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Justices vacate review of voided tax warrants in 'puppy mill' case

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The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated an order granting review in a case that concluded tax agencies and the Indiana attorney general’s office overstepped their authority by issuing jeopardy tax warrants to seize animals from an alleged puppy mill in Harrison County.

Justices unanimously vacated a transfer order from the Indiana Tax Court in Indiana Department of State Revenue v. Virginia Garwood, et al., No. 82S10-1203-TA-171. Justices previously granted transfer and heard oral arguments earlier this month, but Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote that “review was improvidently granted” in ordering the appeal as final.

The appeal brought by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller sought to overturn a tax court ruling against the Department of Revenue in August by Tax Judge Martha Wentworth in Virginia and Kristin Garwood v. Indiana Department of Revenue, No.82T10-0906-TA-29.

The attorney general's public information officer Bryan Corbin said the state has other avenues it can pursue to collect unpaid taxes, and noted the Virginia and Kristin Garwood pleaded guilty in May 2010 to Class D felony charges of failing to pay sales.

“Tax evasion and fraud are against the law and will subject the offender to potential civil and criminal penalties by the Department of Revenue, the Attorney General’s Office, and the local prosecutor’s office,” Corbin said in a statement. “The State will not tolerate businesses that gain an unfair economic advantage over their competitors by willfully failing to pay their taxes. The Court’s decision not to hear the case does not mean that the Garwoods are relieved of their tax burden to the State. We respect the decision of the Court.”

Corbin said the order set no precedent and applied only the to Garwood case.

The attorney for the Garwoods had not returned a message left by IL deadline.

The justices let stand Wentworth’s ruling against what the attorney general had dubbed the “Al Capone” approach to take down what it described as illegal puppy mill operations.

The case goes back to June 2009, when a mother and daughter were charged after a raid on their dairy farm that involved police, representatives of the attorney general’s office, department of revenue and about 60 animal rescue workers.

The state had gone to the Garwoods’ residence to serve the jeopardy tax assessments and demanded the family pay about $142,368 immediately or their personal property would be seized. When they couldn’t pay, 244 dogs and puppies were seized. The animals, some of which tested positive for disease, were sold by the state to the Humane Society for a total $300.

The tax court granted summary judgment in the Garwoods’ favor and voided the Garwoods’ jeopardy assessments. Wentworth ruled that lawmakers narrowly defined the circumstances in which jeopardy tax warrants may be issued.

Wentworth wrote that one of four circumstances must exist to execute jeopardy tax warrants: that a person intends to quickly leave the state, remove property from the state, conceal property in the state, or do any other act that would jeopardize the collection of taxes. She ruled there was no evidence that those circumstances existed.

The Garwoods eventually pleaded guilty to failing to pay 2007 to 2009 sales tax for the puppy-breeding and selling operation in Mauckport.

The state alleged the Garwoods were concealing the puppies to avoid being taxed, citing Virginia Garwood’s refusal to allow Harrison County Animal Control on her property at one point after a consumer complained she was hiding the operation.

But Wentworth disagreed, finding it was not reasonable to infer that Virginia Garwood’s intent was to conceal property to avoid paying taxes because one would not normally expect an animal control officer to be involved with tax collection matters. Wentworth also dismissed the state’s arguments that the Garwoods’ purchase of breeding animals in bulk was speculative as far as a way for them to conceal the individual sales of the dog operation.

While the Garwoods may not have been properly reporting and paying taxes, the evidence doesn’t prove they were intending not to pay or trying to thwart collection in any way, the judge determined.

Citing an Indiana Supreme Court ruling from 2002 about jeopardy assessments, Wentworth noted that those tax tools should be issued as part of the state’s “power of the purse” and not its “power of the sword” in punishing crimes.



 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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