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Pursche v. Borough

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 25, 2016

RAY PURSCHE, Appellant,
v.
MATANUSKA-SUSITNA BOROUGH, Appellee

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Kari Kristiansen, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-14-01600 CI.

         Ray Pursche, Pro se, Wasilla, Appellant.

         John Aschenbrenner, Deputy Borough Attorney, and Nicholas Spiropoulos, Borough Attorney, Palmer, for Appellee.

         Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Fabe, Winfree, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

          OPINION

Page 252

          BOLGER, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A Wasilla landowner appeals the tax foreclosure against his property, arguing that the property is exempt from local property taxes because it was originally transferred to his predecessor by federal patent. He also claims that the federal patent takes this property beyond state court jurisdiction. But after a patent issues, property disputes must generally be resolved in state court. And land once owned by the federal government is subject to local property taxes after it is conveyed to a private party. We therefore affirm the superior court's judgment of foreclosure.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Ray Pursche owns a parcel of real property in Wasilla, a city located within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough boundaries. Pursche's property was originally conveyed by a federal homestead patent; Pursche recorded a copy of the patent in 1999. In 2012 Pursche failed to pay Borough property taxes on the property. In May 2014 the Borough filed in the superior court its annual petition for foreclosure on properties within its boundaries.[1] Attached to this petition was a foreclosure list showing all taxable parcels of land in the Borough that were delinquent in their property taxes. Pursche's property was included on this foreclosure list because he owed $840.89 in delinquent real property taxes, penalties, and interest for taxes levied in 2012.

         Pursche filed an objection to the foreclosure list in the superior court.[2] In his objection Pursche argued that he did not owe any taxes on the property to the Borough because the federal land patent in its chain of title exempted it from local taxes. He also claimed that the superior court did not have jurisdiction to foreclose on his property because of the federal land patent in its chain of title.

         The Borough filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that the foreclosure list provided prima facie evidence that Pursche had failed to pay valid taxes.[3] Pursche then filed a motion to dismiss, reiterating the arguments he made in his initial objection to the foreclosure list. The superior court granted the Borough's motion for summary judgment and denied Pursche's motion to dismiss.

         On the issue of jurisdiction, the superior court concluded that it had jurisdiction over Pursche's land, despite the federal land patent in its chain of title. It explained that under Alaska law, the superior court is the court of general jurisdiction, and there is no exception that removes patented property from this broad jurisdictional grant.

         The court also held that Pursche's property was properly subject to local property taxes. The court noted that Pursche had cited no authority to support his claim that property with a federal land patent in the chain of title is exempt from local property taxes. The court stated that the authority cited by Pursche supported only the proposition that such land was not taxable " while still held by the United States." Thus, the court concluded, Pursche had failed to rebut the evidence that the foreclosure list correctly identified his property as having unpaid, valid taxes, and as a result, the Borough could foreclose on it.

         Pursche appeals the grant of summary judgment pro se.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

          " [A] party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of proving,

Page 253

through admissible evidence, that there are no [genuine] disputed issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." [4] " Once the moving party has made that showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that he could produce evidence reasonably tending to dispute or contradict the movant's evidence and thus demonstrate that a material issue of fact exists." [5] " We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, 'affirming if the record ...


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