinquent, such as through the introduction of delinquent tax records, the burden switches to the taxpayer
to introduce competent evidence to invalidate the assessments. Amoroso v. Aldine Indep. Sch. Dist., 808 S.W.
2d 118, 120–21 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1991,writ denied).

Gillum v. Harris County (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 22, 2009)(Higley)
ad valorem property tax case, tax suit, appeal from tax master to referring court, de novo trial)
Justice Higley    
Before Justices Jennings, Higley and Sharp)
01-08-00551-CV   Jennifer Gillum v. Harris County   
Appeal from 157th District Court of Harris County  
Trial Court Judge:
Hon. Randy Wilson