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Opinion Date: 03/10/2011
e-Journal Date: 03/14/2011
Full Text Opinion

Practice Area(s):   Tax

Issues: The General Property Tax Act (GPTA)(MCL 211.1 et seq.); Whether a "conveyance" as that term is used in MCL 211.27a(3) must be by means of a written instrument; Michigan Bell Tel. Co. v. Department of Treasury; Brown v. Detroit Mayor; Sun Valley Foods Co. v. Ward; People v. Jackson; Proposal A amending article 9, ยง 3 of the Michigan Constitution; Toll Northville Ltd. v. Northville Twp.; The "joint-tenancy" exception; The "transfer of ownership" and "uncapping event"; The "original owner of the property"; The "conveyance at issue"; The "original-ownership requirement" and the "continuous-tenancy requirement"; Albro v. Allen; Oakland County Bd. of County Rd. Comm'rs v. Michigan Prop. & Cas. Guar. Ass'n; McMurtry v. Smith; Whether under MCL 211.27a(7)(h) the petitioner's property was uncapped for purposes of property-tax reassessment by either the death of the other joint tenant in January 2005 or the creation of a subsequent joint tenancy in September 2005; "When"; Preservation of the September 2005 conveyance as a possible uncapping event; Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Cusick; Peterman v. Department of Natural Res.; Mulholland v. DEC Int'l Corp.; How MCL 211.27a(7)(h) would apply to the creation of a successive joint tenancy
Court: Michigan Supreme Court
Case Name: Klooster v. City of Charlevoix
e-Journal Number: 48314
Judge(s): Cavanagh, Young, Jr., M. Kelly, Markman, Hathaway, M.B. Kelly, and Zahra

The court held that a "conveyance" for purposes of MCL 211.27a does not require a written instrument and that while the January 2005 termination of the joint tenancy caused by the death of a cotenant was within the joint-tenancy exception created by MCL 211.27a(7)(h) and was not a transfer of ownership that uncapped the property value, the September 2005 conveyance from the petitioner to himself and his brother as joint tenants did uncap the property value, because the conveyance did not fall within the joint-tenancy exception. Thus, the court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and held that the respondent-city properly issued its 2006 notice of reassessment and that the Tax Tribunal reached the correct result, albeit for the wrong reason. In 1959, James and Dona Klooster acquired title to the property and held it as tenants by the entirety. On August 11, 2004, Dona quitclaimed her interest in the property to James, leaving James as the sole owner. On that same day, James quitclaimed the property to himself and his son, petitioner, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. On January 11, 2005, James died, leaving petitioner as the sole property owner by operation of law. On September 10, 2005, petitioner quitclaimed the property to himself and his brother, Charles, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. In 2006, the city assessor issued petitioner and Charles a notice of assessment, taxable valuation, and property classification, indicating that, because of a transfer of ownership, the property's taxable value had been reassessed using the TCV of the property. The notice did not state whether the termination of the joint tenancy caused by James's death in January 2005 or the September 2005 creation of the joint tenancy between petitioner and Charles constituted the transfer of ownership. As a result of the reassessment, the taxable value of petitioner's property increased from $37,802 to $72,300. The parties agreed that the August 2004 conveyance from James to himself and petitioner as joint tenants with rights of survivorship was not an uncapping event because MCL 211.27a(7)(h) excludes such conveyances from the definition of "transfer of ownership." Because James did not hold the property in a joint tenancy before creating the joint tenancy with petitioner, the continuous-tenancy requirement of MCL 211.27a(7)(h) was inapplicable. Under the original-ownership requirement of MCL 211.27a(7)(h), James "was an original owner of the property before the [August 2004] joint tenancy was initially created." When James died in January 2005, the joint tenancy terminated by operation of law, vesting petitioner with sole ownership. The Court of Appeals held that the vesting of sole ownership was not a conveyance because there was no written instrument. The court held that this was error. The interest that passes to the last survivor in a joint tenancy is likewise a conveyance under the GPTA. In holding that there was no conveyance absent a writing, the Court of Appeals erred by relying on the act-specific definitions of a "conveyance" in MCL 565.35 and in McMurtry. The plain text of MCL 211.27a indicates that the Legislature did not intend that conveyances must be effected by means of a written instrument for purposes of the GPTA. Thus, the court held that the vesting of a fee simple in the last surviving cotenant of a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship is a "conveyance" for purposes of the GPTA and requires no additional writing beyond that which created the joint tenancy. As to conveyances under the GPTA, the court held that as applied to terminations of joint tenancies, the plain text of MCL 211.27a(7)(h) does not apply only to successive joint tenancies. Thus, the court could apply the joint-tenancy exception to the January 2005 conveyance. The court held that the January 2005 conveyance did not uncap the property valuation. However, since petitioner was not an original owner of the property before he initially created the joint tenancy with Charles, the September 2005 conveyance did not satisfy the joint-tenancy exception of MCL 211.27a(7)(h). Thus, that conveyance was a transfer of ownership that uncapped the property valuation.

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