Opening the Property Tax Appeals Floodgates? Indiana Tax Court finds no Statute of Limitations to File Form 133 petitions, Urges State to Act with Haste

Opening the Property Tax Appeals Floodgates? Indiana Tax Court finds no Statute of Limitations to File Form 133 petitions, Urges State to Act with Haste

As the 2013 calendar turns to 2014, the Indiana Tax Court has held that time stands still for Form 133 Petitions for Correction of an Error.  In Hutcherson v. Hamilton County Assessor (Dec. 27, 2013), the Court held that no statute of limitations applies to the filing of a Form 133 Petition.  In that decision, Owners sought to correct the Auditor’s failure to apply a homestead deduction to their home.  They had applied for the deduction in 2003, but they hadn’t received the deduction for the ensuing tax years.  The oversight was corrected for the 2008, 2009, and 2010 tax years.  However, for the 2004 through 2007 tax years, Owners filed Form 133 petitions, claiming that “through an error of omission by a county official, they were not given credit for the homestead deduction as permitted by law.” Slip op. at 2.  They didn’t file refund claims with the petitions (note:  the petition states, “Taxpayers asking for a refund of taxes already paid must also file a claim for refund (Form 17T) with the County Auditor”).  The Indiana Board denied the petitions without conducting a hearing, holding the petitions were untimely “because they were not filed within three years after the taxes were first due as required by Indiana Code § 6-1.1-26-1 to obtain a refund.”  Slip op. at 2.  Owners appealed, and the Assessor filed a motion to dismiss based on the alleged untimely filings.

Court had subject matter jurisdiction over the claims.  Because Owners’ claims arose under Indiana tax law and were initial appeals of final determinations from the Indiana Board, the Court had subject matter jurisdiction over them.  Slip op. at 5.  Even if the appeals had been late filed, that would not strip the Court of its subject matter jurisdiction.  The Court explained:  “Failure to comply with a statutory requirement, such as a statute of limitations . . . would not rob the Court of subject matter jurisdiction, but would prevent the Court from exercising its subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the matter.”  Id. (citations omitted).

Plain language of statute shows Form 133 petitions not governed by statute of limitations.  Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-12 authorizes the Form 133 petition.  A statute of limitations to file the petition is “conspicuously absent” from the statute or elsewhere in Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15, the Court noted.  Slip op. at 6.  A 1989 regulation did state there was a three-year statute of limitations “on claiming a refund of tax” if an error existed – but that was repealed in 2000.  Id.  New regulations lacked any time limits on filing.  The Court would not read a limit into the Form 133 statute not placed there by the legislature.  Slip op. at 8.  Without a specific cross reference, the Court refused to incorporate the three-year statute of limitations for filing a refund under Ind. Code § 6-1.1-26-1 into the Form 133 statute.  Slip op. at 9.  The two statutes are independent.  Slip op. at 9-10.  “Thus, the time limitation in the Refund Statute does not apply to the [Owners’] petitions to correct error.”  Slip op. at 10.

Opening the floodgates?  The Court expressed concern that its decision “has the potential to open the floodgates for petition to correct error appeals by finding . . . no statutory or regulatory time limitation exists” to file the appeals.  Slip op. at 11.  Accordingly, the Court “ardently urges the Legislature or the Department of Local Government Finance to act with all haste to provide security against stale claims arising under” the Form 133 statute.

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