Daw v. Hancock County Assessor, 120518 INTAX, 18T-TA-00009

Docket Nº:18T-TA-00009
Opinion Judge:FISHER, SENIOR JUDGE
Party Name:NANCY A. DAW, STEPHEN L. HOBACK, Co-Trustees of Sagacious Sentinel Sycamore Revocable Trust, Petitioners, v. HANCOCK COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.
Attorney:PETITIONERS APPEARING PRO SE: NANCY A. DAW STEPHEN L. HOBACK Indianapolis, IN ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA ZACHARY D. PRICE MATTHEW R. ELLIOTT DEPUTY ATTORNEYS GENERAL Indianapolis, IN
Case Date:December 05, 2018
Court:Tax Court of Indiana
 
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NANCY A. DAW, STEPHEN L. HOBACK, Co-Trustees of Sagacious Sentinel Sycamore Revocable Trust, Petitioners,

v.

HANCOCK COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

No. 18T-TA-00009

Tax Court of Indiana

December 5, 2018

ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE INDIANA BOARD OF TAX REVIEW

PETITIONERS APPEARING PRO SE: NANCY A. DAW STEPHEN L. HOBACK Indianapolis, IN

ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA ZACHARY D. PRICE MATTHEW R. ELLIOTT DEPUTY ATTORNEYS GENERAL Indianapolis, IN

FISHER, SENIOR JUDGE

Nancy A. Daw and Stephen L. Hoback, the Co-Trustees of the Sagacious Sentinel Sycamore Revocable Trust, have appealed the Indiana Board of Tax Review's final determination regarding the assessment of their real property for the 2016 tax year. While the Co-Trustees raise several issues on appeal, the Court consolidates them and restates them as: I. Whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims; and

II. Whether the Indiana Board erred in upholding the assessment of the Co-Trustees' farmland. Upon review, the Court finds in favor of the Co-Trustees with respect to Issue I and in favor of the Assessor with respect to Issue II.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

During the 2016 tax year, the Co-Trustees owned 54.05 acres of land located along a portion of West County Road 650 North in the Town of McCordsville, Hancock County, Indiana. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 99, 141.) They leased 37 acres of the land to a farmer who used no-till practices to cultivate and harvest field corn and soybeans. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 27-28, 60.) The remainder of the land was unsuitable for farming and thus remained in its natural state. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 27-28.)

For the 2016 tax year, the Hancock County Assessor assigned the property an assessed value of $88, 400. The Co-Trustees appealed the assessment, first to the Hancock County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals and then to the Indiana Board.

The Indiana Board held a hearing on the matter on August 18, 2017. During the hearing, the Co-Trustees claimed their property tax liability was incorrect because the ordinance that purported to annex their farm land to the Town of McCordsville (the "Town") was invalid. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 62-63, 181-82.) The Co-Trustees also claimed they did not owe nearly $3, 000 in delinquent storm water charges and penalties that resulted from the Town's unauthorized imposition of a tax. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 25, 171-77.) The Co-Trustees further asserted that 1.05 acres of their land should have been assessed as nontillable land because it was incapable of being farmed, and that their overall assessment was too high given their land's actual crop production capacity. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 158-70.)

In response, the Assessor argued that the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims should be dismissed because the Indiana Board lacked the statutory authority to address them. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 148-49, 226-27.) The Assessor also claimed that her assessment should be upheld in its entirety because it comported with Indiana's assessment guidelines for agricultural property. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 200-19, 227-28.)

On January 17, 2018, the Indiana Board issued its final determination that declined to address the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims due to a lack of statutory authority. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 118-20 ¶¶ 12-13, 19.) The Indiana Board also determined that while the Co-Trustees had shown that 1.05 acres of their land should have been assessed as nontillable land, they failed to show that their assessment should be changed in any other manner. (See Cert. Adm in. R. at 119-20 ¶¶ 15-19.)

On March 2, 2018, the Co-Trustees filed a petition for review with the Tax Court. The Tax Court heard oral argument on September 14, 2018. Additional facts will be supplied when necessary.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The party seeking to overturn a final determination of the Indiana Board bears the burden of demonstrating its invalidity. Osolo Twp. Assessor v. Elkhart Maple Lane Assocs., 789 N.E.2d 109, 111 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2003). Thus, the Co-Trustees must demonstrate to the Court that the Indiana Board's final determination is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity; in excess or short of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations; without observance of the procedure required by law; or unsupported by substantial or reliable evidence. See IND. CODE § 33-26-6-6(e)(1)- (5) (2018).

LAW AND ANALYSIS

I. Whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims

Subject matter jurisdiction, the power of a court to hear and determine a particular class of cases, is conferred upon a court by either the Indiana Constitution or statute. Grandville Co-op.. Inc. v. O'Connor, 25 N.E.3d 833, 836 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2015). Consequently, "'[t]he only relevant inquiry in determining whether any court has [] subject matter jurisdiction is to ask whether the kind of claim which the plaintiff advances falls within the general scope of the authority conferred upon [the] court by the constitution or by statute.'" Marion Cty. Auditor v. State, 33 N.E.3d 398, 400-01 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2015) (citation omitted). The Tax Court, pursuant to its enabling legislation, has subject matter jurisdiction over all "original tax appeals." Ind. Code §§ 33-26-3-1, -3 (2018).

A case is an original tax appeal if it arises under Indiana's tax laws and is an initial appeal of a final determination made by the Indiana Board. I.C. § 33-26-3-1. With respect to the first requirement, a case arises under Indiana's tax laws "if (1) 'an Indiana tax statute creates the right of action,' or (2) 'the case principally involves the collection of a tax or defenses to that collection.'" Grandville Co-op, 25 N.E.3d at 836 (citation omitted). The second requirement, that a case appeal the Indiana Board's final determination, includes the exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement, Id.

On appeal, the Co-Trustees contend that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over their annexation and storm water claims because they are challenging the Indiana Board's final determination regarding the Town's unauthorized attempt to collect special benefit taxes.[1] (See Pet'rs' Br. at 13-14, 26-27, 29-30; Oral Arg. Tr. at 13-14.) The Assessor responds that the Co-Trustees' claims are improperly before the Court because they: 1) involve the collection of user fees...

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