Indiana Tax Court to Assessor: “Taxpayers deserve more than taxation by trickery”

Indiana Tax Court to Assessor: “Taxpayers deserve more than taxation by trickery”

The Indiana Tax Court admonished an Indiana Assessor for the “conjured ambiguity” she applied to the Court’s unambiguous reassessment instructions.  

On May 24, 2018, the Indiana Tax Court in Switzerland County Assessor v. Belterra Resort Indiana, LLC partially reversed the Indiana Board of Tax Review, ordering a further reduction to the values of its hotel, riverboat casino, golf course and related property for the 2009 to 2014 assessments – resulting in Taxpayer’s right to additional refunds. The Court’s opinion included instructions for recalculating Taxpayer’s assessments. On remand, the Indiana Board ordered reassessment of the property but abdicated any oversight role in the recalculations. More than a year later, the assessments remained unchanged. Taxpayer, accordingly, asked the Tax Court to enforce its order. In response, the Assessor argued that the Tax Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the request. Before the Court rendered a decision, Assessor claimed that final assessed values, in fact, had been assigned and the refunds had been consummated. Therefore, Assessor contended that only a local trial court had jurisdiction to hear Taxpayer’s refund dispute.

On August 15, 2019, the Tax Court issued its order on Taxpayer’s request for enforcement. The Tax Court first noted that it retains jurisdiction over its decisions until final disposition. No final disposition had yet occurred here, so the Court retained jurisdiction over the case. The Tax Court (like any other court) inherently possesses the authority to ensure that its instructions are carried out. The Indiana Board was obligated to oversee compliance with the Court’s assessment instructions. By fulfilling its oversight function, the Indiana Board reduces “the possibility that additional judicial resources must be expended” and “insulates an assessor – typically a party in property assessment cases – from the appearance that she advanced her own self-interest.”

The Court admonished the Assessor for her tortured efforts to avoid complying with its unambiguous order, observing:

Here, the Assessor’s post-decision actions and claims appear to be intended to reduce the adverse effects of the Court’s decision. First, the Assessor conjured an ambiguity in the Court’s instructions for calculating the corrected assessments where there was none. Then, when corrected values were issued presumably based on that conjured ambiguity, the Assessor invented procedural infirmities to prevent the Court from enforcing its decision. Taxpayers deserve more than taxation by trickery, and the Court will not countenance such actions.

The Court ordered the Indiana Board to verify and provide written notice that the corrected assessments comply with the Court’s instructions.

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