Property tax assessment prevents township from controlling cemetery

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Because a couple had paid taxes on the land where a cemetery existed since 1967, the township did not have authority under Indiana law to exercise control over that cemetery, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Monday.

George and Zelma Bitzer purchased land in Wabash County in 1967 that contained one acre of land that previous owners Solomon and Nancy Fry deeded in 1872 “to the public” to be used as a cemetery. There is a dispute as to how many people are buried in the Belden Cemetery. The cemetery was not maintained by the township trustee and became overgrown. The cemetery was also mistakenly taxed as part of the Bitzers’ property since they purchased it. The couple cleared the area except for the grave markers of the Frys and placed a fence around it. The township trustee believed the Bitzers desecrated the cemetery, but the county prosecutor declined to prosecute.

The township then filed a complaint seeking to quiet title, establish its interest in preserving the cemetery, and recover damages for the Bitzers’ actions. The trial court granted summary judgment for the couple and denied the township’s motion.

Under I.C. 23-14-68-1, the township does not have authority over the cemetery because the Bitzers paid taxes on the assessed land on which the cemetery sits, the COA ruled.

“The statute authorizing a Township Trustee to exercise control over cemeteries located within the township is inapplicable where the cemetery is located on land on which property taxes have been paid. And here, even though there was a genuine issue of material fact with regard to whether and to what extent the dedication of the Belden Cemetery to the public was accepted by the public through usage, there is no genuine issue of material fact with regard to the Bitzers’ payment of property taxes on the land on which the Belden Cemetery is located for decades. For this reason alone, the Township’s claims of authority over the Belden Cemetery must fail,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote in Lagro Township and Karen Pinkerton Tatro v. George E. Bitzer and Zelma E. Bitzer, 85A02-1306-PL-520.

“Although the Township makes an extensive argument that the Bitzers’ actions have desecrated the Belden Cemetery contrary to law, this is a criminal matter left to the discretion of the county prosecutor. As indicated above, to date, the County Prosecutor has declined to file charges against the Bitzers, and the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress filed against the Bitzers was dismissed.”



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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

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  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

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