By Zachary Atkins and Douglas Mo

A California appellate court held that an ice cream maker’s property tax appeal involving an alleged failure to make an external obsolescence adjustment was subject to the “substantial evidence” standard of review. The taxpayer asserted that certain production equipment used in its novelty product lines was underutilized as a result of low market demand for those novelty products. The primary issue before the court was whether the failure to include an adjustment for external obsolescence was an error in the valuation method and thus a question of law to be reviewed de novo, or whether it was simply a matter of appraisal judgment and thus an issue of fact subject to the substantial evidence standard. The court concluded that the substantial evidence standard applied because the question was whether the assessment appeals board could conclude, based on the evidence presented, that the taxpayer failed to meet its burden of proving its entitlement to an external obsolescence adjustment based on underutilization. In affirming the judgment of the superior court upholding the assessment, the appellate court found that the taxpayer did not establish that it met the requirements for an underutilization adjustment because it did not show that the claimed underutilization was beyond the control of a prudent operator that was recognized in the market. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc. v. Cnty. of Kern, Case No. F064154 (Cal. Ct. App. July 22, 2013) (unpublished).