BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
JOHN ARTHUR TAYLOR, JR. FROM )
A DECISION OF THE NATRONA COUNTY ) Docket No. 2005-98
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2005 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
DECISION AND ORDER
John Arthur Taylor, Jr., who wishes to be known as “John-Arthur: Taylor Jr.” (Petitioner), appearing pro-se, on his own behalf.
Kimberly A. Corey, Deputy County Attorney, on behalf of the Natrona County Assessor (Assessor).
This is an appeal from a decision of the Natrona County Board of Equalization (County Board). The State Board of Equalization (State Board), comprised of Alan B. Minier, Chairman, Thomas R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman, and Thomas D. Roberts, Board Member, considered the hearing record and decision of the County Board. Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal was filed with the State Board effective September 9, 2005. Both parties filed pleadings as allowed by the State Board’s October 25, 2005, Briefing Order. Neither party requested oral argument.
The Petitioner appealed the County Board decision affirming the value determined by the Assessor. He contends that he holds his property by allodial title, and his property is therefore not subject to taxation. His contention is based principally on an incorrect reading of the Wyoming Uniform Commercial Code.
We evaluated the Petitioner’s claims against our standard of review, which is whether the ruling of the County Board was arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by the substantial evidence, and/or contrary to law. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 9. We affirm the County Board’s decision.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COUNTY BOARD
The County Board conducted a hearing on August 24, 2005. The County Board entered Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order, affirming the County Assessor’s determination of value on August 31, 2005.
The State Board is required to “hear appeals from county boards of equalization.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c). A timely appeal from the County Board decision was filed with the State Board. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 2.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When the State Board hears appeals from a County Board, it acts as an intermediate level of appellate review. Laramie County Board of Equalization v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 915 P.2d 1184, 1188 (Wyo. 1996); Union Pacific Railroad Company v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 802 P.2d 856, 859 (Wyo. 1990). In its appellate capacity, the State Board treats the County Board as the finder of fact. Id. In contrast, the State Board acts as the finder of fact when it hears contested cases on appeal from final decisions of the Wyoming Department of Revenue (Department). Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c). This sharp distinction in roles is reflected in the State Board Rules governing the two different types of proceedings. Compare Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 2 and Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3. Statutory language first adopted in 1995, when the State Board and the Department were reorganized into separate entities, does not express the distinction between the State Board’s appellate and de novo capacities with the same clarity as our long-standing Rules. 1995 Wyo. Sess. Laws, Chapter 209, §1; Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-1-304(a).
By Rule, the State Board’s standards for review of a County Board’s decision are nearly identical to the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act standards which a district court must apply to hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(c)(ii). However, unlike a district court, the State Board will not rule on claims that a County Board has acted “[c]ontrary to constitutional right, power, privilege or immunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-1-114(c)(ii)(B). The State Board’s review is limited to a determination of whether the County Board action is:
(a) Arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law;
(b) In excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limitations or lacking statutory right;
(c) Without observance of procedure required by law; or
(d) Unsupported by substantial evidence.
Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 9.
Since the State Board Rules are patterned on the judicial review provision of the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act, we look to precedent under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(c) for guidance. For example, we must apply this substantial evidence standard:
Our task is to examine the entire record to determine if substantial evidence exists to support the [County Board’s] findings. We will not substitute our judgment for that of the [County Board] if [its] decision is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept in support of the agency’s conclusions.
Clark v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division, 934 P.2d 1269, 1272 (Wyo. 1997).
Under our standards of review, the Petitioner must argue that the County Board decision is unsupported by substantial evidence, and/or the County Board arbitrarily and capriciously determined the property’s value for 2005 tax purposes.
Before the County Board, the Petitioner claimed the Assessor’s valuation was incorrect because Petitioner was exempt from levy, having prepared a Uniform Commercial Code form UCC-1.
On appeal to the State Board, the Petitioner stated five specific issues, which we quote verbatim:
1. Does the County of Natrona own said property in the name of the State of Wyoming?
2. Does the Constitution for the People of the State of Wyoming apply in this case?
3. Where is the State proof of claim requiring the public bond of indebtedness on all property in the State of Wyoming over we the people?
4. Proof of jurisdiction was not presented.
5. Where is the clause in the Wyoming Constitution that allows taxation over an allodial title?
Variations of these points appeared in a statement directed to the County Assessor on June 2, 2005. In his Notice of Appeal, the Petitioner concludes that, because these questions were not answered nor mentioned by the County Board, the County Board’s decision was “issued under fraud.” Since the Petitioner presented no evidence of fraud, we take this claim to be a summation of the preceding five points.
We affirm the County Board’s decision.
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE COUNTY BOARD
1. The County Board made several Findings of Fact, all of which are supported by the record. [Findings of Fact, ¶¶ 1-5, Conclusions of Law, ¶¶ 4-5]. Principally, the County Board found the Petitoner filed a timely appeal [Findings of Fact, ¶ 1], and the Assessor determined the value of Petitioner’s property in the customary manner using a computer assisted mass appraisal system, consistent with the requirements of the Wyoming Department of Revenue. [Findings of Fact, ¶¶ 4-5, Conclusions of Law, ¶ 4].
2. The property in question is residential vacant property located at 1140 North Beech Street in Casper, Wyoming. [County Board Record, pp. 0012-0013]. A worksheet presented at hearing notes the property “is valued equitably with all in [sic] like properties in the area. The values were adjusted using a study of the vacant and improved sales in the market area.” [County Board Record, p. 0012].
3. At the hearing before the County Board, Commissioner Campbell noted, without objection from Petitioner, that the appeal did not question the value determined by the Assessor. Instead, Petitioner limited himself to the claim that he was not subject to taxation. [Transcript, p. 9]. In the words of his Statement of Appeal from County Assessor, he claims to be “U.C.C. -1 exempt from levy.” [County Board Record, p. 004]. (We have assumed that this claim of exemption extends to Petitioner’s real property, and is not limited to himself personally.)
4. Because Petitioner’s theories are unusual, we find it necessary to quote him precisely. Petitioner begins with the premise that he is a “sovereign,” “not a corporate entity.” [Transcript, p. 6]. He claims that by “removing myself from corporate existence removes me from any tax levies.” [Transcript, pp. 6-7].
5. Petitioner explained that he used the Uniform Commercial Code to define himself as a sovereign. “Corporations operate under the Uniform Commercial Code. The Uniform Commercial Code controls every action that we do as a person. . .” [Transcript, p. 6]. Petitioner testified that the filing of a Form UCC-1 Financing Statement “removed himself from corporate entity and denied the corporate existence.” [Transcript, p. 5]. He claims that his property is now “under an allodial title. . . It does not belong to the State of Wyoming.” [Transcript, pp. 5-6]. Petitioner expects some sort of proof of claim that “the State of Wyoming or County or City owns the property. . .” [Transcript, p. 5].
6. Petitioner stated he has reached his theories “over 14 years of law.” [Transcript, p. 6].
7. The record includes a copy of Petitioner’s Form UCC-1 Financing Statement. [County Board Record, pp. 008-010]. The Financing Statement identifies the Debtor as “Taylor Jr., John Arthur, Transmitting Utility/Trade Mark - Debtor,” with an address “C/O 1140 E. Burlington, Casper, Wyoming 82601.” [County Board Record, p. 008]. The Secured Party is identified as John Arthur Taylor Jr., at the same address. [County Board Record, p. 008]. The financing statement identified the collateral covered with these words:
This is Actual and Constructive Notice that all of Debtor’s interest now owned or hereafter acquired is herby [sic] accepted as collateral for securing contractual obligation in favor of the Secured Party as detailed in a true, complete, notarized Security Agreement in the possession of the Secured Party.
NOTICE: In Accordance with USC – Property – This is the entry of the Debtor in the Commercial Registry as a transmitting utility and the following property is hereby registered in the same as a public notice of a commercial transaction #E 77210020: Employer Identification [the State Board here omits the Petitioner’s Social Security Number for his own protection], tax Identification number [omitted for Petitioner’s protection], Birth certificate registration number 165, drivers license number [omitted for Petitioner’s protection]. UCC Contract Trust Account Number [omitted for Petitioner’s protection]. All property is accepted for value and is exempt from Levy. Adjustment of this filing is from Public Policy HJR-192, Public Law 73-10 and UCC 10-104. All proceeds, products, accounts fixtures and the orders there from [sic] are released to the Debtor.
TAYLOR JR., JOHN A., TAYLOR, J. A ORGANIZATION/TRADE NAME/TRADEMARK/DEBTOR.
[County Board Record, p. 008].
8. This identification of collateral was echoed in a Declaration of June 2, 2005, which the Petitioner sent to the Assessor:
I accept for value all related endorsement and documents in the above listed case / account(s) front and back, in accord with UCC 3-419 and public policy, HJR – 192 (whereby: public policy/insurance supersedes public law), for adjustment of the deficiency on the account.
I request that you place my acceptance of the deficiency on the record, as I am the holder in due course, whereby; I reserve the first refusal, of these above listed Notice(s) of deficiency as this property is exempt from levy and the tax estimate is filed for use by the Republic.
You will have ten days from the above date to correct this oversight. Refusal to do your required job will result in further UCC filings if this action is not satisfied in accordance with the correct law. As I have now entered into a contract with you, the value to me is now 1.5 Million dollars payable on demand.
[County Board Record, p. 005].
9. As “optional filer reference data” on the Financing Statement, the typed words “Secured Party” are followed by a handwritten notation, “Without Prejudice UCC 1-207, 1-308,” and is signed by John Arthur Taylor Jr. [County Board Record, p. 008]. The Petitioner’s Statement of Appeal from County Assessor similarly bears the notation, “without prejudice U.C.C. 1-207, 1-308, and with all rights as a sovereign reserved.” [County Board Record, p. 004]. So does the Declaration filed with the Assessor. [County Board Record, p. 006]. Petitioner testified that 1-207 reserved his rights, and 1-308 “is the removal to my jurisdiction, which is common law.” [Transcript, pp. 8-9].
10. In closing, the Petitioner told the County Board that he considered the courts to be a “fraud.”[Transcript, p. 14]. Petitioner went on to state:
. . . Your reference to the constitution, as far as I’m concerned, was wrong. I respect that. There is nothing in that constitution about corporations controlling sovereigns. The sovereigns is us. We are the sovereign, each and every one. It’s just a matter of legal definition of represent [sic] power that has the ability to say what we will or won’t do.
Well, I don’t buy that. Not one bit. Because I try to lead a respectable life, number one, and all I wanted was fairness, and I can see it is not here. So far as I am concerned, I still do not owe that tax; however, I will fill out a bill of exchange and send it through.
[Transcript, p. 14]. The record does not disclose whether the bill of exchange to which Petitioner refers is legal tender. The County Board was not obliged to assume so, nor are we. See infra, ¶¶ 38-40.
DISCUSSION OF PETITIONER’S ISSUES AND APPLICABLE LAW
11. Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal to the State Board was filed timely. The State Board has jurisdiction to hear and determine all issues properly raised pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-109(b)(ii). The County Board had jurisdiction to hear and determine the initial appeal. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-102(c), (n).
A. The constitutional and statutory basis for the Assessor’s determination of value
12. Petitioner has questioned the constitutional premises of the assessment in this case, but not directed our attention to any provisions of the Wyoming Constitution. The constitutional framework for state and local levies in Wyoming is principally set out in Article 15 of the Wyoming Constitution. “All lands and improvements thereon shall be listed for assessment, valued for taxation and assessed separately.” Wyo. Const. art. 15, § 1. Among other things, the Wyoming Constitution requires uniformity of assessment. Wyo. Const. art. 15, § 11. The Wyoming Constitution prohibits taxes not specifically provided by statute. Wyo. Const. art. 15, § 13; see also art. 1, § 28. We conclude that the Petitioner does not contest the existence or effect of these provisions.
13. The Legislature has required all property in Wyoming to be valued annually at fair market value. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(ii). Fair market value is defined as:
[T]he amount in cash, or terms reasonable equivalent to cash, a well informed buyer is justified in paying for a property and a well informed seller is justified in accepting, assuming neither party to the transaction is acting under undue compulsion, and assuming the property has been offered in the open market for a reasonable time.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-101(a)(vi). The statutory valuation date is January 1 of each year; all taxable property must be valued and assessed for taxation in the name of the owner of the property on that date. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(i)(A).
14. The determination of fair market value inevitably involves a degree of discretion:
Early on, Justice Blume recognized a truth inherent in the area of property valuation: “there is no such thing as absolute value. A stone cannot be other than a stone, but one man may give a different valuation to a piece of land than another.” Bunten v. Rock Springs Grazing Ass’n, 29 Wyo. 461, 475, 215 P. 244, 248 (l923). Accordingly, this court has consistently interpreted Wyo. Const. art. 15, § 11 to require “only a rational method [of appraisal], equally applied to all property which results in essential fairness.”
Basin Electric Power Coop. v. Dept. of Revenue, 970 P.2d 841, 857 (Wyo.1998) quoting: Holly Sugar Corp. v. State Board of Equalization, 839 P.2d 959, 964 (Wyo.1992).
15. The duty of annually determining the fair market value of real property rests with the county assessor of each Wyoming County. In completing this task, an assessor is required to “[f]aithfully and diligently follow and apply the orders, procedures and formulae of the Department of Revenue or orders of the State Board of Equalization for the appraisal and assessment of all taxable property.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 18-3-204(a)(ix).
16. The Department is required by law to confer with, advise and give necessary instructions and directions to the county assessors as to their duties, and to promulgate rules and regulations necessary for the enforcement of all tax measures. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102(c)(xvi) and (xix). In particular, the Department must “prescribe by rule and regulation the appraisal methods and systems for determining fair market value using generally accepted appraisal standards.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(ii). The Department has promulgated those rules, which specifically provide for use of a computer assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) system. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9, §6(a), (b), (c), and (d). The Wyoming Supreme Court has recognized the validity of valuations derived from a CAMA system. Gray v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 896 P.2d 1347 (Wyo. 1995). An assessor’s valuation, thus derived, is presumed valid, accurate, and correct. This presumption survives until overturned by credible evidence. Teton Valley Ranch v. State Board of Equalization, 735 P.2d 107, 113 (Wyo. 1987).
B. The Petitioner’s claims
17. The Petitioner has made no effort in this case to challenge the Assessor’s valuation. Supra, ¶ 3. We conclude the Assessor’s valuation is supported by substantial evidence and otherwise in accordance with law. All that remains is to consider Petitioner’s claim to be exempt from taxation. Supra, ¶ 3.
18. Petitioner does not make a conventional claim to exemption. Nothing in the evidence presented to the County Board falls within the broad ambit of the constitutional provision for exemptions from taxation, Wyo. Const. art. 15, § 12, or within the thirty-seven categories of property the Legislature has expressly exempted from property taxation. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-105(a)(i)-(xxxvii).
19. Similarly, his claim of sovereignty is not grounded on any conventional authority which could establish his immunity from taxation. E.g., Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, 28 U. S. C. §§ 1602-1611. A claim of sovereignty similar to Petitioner’s was expressly rejected by a Tennessee court:
Mr. Hancock disputes the authority of the courts over him because he is a “sovereign man” and can be sued only insofar as he consents to the jurisdiction of the courts. He does acknowledge that the Supreme Court, as a constitutional court, would have jurisdiction over him, but he argues that all courts created by the legislature are powerless to render a judgment against him without his permission.
We do not know of any authority for such a proposition. None of the authorities cited by Mr. Hancock bear out his contention. It is our opinion that there are no “super citizens” under our form of government and that it is beyond the power of the legislature to create such a class. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person within the state’s jurisdiction. Creating a class whose members were not subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts would deny the rest of us equal protection. This same argument was made and rejected in a criminal case, State v. Keller, 813 S.W. 2d 146 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1991), where the court upheld a criminal sentence imposed on a “sovereign man” by a legislative court. We find Mr. Hancock’s claim to immunity to be entirely without merit.
Industrial Development Board of the City of Tullahoma v. Hancock, 901 S.W. 2d 382 (Tenn. App. 1995). This is persuasive authority.
20. As we understand it, Petitioner’s claim otherwise turns on his understanding of the significance of allodial title. “Allodial” is not a word that appears in Wyoming statute or case law. If we resort to common dictionary definitions, we find that allodial means “held in absolute ownership; pertaining to an allodium.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Seventh Edition (1999), p.76. An allodium is “an estate held in fee simple absolute,” in the sense of being free of feudal services and incidents. Black’s Law Dictionary, Seventh Edition (1999), p.76. An allodium has also been defined as “land owned independently, free of any superior claim, and without any rent, payment in service, etc.; a freehold estate; opposed to FEUD.” See; Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition (2001), p. 38. Neither common dictionary definition explains why Petitioner believes his property is free from ad valorem taxation.
21. Case law from other jurisdictions explains Petitioner’s theory more clearly than he has done. We understand Petitioner to be claiming that he has the rights of a sovereign authority, directly analogous to the rights of the government of the United States of America:
Under common law tradition, all private titles since Norman times have originated from title held by the sovereign. (1 Tiffany, The Law of Property § 13 (2d ed. 1920). The seminal opinion in American jurisprudence analyzing the origin of sovereign titles and setting forth the principles by which conflicting title claims based upon competing sovereignties [are resolved] was authored by Mr. Chief Justice Marshall in Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh (1823), 21 U. S. (8 Wheat.) 543, 5 L. Ed. 681. There, Chief Justice Marshall outlined the means by which sovereigns acquire title (conquest, cession, and treaty) and stated that by the Treaty of Paris in 1783:
“[T]he powers of government, and the right to soil, which had previously been in Great Britain, passed definitively to the state.” Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh (1823), 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543, 5 L. Ed. 681, 691.
This sovereign title, which is absolute and encompasses on the part of the sovereign authority both ownership of the land and the right to govern the inhabitants thereof, is “allodial” title. This term is used in contradistinction to the term “fee simple title,” which contemplates the highest title which may be privately held. (1 Tiffany, The Law of Property §§ 6 and 13 (2d ed. 1920). Fee simple title may freely be alienated by conveyance, mortgage or devise but still be subject to some claim of the sovereign. (1 Tiffany, The Law of Property §§ 6 and 13 (2d ed. 1920). In current usage, the holder of fee simple title is still subject to dispossession by the government, through due process of law, for nonpayment of real estate taxes and by eminent domain proceedings.
The only correct premise supported by authority in the Britts’ brief is that land held by the Federal government is not subject to the acts of the States. (Cf., Gibson v. Chouteau (1871), 80 U.S. 13 (13 Wall.) 92, 20 L. Ed. 534; Clackamas County, Oregon v. McKay (D. C. Cir. 1955), 226 F.2d 343.) What is totally incorrect is the implicit foundation of the Britt’s position: that the land patent issued to “James Evans” and “Francis Evans” in 1841 conveyed the entire title of the Federal government, such that no interest arising by operation of State law can attach to the title.
A land patent is merely the deed by which the government passes fee simple title of government land to private persons. (63A Am.Jur.2d Public Lands § 70 (1984).) Once fee simple title is passed to an individual from the government, whether by land patent or otherwise, claims arising from conveyance or mortgage by that holder will be enforced against him. (Cf., Stark v. Starr (1876), 94 U.S. (4 Otto) 477, 24 L.Ed. 276; United States v. Budd (1891), 144 U.S. 154, 12 S.Ct. 575, 36 L.Ed. 384; see also 63A Am.Jur.2d Public Lands § 92 (1984).) Where, as here, a decree of foreclosure and sale has divested title from the former mortgagor, the mere fact that the mortgagor’s claim of title may run directly back through his family to a 19th century patent is of no consequence.
The assertion in the Britts’ brief that they hold “fee simple allodial title” is untenable. The Britts have never held sovereign title and now have been divested of their fee simple title by due process of law in the foreclosure action.
Britt v. Federal Land Bank Association of St. Louis, 505 N.E.2d 387, 392 (Ill. App. 2d Dist. 1987). The Assessor correctly points out that the interest of the United States in the property at issue arose under the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but we understand Petitioner to be pursuing essentially the same theory as the Britts – that the title he holds to his land is superior to fee simple title, and not subject to taxation by the State of Wyoming.
22. The limited number of cases we have found that address allodial title as the basis for a claim of exemption from taxation give the theory short shrift. E.g., Juneau County v. Baritsky, 187 Wis.2d 292, 523 N.W.2d 208 (Table, text in WESTLAW), 1994 WL 459235 (Wis. App., August 25, 1994)(NO. 93-2187); Dane County v. Every, 131 Wis.2d 592, 393 N.W.2d 799 (Table, Text in WESTLAW), Unpublished Disposition, (Wis. App., April 17, 1986)(NO. 86-0036). We nonetheless proceed to consider what Petitioner did to demonstrate his claim.
23. Petitioner introduced no evidence to document the chain of title to his property. Neither this Board nor the County Board was bound to accept at face value Petitioner’s implicit claim that the species of title by which he held his property is something greater than fee simple. To the contrary, the customary expectation in Wyoming would be that Petitioner holds his property through some form of quitclaim deed. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34-1-107. The County Board correctly rejected any claim based on specific facts pertaining to Petitioner’s title to his property.
24. In his opening brief, Petitioner refers to another statutory support for his claim to be exempt from ad valorem taxation. This was a 1980 statute passed by the Wyoming Legislature during the height of the Sagebrush Rebellion movement:
36-12-101. Legislative determinations.
(a) The legislature determines:
(i) The intent of the framers of the constitution of the United States was to guarantee to each of the states sovereignty over all matters within its boundaries except for those powers specifically granted to the United States as agent of the states;
(ii) The attempted imposition upon the state of Wyoming by the congress of the United States of a requirement in the Statehood Act that the state of Wyoming and its people "disclaim all right and title to any lands or other property not granted or confirmed to the state or its political subdivisions by or under the authority of this act, the right or title to which is held by the United States or is subject to disposition by the United States", as a condition precedent to acceptance of Wyoming into the Union, was an act beyond the power of the congress of the United States and is thus void;
(iii) The purported right of ownership and control of the unappropriated public land in the state of Wyoming by the United States is without foundation and violates the clear intent of the constitution of the United States; and
(iv) The exercise of that dominion and control of the public land in the state of Wyoming by the United States works a severe, continuous and debilitating hardship upon the people of the state of Wyoming.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 36-12-101(a). The language in subsection (ii) refers to the Wyoming Constitution, art. 21, § 26, in which the people of Wyoming did, among other things:
disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof, and to all lands lying within said limits owned or held by any Indian or Indian tribes, and that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States and that said Indian lands shall remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the congress of the United States. . .
Wyo. Const. art. 21, § 26. Under the same provision, the people of Wyoming also agreed not to impose taxes on lands of the United States.
25. Whatever reliance Petitioner places on Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 36-12-101(a)(i) and (ii), the statute provides no support for his cause. The balance of its provisions expressly provide that any federal lands transferred to the jurisdiction of the state would become the exclusive property of the state, and managed in trust for the benefit of all of the people of Wyoming. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 36-12-102, 36-12-103. There is no evidence of any statutory intent to relieve Petitioner of the burdens of ad valorem taxation, or to recognize allodial title in the sense urged by Petitioner.
26. This takes us to Petitioner’s principal support for his claim. Petitioner believes he is exempt from taxation based upon actions he has taken under the aegis of the Wyoming Uniform Commercial Code, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-1-101 et seq. We accordingly consider the application of the Wyoming Uniform Commercial Code, with specific attention to sections of the Code cited by Petitioner in his testimony and in exhibits admitted into evidence by the County Board.
27. “Before applying the provisions of the [Uniform Commercial] Code, the question must always be asked as to whether or not the transaction falls within the scope of the Code.” Jahn v. Burns, 593 P.2d 828, 831 (Wyo. 1979). The statute itself speaks directly to its purposes:
(b) Underlying purposes and policies of this act are:
(i) To simplify, clarify and modernize the law governing commercial transactions;
(ii) To permit the continued expansion of commercial practices through custom usage and agreement of the parties;
(iii) To make uniform the law among the various jurisdictions.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-1-102 (b).
28. Petitioner accordingly misunderstands the limits of the application of the Uniform Commercial Code. The definition of commercial, as in commercial practices or commercial transactions, falls far short of controlling “every action we do as a person,” supra, ¶ 5:
“Commercial” has been defined as “occupied with commerce”. . . “Commerce” relates to buying, selling, exchanging and transporting of commodities or articles, or the transporting of business, to the exchange or buying and selling of commodities, which “commercial” is defined as pertaining to commerce, mercantile, occupied with commerce, engaged in trade. . .
Jahn v. Burns, 593 P.2d 828, 831 (Wyo. 1979).
29. Petitioner similarly misunderstands the import of UCC 1-207. Supra, ¶ 9. The pertinent part of the referenced section provides:
(a) A party who, with explicit reservation of rights, performs or promises performance or assents to performance in a manner demanded or offered by another party does not thereby prejudice the rights reserved. Such words as “without prejudice,” “under protest” or the like are sufficient.
Wyo. Stat.Ann. § 34.1-1-207(a). Paragraph 1 of the Official Comment on the section makes it plain that the performance in question is “performance along the lines contemplated by the contract despite a pending dispute.” One party to a contract may therefore complete performance under the contract without losing a claim of right that the other party believes is unwarranted, saving resolution of their commercial dispute for another day. Nothing in the statute enables an individual to reserve or claim a right to be exempt from taxation.
30. Petitioner’s reliance on UCC 1-308, supra, ¶ 9, is misplaced because no such section exists under Wyoming law. See generally Uniform Commercial Code, Part 1, Short Title, Construction, Application and Subject Matter of the Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-1-101 et seq.
31. “UCC 3-419,” supra, ¶ 8, is a provision of Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code, the article which generally governs negotiable instruments. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-3-102. Broadly speaking, a negotiable instrument is a signed writing that orders or promises payment of money, such as a check. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-3-104, Official Comments 1 and 2.
32. “UCC 3-419,” supra, ¶ 8, governs rights related to instruments signed for accommodation. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-3-419. As explained by Official Comment 1, “an accommodation party is a person who signs an instrument to benefit the accommodated party either by signing at the time value is obtained by the accommodated party or later, and who is not a direct beneficiary of the value obtained.” The Official Comment gives an example:
. . . For example, if X cosigns a note of Corporation that is given for a loan to Corporation, X is an accommodation party if no part of the loan was paid to X or for X’s direct benefit. This is true even though X may receive indirect benefit from the loan because X is employed by Corporation or is a stockholder of Corporation, or even if X is the sole stockholder so long as Corporation and X are recognized as separate entities.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-3-419, Official Comment 1. The Petitioner has not shown how the provisions of this section in any way give rise to a claim of exemption from property taxes.
33. Petitioner’s Form UCC-1, supra, ¶¶ 7, 9, follows the first page of the statutory model for financing statements filed under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-9-521(a). Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code governs Secured Transactions. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-9-101 et seq. The scope of the statute is specified by statute. If we ignore certain exceptions and clarifications not applicable in this case, and consider only the broadest level, the statute provides:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in subsections (c) and (d), this article applies to:
(i) A transaction, regardless of its form, that creates a security interest in personal property or fixtures by contract;
(ii) An agricultural lien;
(iii) A sale of accounts, chattel paper, payment intangibles or promissory notes;
(iv) A consignment;
(v) A security interest arising under section 34.1-2-401, 34.1-2-505, 34.1-2-711(c) or 34.1-2A-508(e), as provided in section 34.1-9-110; and
(vi) A security interest arising under section 34.1-4-210 or 34.1-5-118.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-9-109 (a).
34. Petitioner failed to explain to either the County Board or the State Board how his Form UCC-1 can in any way affect ad valorem taxation of his vacant parcel of real property. The statutory source of Form UCC-1 generally does not pertain to real property, except indirectly in the form of agricultural liens, and more directly in the case of fixtures. Fixtures are “goods that have becomes so related to particular real property that an interest in them arises under real property law.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-9-102 (a)(xli). Petitioner provided no evidence to suggest that an interest in fixtures arose with respect to his vacant parcel of land.
35. As important, the face of Petitioner’s Form UCC-1 strongly suggests that he entirely misunderstood the purpose and practical application of Article 9. For example, his description of collateral, supra, ¶ 7, bears no obvious relation to the statutory definition of collateral:
(xii) "Collateral" means the property subject to a security interest or agricultural lien. The term includes:
(A) Proceeds to which a security interest attaches;
(B) Accounts, chattel paper, payment intangibles and promissory notes that have been sold; and
(C) Goods that are the subject of a consignment.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-9-102 (a)(xii). In this definition, proceeds, accounts, chattel paper, payment intangibles, promissory notes, goods, and consignment are all terms further defined by statute. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-9-102 (a)(ii), (xi), (xx), (xliv), (lxi), (lxiv), (lxvii). We have scoured Petitioner’s Form UCC-1 for any intelligible reference to collateral as defined by Wyoming law, and find none. Supra, ¶ 7.
36. Petitioner’s last reference to the Uniform Commercial Code is to section 10-104. Supra, ¶ 7. Only the first subsection is presently in force in Wyoming:
§ 34.1-10-104. Laws not repealed.
(a) The article on documents of title (article 7) does not repeal or modify any laws prescribing the form or contents of documents of title or the services or facilities to be afforded by bailees, or otherwise regulating bailees' businesses in respects not specifically dealt with herein; but the fact that such laws are violated does not affect the status of a document of title which otherwise complies with the definition of a document of title (section 34.1-1-201).
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-10-104. The official comment provides useful explanation:
This section subordinates the Article of the Act on Documents of Title (Article (7)) to the more specialized regulations of particular classes of bailees under other legislation and international treaties. Particularly, the provisions of that Article are superseded by applicable inconsistent provisions regarding the obligation of carriers and the limitation of their liability found in federal legislation dealing with the transportation by water (including the Harter Act, Act of February 13, 1893, 27 Stat. 445, and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, Act of April 16, 1936, 49 Stat. 1207); the Warsaw Convention on International Air Transportation, 49 Stat. 3000, and Section 20(11) of the Interstate Commerce Act, Act of February 20, 1887, 24 State. 386, as amended. The Documents of Title provision of this Act supplement such legislation largely in matters other than obligation of the bailee, e.g., form and effects of negotiation, procedure in the case of lost documents, effect of overissue, possibility of rapid transmission.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34.1-10-104, Official Comment. Suffice it to say that this provision has no bearing on Petitioner’s ad valorem taxes in the State of Wyoming.
37. Having carefully considered Petitioner’s various citations to the Uniform Commercial Code, all that remains to consider is Petitioner’s reference to “Public Policy HJR-192 and Public Law 73-10.” Supra, ¶¶ 7, 8. These citations are defective. “Since 1957, public laws have been prefixed by the number of the Congress that enacts the law and each law is numbered in sequence. Hence, the cite P. L. 92-157 would be to the 157th law enacted by the 92nd Congress.” Preface, United States Code Service Tables, Statutes at Large. The Congress which convened in 1957 was the 85th Congress, so a Public Law 73-10, if it existed, would antedate the use of the Public Law nomenclature. Petitioner’s citation is generally a nonsense citation, although we can take notice that the 73rd Congress convened in 1933.
38. A case from another jurisdiction assists us in understanding what Petitioner means by Public Policy HJR-192 and Public Law 73-10. The subject of the case was borrowers who defaulted on a loan, and then challenged the loss of their home by foreclosure. McElroy v. Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corporation, – Cal Rptr. 3d –, 2005 WL 2885975 (Ct. of Appeal, 4th District 2005). The borrowers had tendered payment on the loan using a “Bonded Bill of Exchange Order.” Similar to Petitioner’s wording in this case, the authority cited in the McElroys’ Bill of Exchange Order included “Public Resolution HJR-192, Public Law 73-10 and Guaranty Trust Co. of NY v. Henwood et al., 307 U. S. 247, (FN3). . .”. Opinion filed November 5, 2005 in Superior Court No. 04CC03705, third paragraph of discussion, available at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G034588.PDF. As the McElroy court persuasively explains, these citations pertain to the United States Government’s departure from the gold standard in 1933. McElroy, 2005 WL 2885975, p. 3. The citations have nothing to do with exemption from ad valorem taxation in Wyoming.
39. The borrowers in McElroy brought an unsuccessful action against their lender and the purchaser in foreclosure for quiet title, declaratory relief, and fraudulent foreclosure. The court rejected their theories concerning the import of “Public Policy HJR-192 and Public Law 73-10,” and upheld the foreclosure. McElroy, 2005 WL 2885975. The foreclosure in McElroy was not fraudulent in any sense, nor was the decision of the Natrona County Board.
40. The McElroy court characterized the evidence before it with words that apply with equal force to the collateral description contained in Petitioner’s Form UCC-1 as presented to the County Board: “. . . [W]e unhesitatingly conclude the Bill is a worthless piece of paper, consisting of nothing more than a string of words that sound as though they belong in a legal document, but which, in reality, are incomprehensible, signifying nothing.” McElroy, at 2005 WL 2885975. While we have not seen the “bill of exchange” Petitioner proposed to tender in payment of his taxes, supra, ¶ 10, McElroy and its sad result deserve Petitioner’s close attention.
41. By way of recapitulation, we now turn to Petitioner’s five stated issues. First, Petitioner was before the County Board as either the representative of the owner of record (see County Record, p. 13, suggesting that one Geneva R. Belving may be the owner), or the owner, of the real property in question. He is not a sovereign. There is no indication that anyone is possessed of title to the property that exempts its owner from the payment of ad valorem taxes, or that exempts the property owner from dispossession for failure to pay those taxes.
42. Second, the Wyoming Constitution applies, and the valuation in this case was in accord with the Wyoming Constitution and pertinent statutes.
43. Third, the Petitioner’s property is subject to taxation without Petitioner’s consent, and without the spurious proofs sought by Petitioner. Neither Natrona County nor the State of Wyoming is obliged to have a contract with Petitioner by which he assents to the assessment and collection of ad valorem taxes. We also doubt whether Petitioner’s understanding of contracts in his sovereign capacity is sound in any respect.
44. Fourth, the County Board and this Board both have jurisdiction in this matter. The Assessor was likewise acting accordingly to law at all times.
45. Fifth, Wyoming law does not recognize allodial title in Petitioner’s sense, i.e. title to private property that is exempt from tax levy. Since the title claimed by Petitioner does not exist, Petitioner and his property are subject to the constitutional and statutory ad valorem tax regime we have described above. Supra, ¶¶ 12-16.
46. In his Opening Brief, Petitioner made the procedural complaint that affidavits he presented “were material fact” and “not rebutted to date,” with emphasis on establishing his allodial title. [Opening Brief, pp. 2-3]. “Material fact” is a term of art that is commonly used in connection with Rule 56 summary judgment. In that context, “A fact is material if it establishes or refutes an essential element of a claim or defense.” Hutchins v. Payless Auto Sales, Inc., 2004 WY 22, ¶11, 85 P.3d 1010, 1013 (Wyo. 2004).
47. As best we can understand it, Petitioner argues that the various documents he presented to the County Board were in affidavit form, and therefore were entitled to credence. As a preliminary matter, we note that the oath portion of the pertinent documents falls short of swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under penalty of perjury. Instead, Petitioner invoked the use of a Notary Public under the following terms:
The use of a notary on this document does not constitute any adhesion, nor does it alter my status in any manner. The purpose of notary is for verification and identification only, for the benefit of the Pagans and Heathens so they whom I pray may become knowledgeable in the truth and of the Law of our Holy Father in Heaven and repent, so they will no longer be alienated from their true God and not for entrance into any foreign jurisdiction.
[County record, p. 10]. We question whether the resulting document qualifies as an affidavit.
48. The document would not have the effect intended by Petitioner even if it were an affidavit. A trier of fact cannot properly consider portions of an affidavit which are “categorical assertions or conclusions.” County of Natrona v. Casper Air Service, 536 P.2d 142, 147 (Wyo. 1975). Petitioner’s claims about his personal sovereignty and alloidal title are categorical assertions or conclusions, which he cannot prove simply by asserting them.
49. Finally, Petitioner complains that his tax notice was not “signed by any human being.” [Opening Brief, p. 3]. The County Treasurer, rather than the Assessor, is responsible for distribution of tax notices and collection of taxes. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-107 (b). The statute provides for the form of tax notices as follows:
(C) Annually, on or before October 10 the county treasurer shall send a written statement in sealed envelopes of total tax due, itemized as to property description, assessed value and mill levies, to each taxpayer at his last known address. The notice shall contain information, including contact information, or any property tax relief program authorized by state law. Failure to send the notice, or to demand payment of taxes, does not invalidate any taxes due.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-107 (b)(i)(C). On its face, the statute does not require a signature. As important, the County Treasurer is not a party to this action, Rules Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 4, so this is not an appropriate forum in which to address that complaint.
50. Although the Board has attempted to treat every claim of the Petitioner as a claim brought in good faith, we remain mindful that we may not “excuse pro se litigants from the requirement that an appeal be supported by cogent argument.” Veile v. Bryant, 2005 WY 150, ¶ 12, 123 P.3d 562, 565 (2005). We must conclude that Petitioner has presented no cogent argument to support any feature of his appeal.
51. Petitioner has failed to demonstrate any claim to an exemption under the Wyoming Constitution or Wyoming statutes. There is otherwise no defect in the decision of the County Board.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order of the Natrona County Board of Equalization is hereby affirmed.
Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §16-3-114 and Rule 12, Wyoming Rules of Appellate Procedure, any person aggrieved or adversely affected in fact by this decision may seek judicial review in the appropriate district court by filing a petition for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.
Dated this ___ day of January, 2006.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Alan B. Minier, Chairman
Thomas R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts, Board Member
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary