Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. Stephen W. Drescher, District Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Justice
District court order converting declaratory action into petition for judicial review, reversed.
This case concerns Appellants Ismael Chavez and Dolores Mercado (collectively Chavez) and their appeal of the district court's granting of their petition for judicial review, claiming that the original complaint should not have been converted into a petition for judicial review. Chavez also appeals the district court's finding that the motion for contempt for Canyon County's untimely compliance with a district court order was moot. Canyon County cross- appeals the district court's decision that the flat fee included on the County's notice of pending issue of tax deed was in violation of I.C. § 63-1005(4)(d) requiring an itemized statement.
In resolving the appeal, we address issues concerning the conversion of Chavez's declaratory action into a petition for judicial review, the statutory requirements for a notice of pending issue of tax deeds, the discretion of the district court to impose sanctions for contempt, and attorney fees for pro se litigants.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On December 4, 2009, Chavez filed a class action complaint seeking a declaratory judgment and damages. Chavez alleged Canyon County (County) had violated a requirement in Idaho Code section 63-1005(4)(d) for an itemized statement of all costs and fees in its notice prior to an issuance of treasurer's tax deeds on two parcels of land they owned. In its Notice of Pending Issue of Tax Deed (Notice) for two parcels owned jointly by Chavez and Mercado, Canyon County had charged a $500.00 flat fee for administration costs. Chavez responded pursuant to I.C. § 63-1006(2) by serving the County with an Answer and Objection to the Notices on October 8, 2009. The County's attorney then sent Chavez a letter detailing the adoption of County Resolution No. 09-169, which was claimed to allow the County to assess a flat fee for the issuance of notices for delinquent tax accounts. After Chavez attended a hearing on November 20, 2009, he received notice that tax deeds were issued on the two properties owned by Chavez.
Upon a motion for summary judgment, the district court filed an order on April 9, 2010, denying the motion and finding that Chavez had failed to follow the proper procedures as set forth in I.C. § 63-1006(4) and allowing Chavez fourteen days to file the required Petition for Judicial Review. Ten days later, the petition was filed. On June 3, 2010, Chavez filed a Motion to Augment the Record, which was granted on June 17, 2010, at an uncontested hearing that required the County to file the Affidavits of Compliance with the district court by June 29, 2010. After Chavez filed a Motion for Contempt on July 8, 2010, the County complied with the Order on July 13, 2010. On October 25, 2010, the district court filed its Order on Petition for Judicial Review. The district court ruled that the County's flat fee, authorized by a County resolution,*fn1 did not list the incurred charges as required by I.C. § 63-1005(4)(d), stating that "[b]y its fundamental meaning, 'itemized' does not allow a summary flat fee." To reach its conclusion, the district court considered the plain meaning of the words used in the statute, finding that a flat fee could not detail multiple costs and fees and that the plural words used in the statute, costs or fees, could not allow the use of a single flat fee. The district court also found persuasive a similar case from Montana that declared a tax deed notice null and void for failure to include a listing of costs.*fn2
In addition to declaring the Notices null and void, the district court denied Chavez's request for costs under I.C. § 63-1006(5), and found moot the motion for contempt since the County had complied with the court's order.
A final judgment was filed on November 10, 2010, Chavez timely filed a notice of appeal on December 17, 2010, and Canyon County timely filed a notice of cross-appeal on January 7, 2011.
Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 84 governs judicial review of administrative and local governing bodies, but limits the scope of review for a petition for judicial review to that which is provided by statute. Roberts v. Bd. of Trustees, Pocatello, Sch. Dist. No. 25, 134 Idaho 890, 892- 93, 11 P.3d 1108, 1110-11 (2000); I.R.C.P. 84(e)(2). Pursuant to Idaho Code section 63-1006(4) any person aggrieved by a county commissioners' decision to issue a tax deed can have the decision reviewed by the district court. I.C. § 63-1006(4). The district court confines its review to the record from the county and can only reverse or modify the ...