Schiffler v. Marion Cnty. Assessor, 21T-TA-00014

Citation21T-TA-00014
Case DateFebruary 23, 2022
CourtTax Court of Indiana

MATTHEW A. SCHIFFLER, Petitioner,
v.

MARION COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

No. 21T-TA-00014

Tax Court of Indiana

February 23, 2022


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

PETITIONER APPEARING PRO SE:

MATTHEW A. SCHIFFLER

Indianapolis, IN

ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT:

JESSICA R. GASTINEAU

SPECIAL COUNSEL - TAX LITIGATION

OFFICE OF CORPORATION COUNSEL

Indianapolis, IN

WENTWORTH, J.

Matthew A. Schiffler appeals the Indiana Board of Tax Review's final determination that calculated his residential real property tax liability for the 2019 tax year using a combination of the 1 %, 2%, and 3% property tax caps. Upon review, the Court reverses that final determination.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Schiffler owns and occupies residential real property on West 44th Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 1-3, 12-16.) Schiffler's property consists of: 1) a house with an attached garage, 2) a detached carriage house, 3) a detached 2-

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car garage, and 4) the 2.56 acres of land upon which all those improvements are situated. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 2, 10-16, 52.)

For the 2019 tax year, Schiffler's property tax liability was computed in the following manner: the 1% property tax cap was applied to the assessed value of the house with the attached garage; the 2% property tax cap was applied to the assessed value of the detached carriage house; and the 3% property tax cap was applied to the assessed value of the detached garage. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 2.) Schiffler appealed that computation, first to the Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals and then to the Indiana Board.[1] (See Cert. Admin. R. at 1-3.)

The Indiana Board held a telephonic hearing on Schiffler's appeal on November 17, 2020. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 48.) During that hearing, Schiffler claimed that the assessed value of both the carriage house and the detached garage should have also received the benefit of the 1% property tax cap. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 2-3, 52-54.) Schiffler argued that those two improvements qualified for the 1% property tax cap because they were "curtilage" under the Indiana Constitution that constituted part of his "homestead" eligible for the standard homestead deduction under Indiana Code § 6-1.1-12-37. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 2-3, 53-60.)

On February 9, 2021, the Indiana Board issued a final determination denying Schiffler's request for relief. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 42-47.) In its final determination, the Indiana Board explained that "the Indiana Constitution does not establish the tax caps directly, rather, it directs the legislature to do so. Thus, it is our responsibility to examine

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whether Schiffler's property qualifies for a homestead deduction under the Indiana Code, not whether it meets the constitutional definition of curtilage." (Cert. Admin. R. at 45-46 ¶ 10(c).) The Indiana Board then explained that while the evidence demonstrated that Schiffler's carriage house and detached garage were used as extensions of his home, they nonetheless did not qualify as part of his homestead eligible for the standard homestead deduction - and thus 1% property tax cap - under Indiana Code § 6-1.1-12- 37. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 45-46 ¶ 10(d).) In support of that conclusion, the Indiana Board stated:

the legislature has put specific limits on what type of property is eligible for a homestead deduction. Specifically lnd[iana] Code § 6-1.1-12-37 provides that the homestead includes "house or garage" and "another residential yard structure that is . . . attached to the dwelling." ***** The legislature did not define attached, and absent such guidance, we must give the term its ordinary and usual meaning. We are not persuaded that any structure, so long as it shares a driveway or utilities, is "attached." Rather, it seems far more likely that the legislature intended the homestead to only apply to buildings that were structurally attached via a shared roof or wall. Because neither [the carriage house nor the detached garage] is connected in such a way, they fall outside the bounds of the homestead deduction and thus the 1 % tax cap

(Cert. Admin. R. at 46-47 ¶¶ 10(d)-(e) (internal citation omitted).)

Schiffler initiated an original tax appeal on March 19, 2021. The Court heard the parties' oral arguments on September 9, 2021. Additional facts will be supplied when necessary.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The party seeking to overturn an Indiana Board final determination bears the burden of demonstrating its invalidity. Osolo Twp. Assessor v. Elkhart Maple Lane Assocs., 789N.E.2d 109, 111 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2003).

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Thus, to prevail in his appeal, Schiffler 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 of 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) (2022).

LAW

In Indiana, all real property is subject to taxation. See Ind. Const, art. X, § 1(a); Ind. Code § 6-1.1-2-1 (2019). Nevertheless, the Indiana Constitution provides that the Legislature "may exempt" from property taxation, among other things, "[t]angible property, including curtilage, used as a principal place of residence by an[ ] owner of the property[.]" Ind. Const, art. X, § 1(c)(4)(A) (emphasis added). The Indiana Constitution also provides that any tax liability on this type of property is limited to - or "capped" at -1 % of its gross assessed value. Ind. Const, art. X, § 1 (f).

Indiana Code § 6-1.1-12-37 contains what is known as the "standard homestead deduction." See Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-37 (2019). See also Ind. Const, art. X, § 1(b) (explaining that when exempting property from taxation, the Legislature is "also permitted] ... to exercise its legislative power to enact property tax deductions and credits"). Generally speaking, the standard homestead deduction removes from taxation the first $45, 000 of assessed value of one's "homestead." See I.C. § 6-1.1-12-37(b), (c)(2). A...

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