Court clarifies where tax disputes belong

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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General jurisdiction courts don't have the authority to consider cases involving tax law or the Department of Local Government Finance, and the Indiana Court of Appeals says it also doesn't have the authority to remand those cases to the Indiana Tax Court.

An appellate panel made its point clear in an opinion on rehearing today in Wayne Township, Marion County, Indiana v. Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, and Martha Womacks, Marion County Auditor, No. 29A05-0611-CV-661. This comes as a clarification and alteration of the court's ruling April 30, which found in favor of the DLGF and Womacks and remanded the case with instructions to transfer back to the Indiana Tax Court.

This appeal stems from Wayne Township suing the state department and the county auditor over the county's attempt to collect a higher share of County Option Income Tax (COIT) from the township, as it's based in part on each unit's maximum permissible property-tax levies. The township challenged that calculation originally in tax court, but it ended up in Hamilton Superior 3 where the judge granted summary judgment in favor of DLGF and Womacks.

In the April decision, the appellate judges questioned whether either the trial or appellate court had subject matter jurisdiction to rule on the merits, noting that there was "no question" this case arose under state tax laws.

However, the DLGF argued that it did not and that the certification to Womacks of the permissible property tax levy wasn't a "final determination" equivalent to exhausting administrative remedies, meaning the trial court and not the tax court had subject matter jurisdiction.

"Whether or not there is a 'final determination' here by the DLGF, this case does not belong in a court of general jurisdiction," the court wrote today. "It might not belong in the Tax Court, either, if there is not a 'final determination.'

Appellate judges go on to write that because the tax court has a greater expertise concerning Indiana tax statutes and could determine differently what is a 'final determination' relating to the courts' jurisdictions, the only recourse is to send this case back to the trial court.

"In other words, the language in our original opinion indicating our belief that there is an appealable, final DLGF determination in this case is dicta, which was not necessary to our holding that the trial court and this court necessarily lacked subject matter jurisdiction," the court wrote. "We reverse the grant of summary judgment in favor of the DLGF and Womacks and remand to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the case."

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