Friday, October 9, 2015

Not your typical property tax protest - Chief Appraiser sues Valero over Appraisal Review Board's reduction of appraised value of oil company's property

Sands Stiefer, Chief Appraiser of the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) yesterday filed suit against Valero Refining Company of Texas, requesting that the order of the Appraisal Review Board reducing the appraised value of Valero's property for 2015 tax year, which the Board entered as a result of Valero's administrative protest, be set aside as too low. 

Stiefer v Valero Refining Company of Texas 

Acting in this official capacity, Stiefer complains about the Appraisal Review Board's reduction of the total appraised value of the subject property from $423,898,900 to $300,000,000, characterizing the adjusted value "far lower than the actual market value of the subject property as of January 1, 2015." 

"If allowed to stand," the pleading continues, "such value would permit the subject property to escape its fair share of the tax burden in Harris County, Texas, thereby increasing the tax burden on other taxpayers in the County." 

Stiefer asks the court for a judicial determination of value, and to increase the appraised value of the property on the appraisal roll.  

The petition was filed for Stiefer by Andrea Chan, an attorney with OLSEN & OLSEN, L.L.P., a law firm with offices at that Wortham Tower on Allen Parkway. 

Case info: Cause No. 2015-60014, Sands Stiefer, in his capacity as Chief Appraiser of the Harris County Appraisal District v. Valero Refining Company of Texas, filed 10/8/2015 with the Harris County District Clerk, and assigned to the 295th District Court.


HCAD ACCOUNT 0401980000012 Land and Improvements 

Breakdown by value of land and value of improvements 

 HCAD ACCOUNT 0401980000103 Pollution Control 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Owner of Komodo's Pub in Midtown files lawsuit against roofing contractor over water damage and lost profits caused by temporary closure


In a petition filed October 6, 2015 in Harris County District Court, Komodo's owner alleges that the bar hired Strata Roofing & Construction LLC to repair its roof for $15,580.00 and that the contractor's workers "allowed rain to flood the premises", forcing it to shut its doors for 12 business days.

As a result, the petition states, the popular neighborhood bar suffered damages in the form of $15,000 in lost profits, $6,000 in wages paid to employees while it was closed, and incurred additional expenses of $500 for paint.

The pleading further alleges that the contractor refused to pay for the alleged damages after having been sent a demand letter, and that the roofing company instead filed a mechanic's lien on the property located at 2004 Baldwin St. Houston TX 77002 for $9,640.00 on August 31, 2015.

Komodo says that the underlying contract for roofing repairs was signed on June 21, 2015 and that under the term of the contract Strata Roofing accepted responsibility for any damage that was directly caused by water intrusion during rainfall. It claims that the damages would not have occurred but for the contractor's negligent conduct in performing the job.

Komodo seeks relief for breach of contract, negligence, and also makes a claim under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). It seeks a total of $21,500 in actual damages, attorney's fees, interest, and court costs. Additionally, Komodo seeks a judicial declaration that the lien filed by the contractor is invalid. It requests that it be awarded its attorney's fees on the breach of contract claim, and also references the Property Code and the Declaratory Judgments Act as a basis for recovering attorneys fees that were necessary to remove the mechanic's lien filed by the contractor, which it claims is invalid.

Komodo's is an assumed name of Lizzard's Midtown, Inc, which was formally named as the plaintiff in this civil action. The company's law firm is MONSHAUGEN & VAN HUFF, P.C. and one its owners, Albert T. Van Huff, signed the original petition. Two other lawyers are also shown on the address block: Stephanie B. Donaho and Amy L. Schlaffer.

Defendant STRATA ROOFING & CONSTRUCTION, LLC has not yet been served with citation and has not answered the lawsuit. Therefore, it is not known who will represent them, and how they will defend the lawsuit. Based on their filing of a mechanic's lien in the property records of the Harris County Clerk's Office, which indicates that they have not been paid the full contracted-for price for the job, they will likely assert a counterclaim against the owner of the bar.

CASE INFO: Cause No. 2015-59375, Lizzard's Midtown, Inc. v. Strata Roofing & Construction, LLC, filed 10/6/2015 with the Harris County District Clerk, and randomly assigned to the 234th District Court, Harris County, Texas.

Attorney sues over bad advice about how to structure lawfirm to reduce tax bite

Catherine Benouis, a family law solo based in Austin, sought the advice of other professionals on how to restructure her lawfirm to minimize her tax bill and ran afoul of IRS rules as a consequence, according to the petition filed on her behalf on October 7, 2015 by another lawyer, Laura Richards Sherry, with Dallas-based THE HARRIS FIRM, in Harris County District Court.

Suing both in her own name, and in that of the lawfirm entities - CATHERINE BENOUIS, P.C. and BENOUIS LAW LTD, LLP - Benouis states that she had been practicing as a sole practitioner and that she was provided faulty legal and accounting advice regarding the benefits of reorganizing of her practice, which was supposed to relieve her from having to pay self-employment tax under a limited partnership structure.

She alleges that she later had to amend her tax returns and pay past-due self-employment tax because the IRS determined that the limited partnership structure does not provide a basis for non-payment of self-employment tax with Benouis as the sole individual partner in the partnership, performing the majority of legal services on behalf of the law firm, and acting as a partner rather than as an ordinary investor. She alleges that the Defendants represented the scheme as viable and legal when they should have known better.

Benouis names six defendants. The list includes both individuals and entity defendants: Loren R. Cook; Loren R. Cook, P.C.; Loren R. Cook & Associates, Ltd, LLP; Conrad Cook & Associates, Ltd, LLP; Ronald Mcelmurry; and November Consultants, LLC.
In her 19-page original petition Benouis invokes theories of fraud, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty in addition to breach of contract. She also pleads the discovery rule, apparently because at least some of the causes of action would otherwise be time-barred. Benouis sues for restitution of the fees she paid the defendants, back taxes, penalties, and interest owed to the IRS, which she attributes to the defendants' wrongful conduct, and professional fees paid to CPAs for assistance with the IRS audit and the amendment of the tax returns.

Excerpt from Original Petition in Attorney's suit complaining of
faulty tax advice, and the financial aftermath of following it 
Interestingly, it appears that she seeks to hold the defendants liable for the self-employment taxes that she was ultimately not able to avoid, rather than merely the penalties and other costs resulting from their nonpayment and the need to file amended tax returns.

Cause No. 2015-59511, assigned to the 80th District Court, Harris County, Texas.