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Block 83 Townsite v. Fairbanks North Star Borough

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 22, 2009

LOT 04B & 5C, BLOCK 83 TOWNSITE, Appellant,
v.
FAIRBANKS NORTH STAR BOROUGH, Appellee.

Page 189

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 190

Wolfgang Falke, pro se, Fairbanks, Appellant.

Cynthia M. Klepaski, Assistant Borough Attorney, and A. RenéBroker, Borough Attorney, Fairbanks, for Appellee.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

FABE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This action arises from a foreclosure proceeding brought by the Fairbanks North Star Borough. In March 2005 the Borough filed for foreclosure against all properties for which property tax payments for 2004 or earlier years remained unpaid. The list of properties included Wolfgang Falke's residential property. Although Falke admitted that he had not paid his property taxes, he argued that his tax assessment was incorrect because of the Borough's unlawful denial of a partial tax exemption based on Falke's failure to pay the prior year's property taxes in a timely manner. Falke argued that the Borough ordinance restricting the exemption to those who are current on their property taxes is contrary to Alaska statutes and violates the Alaska Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. Falke's response to the Borough's foreclosure action purported to speak not only for Falke's property, but also for " all other properties similarly situated." The superior court granted summary judgment to the Borough and Falke appeals, arguing that the superior court erred on the law and that it abused its discretion in certain decisions related to the case caption. Because the superior court's decisions were correct on the law and did not represent an abuse of discretion, we affirm the judgment in all respects.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In March 2005 the Borough filed a petition for judgment under AS 29.45.330, seeking foreclosure of the Borough's liens against all properties on which property taxes for tax year 2004 or earlier were not fully paid. Among these was Falke's residential property: Lot 04B & 5C, Block 83 Townsite. Falke filed an answer and counterclaim " on behalf of ... Lot 4B & 5C Block 83 Townsite ... and on behalf of all other properties similarly situated." Falke argued that his tax liability should be reduced because a partial property tax exemption provided by Fairbanks North Star Borough Code (FNSBC) 03.08.020 should have been applied to his property and all similarly situated properties. The Borough applies the partial exemption to owner-occupied residential property on which no back taxes are owed as of May 10 of the relevant tax year.[1] Falke's property was denied the exemption for the 2004 tax year because prior years' property taxes had not been fully paid by May 10, 2004. Falke's answer and counterclaim argued that conditioning the exemption on payment of all back taxes violated AS 29.45.250 and article I, section 1 of the Alaska Constitution.

After Falke responded, the superior court assigned Falke's case a separate case number, naming Falke as the defendant. Falke filed a motion to reconsider, asking the court to amend the caption of the case to list his property, rather than Falke himself, as the defendant. Falke's motion and proposed order

Page 191

suggested that the caption list Falke's property as the defendant " on its own behalf and on behalf of all other properties similarly situated." The Borough then filed a partial opposition to Falke's motion for reconsideration, explaining that while the Borough did not object to listing Falke's property as the party, it did object to the addition of language implying that the case was a class action. Falke then filed an objection to the Borough's opposition, arguing that under Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 77(k)(3), the Borough was precluded from filing a response unless requested by the court. Falke's objection asked the superior court to strike the document from the record and return it to the Borough. The superior court issued an order granting Falke's motion for reconsideration and directing a change in the caption, listing " Lot 04B & 5C, Block 83 Townsite" as the defendant in the ...


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