Don Lippert, Jr.
T +1 312 602 8042
T +1 312 602 8282
T +1 312 602 8373
The District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District, has retracted its recent decision rejecting the use of the Rushmore valuation method to assess real property owned and operated by Disney Parks and Resorts. In a newly released opinion, the Court clarified that the use of the method, as applied,
improperly included the value of nontaxable intangible assets in the property’s assessed value.1
While the revised opinion again remanded the decision to the trial court for reassessment, the Court excluded previous language that had absolutely rejected use of the Rushmore method and had compelled the assessor to use a different valuation method.
In 2015, the Orange County, Florida, appraiser assessed the value of the Disney Yacht & Beach Club Resort, one of Disney’s premium properties, at nearly $337 million, an increase of 118% over the prior year’s value. Disney appealed the assessor’s value. At the trial court, both parties agreed to the use of an income approach to value the property, but disagreed as to the methodology in performing the assessment. The senior valuation expert from the Orange County appraiser’s office testified to using the Rushmore method to assess the property.2
In doing so, the valuation expert computed the average daily rate (ADR) of the rooms at the property to arrive at gross potential room income. The potential room income was then multiplied by a 75% occupancy rate. Next, the Rushmore method was used to calculate the property’s ancillary income, and that amount was added to the effective room income, ultimately resulting in the nearly $337 million assessment.3
At trial, Disney argued that the Florida Constitution prohibits counties from levying ad valorem taxes on intangible personal property,4
and provided expert testimony reflecting its disagreement with the proposed assessment. Disney’s experts determined that the property’s intangible values to be excluded from a real property assessment included the following elements: (i) cash / working capital; (ii) favorable operating licenses; (iii) assembled workforce; and (iv) brand, copyright and goodwill. Disney’s experts valued the property enterprise at approximately $342 million, and the overall tax assessment of the property at approximately $181 million.
The trial court ultimately concluded that the assessor’s effective gross room income calculation was proper, but Disney’s value of the property based on its restaurant retail and spa spaces was appropriate. Based on these adjustments, and the erroneous inclusion of intangible property in the valuation, the trial court determined that the just value of the property was approximately $209 million.5
Following an appeal by the assessor, the Fifth District Court of Appeal could not fully resolve the dispute, but did conclude that the Rushmore method was inappropriate. The Court of Appeal remanded the case to the trial court with instructions for the Orange County assessor to perform a new assessment of Disney’s property.6
The assessor was specifically instructed not to use the Rushmore method in the new valuation, as a means to ensure that intangible items are not included in the assessed value of the property.
Revised Court of Appeal decision
The Court of Appeal granted a motion from rehearing by the assessor, withdrew its previous opinion and issued a substitute opinion in its place. In its revised opinion, the Court of Appeal maintained that the trial court was correct in finding that the assessor impermissibly included Disney’s intangible business assets in its assessment. The Court of Appeal clarified that the Rushmore method, in the manner applied by the assessor in this case, failed to follow the statutory requirement that intangible assets such as goodwill be removed from the total assessed value of the property. Further, the appraiser “did not establish that the trial court erred in its determination that the Rushmore method ignores the fact that an intangible business value may be directly benefiting a business’s income stream.” Maintaining its rejection of Disney’s valuation methodology as in its original decision, the Court of Appeal again remanded the case to the trial court with instructions for reassessment. However, the revised decision no longer includes language requiring the assessor refrain from using the Rushmore method to revalue the property. Likewise, the revised decision eliminates a statement from the original decision unequivocally stating that the Rushmore method violates Florida law.
The Court of Appeal’s retraction and reissuance of an issued opinion resulting from a request for a rehearing rarely occurs, and doing so in this matter may well change the approach taken by the assessor in its prospective effort to value the Disney resort. As the Rushmore method of valuation is a recognized industry standard, the revised opinion should provide some level of comfort for both assessors and real property owners who have historically relied on its application to value like kinds of real property. Clarity on this issue is especially important for the taxpayer at issue, which owns a very material amount of real property in Orange County, Florida.
By removing the language concluding that application of the method itself violated Florida law, and clarifying that the inclusion of nontaxable intangible assets in the real property assessment was a result of how the method was applied in this case, the Court of Appeal does not restrict use of the Rushmore method, as long as intangible assets embedded into the operation of the resort ultimately are not included in the overall valuation. However, the dispute remains open and litigation is likely to continue if the assessor’s revised valuation does not comport with the Court of Appeal’s revised guidance, or if such valuation continues to reflect a substantially higher level than the taxpayer’s proposed valuation.
This content supports Grant Thornton LLP’s marketing of professional services and is not written tax advice directed at the particular facts and circumstances of any person. If you are interested in the topics presented herein, we encourage you to contact us or an independent tax professional to discuss their potential application to your particular situation. Nothing herein shall be construed as imposing a limitation on any person from disclosing the tax treatment or tax structure of any matter addressed herein. To the extent this content may be considered to contain written tax advice, any written advice contained in, forwarded with or attached to this content is not intended by Grant Thornton LLP to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code.
The information contained herein is general in nature and is based on authorities that are subject to change. It is not, and should not be construed as, accounting, legal or tax advice provided by Grant Thornton LLP to the reader. This material may not be applicable to, or suitable for, the reader’s specific circumstances or needs and may require consideration of tax and nontax factors not described herein. Contact Grant Thornton LLP or other tax professionals prior to taking any action based upon this information. Changes in tax laws or other factors could affect, on a prospective or retroactive basis, the information contained herein; Grant Thornton LLP assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any such changes. All references to “Section,” “Sec.,” or “§” refer to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.