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Marion County, Simon tangle over valuation of Indianapolis malls

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Arguments in two cases before the Indiana Tax Court in recent weeks featured wildly divergent views of the valuation of two Indianapolis shopping malls that have seen better days.

The Marion County assessor argues the cases represent far more than just determining whether the assessments of Washington Square and Lafayette Square for property-tax purposes were lowballed. In both cases, the Indiana Board of Tax Review sided with the mall owners at the time, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group or a subsidiary.

rop-washington-mall04-15col.jpg Washington Square (left) and Lafayette Square malls both have dealt over the years with declining sales and high rates of vacancy, factors which have helped drive down their assessed values. But the Marion County Assessor’s Office has appealed to Indiana Tax Court, claiming plummeting assessments in some cases were two- to three-times too low. (IL file photo)

Assessor’s office attorney John C. Slatten seized on a finding in the Indiana Board of Tax Review’s final determination that lowered the assessed value of Washington Square for the 2006-2010 assessment years. While the board sided with Simon’s appraisers, it wrote the methods used to arrive at the value “were not supported by his evidence and he made income and expense assumptions that seemed designed to value property at the lowest possible rate.”

“It would be a novel finding then in Indiana that a totally flawed appraisal can support a reduction of value,” Slatten argued to Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth in Marion Co. Assessor v. Washington Square Mall, LLC, et al., 49T10-1211-TA-70.

“If the court upholds this case, these are bad appraisals, and that’s the takeaway,” Slatten argued.

Ice Miller LLP attorney Paul M. Jones Jr. represented Simon interests in both cases. He said the board justified its findings, that it found fault in all the appraisals before it and didn’t abuse its discretion.

focus-malls-facts.jpg“This is a simple case that can be decided quickly,” Jones argued. He disputed that the flaws in the Washington Square appraisal were serious and said the board exercised its right to determine which appraisal was most persuasive.

“The board properly weighed the evidence and gave more weight to the taxpayer’s assessment,” he said. “It’s also not surprising the board arrived at the decision it did.”

Wentworth noted that the board also explained its rationale, and she challenged Slatten’s suggestion that the findings were “flawed in every approach.”

“You can’t look in isolation and say the board just completely eviscerated the probative value (of appraisals),” Wentworth said. But Slatten said that when presented with defective assessments, the tax review panel should have deferred to the assessments affirmed by the Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.

That board determined Washington Square’s total assessment for the 2010 tax year, for instance, was more than $36.5 million. But the Indiana Tax Review Board reduced that assessment to $9.5 million.

“This particular property is struggling,” Jones said, noting that Simon’s appraiser addressed issues from a high rate of tenant vacancy to condition issues, such as a bad roof. “I think it’s not surprising why the board found that evidence was more persuasive.”

“For this court to overturn the Indiana board decision in this case, it would have to get into the business of reweighing the evidence,” he told Wentworth.

rop-lafayette-mall02-15col.jpg Lafayette Square was sold in 2007 for $18 million to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. in 2007 after a tax appeal began on the property.(IL file photo)

Jones said Simon also presented evidence that the shopping center wouldn’t attract the interest of real estate investment trust giants similar to Simon as potential buyers.

Wentworth challenged Jones on whether that should have been a factor in the assessment. “Even though in reality an entrepreneurial investor with a new focus might be the only buyer you would get, you still have to meet the market value in use definition,” she said. Jones replied that while sale prospects were considered, the property was valued in Simon’s assessment as a regional mall.

Sale prices also factored into Slatten’s arguments. Simon sold Lafayette Square for $18 million to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. in 2007 after a tax appeal began on that property. He argued that Washington Square is considered a much more valuable property, which makes the $9.5 million assessment for 2010 questionable.

“Lafayette Square sold for twice as much, so you know the value’s low,” he said. “We need to value (Washington Square) as the value that it has to the owner.”

Slatten told Indiana Lawyer it’s unusual for the assessor’s office to push a case to Tax Court, and typically such disputes are resolved before this third-level appeal. “It’s a continuing problem we have with them,” he said of some Simon properties, “appraisals that just don’t make any sense.”

Jones could not be reached for comment. Ice Miller associate Matthew J. Ehinger, who also represents Simon in the litigation, said he could not comment on the pending cases.

Regarding the Lafayette Square case, Marion Co. Assessor v. Simon DeBartolo Group, LP, et al., 49T10-1211-TA-76, Jones said at oral argument that the Tax Court should affirm valuations of $15.2 million and $16.4 million for the 2006 and 2007 years, which represent assessments that employed a trending analysis based on the sale price.

That’s a more logical approach than the assessor’s proposed valuations that in one year was more than twice as high. “Or is it logical the alternative the assessor would suggest, that this same publicly traded group, the world’s largest … would sell a property for a 30 percent or a 50 percent discount like one of the retailers at the mall when they’re trying to unload things at the end of a season,” Jones argued.

“It’s outrageous that the assessor’s value – $36 million and $30 million – represent the market value in use when the property sold for $18 million.”

In the case of Lafayette Square, neither side agreed with the Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals, which set assessments at $28 million for 2006 and $20 million for 2007.

But Slatten said the sale price analysis in determining assessment value was insufficient. “It’s too remote from the valuation data of 2005 (for the 2006 assessment value) and goes against generally accepted valuation principles,” he argued.

“It doesn’t indicate the market value in use,” Slatten said of the purchase price versus the assessment standard. “It indicates what someone was willing to pay for it.”

But Jones argued Wentworth should affirm Simon’s Lafayette Square assessments that were approved by the Tax Review Board, noting that the sale was exposed to the market, which determined its value.

“If the standard is value for its use,” he said, “and you have a property that is marketed and sold and then market factors are used to trend that, then that is sufficient.”•

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  1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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