Indiana Tax Court Breathes New Life into Ministry’s Property Tax Exemption Appeal

Indiana Tax Court Breathes New Life into Ministry’s Property Tax Exemption Appeal

The Indiana Tax Court in Lake County Trust Co., Trust No. 6 v. St. Joseph County Assessor on October 17th reversed the dismissal of an exemption appeal by a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Flowers for Heaven, Inc., operating a pro-life ministry in South Bend for the 2013 assessment date.  The Ministry filed an exemption application for its real and personal property; the County Board granted the exemption for personal property but denied it for real property. On the real property denial, the County Board incorrectly identified the owner as the Lake County Trust Company, Trust No. 6. – not the Ministry.  The County Board denied the exemption because, it claimed, the “property is not in the charitable entity’s name.”  The Trust received the denial and, in response, filed a Petition for Correction of Error, asserting the County Board issued its denial under the wrong name.  The Petition was rejected, and the Trust appealed that rejection to the Indiana Board of Tax Review.  The Indiana Board dismissed the appeal without a hearing, claiming the Petition “failed to assert correctable errors of omission.”

The Tax Court held that the Indiana Board’s regulation “expresses as an absolute that a motion must precede” a dismissal order, which was “consistent with the long-held preference for allowing the parties an opportunity to respond to the motion before the Indiana Board acts.”  The Tax Court further concluded that the County Board’s act of listing the wrong taxpayer name as the property owner on its denial was an error that could be addressed in the Petition.  However, the record was “bereft of any analysis by the Indiana Board regarding the property’s ownership.”  The Court remanded the matter to the Indiana Board to determine if the Ministry’s ownership interest in the real property entitled it to the exemption.

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