ILNews

Court: business license fee not a tax

Rebecca Berfanger
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed summary judgment for the city of Hammond, where an attorney who practices law there contested an ordinance that would charge a fee to have a business license. The lawyer claimed the fee was tantamount to a tax.

In the opinion, David Paul Allen v. City of Hammond, 45A03-0708-CV-372, it states that on July 28, 2005, Allen filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the city to invalidate the ordinance requiring businesses to have a license.

On Sept. 29, 2006, he filed a motion for partial summary judgment. The city responded and moved for summary judgment Nov. 21, 2006. The trial court conducted a hearing June 7, 2007, on the cross-motions for summary judgment. On July 3, 2007, the trial court denied Allen's motion for summary judgment and granted the city's motion for summary judgment. Allen appealed.

If the city was charging an additional tax to business owners, it would not be allowed under Indiana's Home Rule Act, which states the city is not permitted to impose a tax that is "greater than that reasonably related to the administrative cost of exercising a regulatory power," according to Indiana Code 36-1-3-8(a).

The parties agreed about the Home Rule Act but disagreed as to whether the business license fee is a valid regulatory fee and not a tax, and if the fee is greater than that reasonably related to the cost of exercising the regulatory power.

Allen claimed that prior to filing his complaint, he requested access to various public records including committee reports and calculations of the administrative costs associated with regulating business. Allen was unable to obtain these documents because the city did not have such documents.

Allen claimed that the absence of this information prior to the enactment of Ordinance 8590 showed that the $100 fee was a revenue measure and not a valid license fee.

However, in her affidavit, the city controller stated that the 2006 annual budget for the police department was more than $20 million, fire department was almost $15 million, and the budget for code enforcement was $474,000. The business license fees generated $50,300 in 2006.

The city also presented evidence from the license clerk, a person who works in accounts receivable, a police officer, and the chief fire inspector as to the administrative costs associated with the issuance of business licenses.

"We will not compute the difference between administrative costs and the amounts collected to determine the reasonableness of the $100 business license fee," Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's July 3, 2007, decision to deny Allen's motion for summary judgment and grant the city's motion for summary judgment, concluding that "Allen has not established that ordinance 8590 is invalid," wrote Judge Barnes.

"Because there are no genuine issues of material fact and the city has established it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the trial court properly granted the city's motion for summary judgment and denied Allen's motion for summary judgment. We affirm."
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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