On Friday, Aug. 7, the Superior Court in Sacramento will begin proceedings on the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s lawsuit opposing the State Responsibility Area Fire Fee.
The initial filing in October 2012 was a class-action motion to which the state objected. Nearly three years later, this hearing will determine whether the litigation can continue as a class action.
The state has submitted several reasons for the court to dismiss the motion to certify a class.
First, plaintiffs seek to certify a class that includes everyone who paid the fire prevention fee, regardless of whether they filed administrative petitions for redetermination. Individuals who have not paid the fire prevention fee and exhausted their administrative remedies are not entitled to class relief; they are not entitled to seek declaratory relief if the fee is deemed unconstitutional, the state claims.
They should be dismissed entirely from the action because the court has already ruled that suits for refunds can be presented only by parties who timely filed administrative petitions. For the same reasons that plaintiffs who did not file timely administrative petitions are not permitted to sue for a refund, they are not entitled to seek declaratory relief that the fee is unconstitutional. It would be improper to allow class relief on behalf of any such plaintiffs.
HJTA agrees that the court refused to seek refunds for specific individuals who had not filed a Petition for Redetermination. However, the same court upheld the individuals’ right to file for declaratory relief, which is one purpose of the litigation.
Further, HJTA cites cases that recognize the limit on seeking refunds; nevertheless, the plaintiffs proceeded to win relief from further “illegal tax collection.”
Second, even if relief could otherwise be afforded, a class action would not offer a superior procedure to afford declaratory relief to those fee payers.
Third, the class seeking a refund of the fee is not adequately defined or ascertainable. The class seeking a refund is impossible to ascertain, because the plaintiffs do not identify which years of the fee are in issue.
HJTA’s response to this objection from Cal Fire was simply that the Board of Equalization would be responsible for any refunds if that were the final outcome. This is not an issue that Cal Fire needs to litigate, according to HJTA; the BOE is not opposing the class certification.