Chevrolet of Columbus, Inc. v. Bartholomew Cnty. Assessor, Case No. 21T-TA-00028

Docket NºCase No. 21T-TA-00028
Citation187 N.E.3d 349
Case DateApril 08, 2022
CourtTax Court of Indiana

187 N.E.3d 349

CHEVROLET OF COLUMBUS, INC., Petitioner,
v.
BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

Case No. 21T-TA-00028

Tax Court of Indiana.

April 8, 2022


ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER: MELISSA G. MICHIE, TAX CONSULTANTS, INC., Columbus, IN

ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: MARILYN S. MEIGHEN, ATTORNEY AT LAW, Carmel, IN, BRIAN A. CUSIMANO, ATTORNEY AT LAW, Indianapolis, IN

WENTWORTH, J.

Chevrolet of Columbus, Inc. challenges the Indiana Board of Tax Review's final determination that its appeals for a correction of error for the 2016 through 2018 tax years were not timely filed. Upon review, the Court reverses the Indiana Board's final determination.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In July of 2015, Chevrolet purchased a 4.050 acre parcel of vacant land in Columbus, Indiana for $1,763,130.00. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 74-76.) Chevrolet subsequently built an automotive sales and service facility on a portion of the land. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 34-35, 74.)

For purposes of the 2016 through 2018 tax years, the Bartholomew County Assessor classified 115,000 square feet of Chevrolet's land as "primary land," i.e., the land upon which the automotive facility was located, and 61,418 square feet as usable undeveloped land, i.e., vacant land held for

187 N.E.3d 350

future development. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 34, 36, 39.) See also REAL PROPERTY ASSESSMENT GUIDELINES FOR 2011 ("Guidelines") (incorporated by reference at 50 IND. ADMIN. CODE 2.4-1-2(c) (2011) (amended 2020)), Bk. 1, Ch. 2 at 65, 72. Ultimately, the Assessor assigned Chevrolet's property an assessed value of $1,734,600 for the 2016 tax year, $3,257,100 for the 2017 tax year, and $3,417,300 for the 2018 tax year. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 34-41, 144.)

On September 3, 2019, Chevrolet filed three appeals seeking to correct "[a] clerical, mathematical, or typographical" error in its land assessments for the 2016 through 2018 tax years. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 5 - 6, 11 - 12, 17 - 18.) On January 7, 2020, the Bartholomew County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals ("PTABOA") conducted a hearing on all three of Chevrolet's appeals. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 4.) One week later, the PTABOA notified Chevrolet that each appeal had been denied. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 3 - 4, 9 - 10, 15 - 16.)

On February 18, 2020, Chevrolet sought review with the Indiana Board, electing to have its appeals heard pursuant to the Indiana Board's small claims procedures. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 1 - 2.) On March 25, 2021, the Indiana Board conducted a hearing on the appeals during which Chevrolet claimed (via its tax representative) that for the 2016 through 2018 tax years, the county's land order1 established that primary land was to be assessed at $10 per square foot and usable undeveloped land at $3 per square foot. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 22-23, 135, 146, 149-51, 154.) Chevrolet maintained that contrary to that clear directive, its primary land was assessed at $13 per square foot in 2016 and 2017 and at $15 per square foot in 2018, while its usable undeveloped land was assessed at $3.90 per square foot in 2016 and 2017 and at $4.50 per square foot in 2018. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 150-51, 158.) To support its claim that its land was incorrectly assessed, Chevrolet presented several documents, including a copy of Bartholomew County's land order for the years at issue along with an email containing an excerpt of that land order. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 30-31, 61-67, 147-49.) Chevrolet explained that to correct the math errors in its land assessments it simply multiplied the square footage of its primary land (i.e., 115,000) and usable undeveloped land (i.e., 61,418) by the correct base rates ($10 and $3, respectively), added the products together, and arrived at land assessments of $1,334,300 for the years at issue. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 154, 169.)

In response, the Assessor asserted that Chevrolet's appeals should be denied because she used the actual base rates to value its land for the years at issue, and Chevrolet's evidence, an alleged copy of the Bartholomew County land order containing proposed base rates, did not show otherwise. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 146, 154-55, 160-65.) The Assessor presented several property record cards to demonstrate that between the 2012 and 2016 tax years she applied a base rate of $13 per square foot to all of the primary land in Chevrolet's "neighborhood" and a base rate of $3.90 per square foot to all usable undeveloped land. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 88-107, 160-61.) See also Guidelines, Bk. 2, Glossary at 16 (defining "neighborhood" as "[a] geographical area exhibiting a high degree of homogeneity in residential

187 N.E.3d 351

amenities, land use, economic and social trends, and housing characteristics"). In addition, the Assessor claimed that Chevrolet's correction of error appeals were untimely because they challenged the assessed value of its property, a purely subjective issue that was not proper for the correction of error appeal procedure. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 146-47, 155-57, 169.) The Assessor also requested that Chevrolet's 2016 assessment be increased from $1,734,500 to $1,763,130 to reflect its 2015 purchase price. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 160.)

On June 23, 2021, the Indiana Board issued its final determination finding Chevrolet's appeals for a correction of error were untimely filed. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 142 ¶ 29.) In so doing, the Indiana Board explained that "Chevrolet's request for relief plainly show[ed] that it was disputing [its land's] assessed value[s]" despite the fact that it "checked the box indicating that it was alleging a clerical, mathematical, or typographical mistake[.]" (See Cert. Admin. R. at 139-40 ¶ 17.) As such, the Indiana Board explained that Chevrolet was required to file its appeals within the 45-day statutory deadline for challenging a property's assessed value, not the three-year deadline applicable for challenging objective math errors. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 139-41 ¶¶ 16-25.) Consequently, the Indiana Board ordered the land assessments to remain unchanged, and did not address the merits of either Chevrolet's claims regarding the propriety of its 2016 through 2018 land assessments or the Assessor's claims about the authenticity of the Bartholomew County land order and Chevrolet's 2016 assessment. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 141-42 ¶¶ 26-29.)

On July 29, 2021, Chevrolet initiated this original tax appeal. After the matter was fully briefed on November 23, 2021, the Court took the case under advisement. Additional facts will be supplied when necessary.

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