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Stable owner liable for unemployment tax, appeals court affirms

Dave Stafford
September 23, 2013
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The owner of a Zionsville horse stable lost her appeal of a determination that she owed unemployment insurance tax for employees because they performed non-agricultural work.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed the judgment of liability made by Aija Funderburk, an administrative law judge for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, who ordered the owner of Boone Ridge Stables to pay back years’ unemployment insurance taxes plus interest and penalties.

A terminated three-year stable employee filed for unemployment benefits in July 2011 and the department filed a “block claim investigation” after it found the stable reported no wages for the worker. An audit ensued, finding the stable paid more than $70,000 in wages from 2008-2011.

Stable owner C. Subah Packer argued that employees were exempt because they provided “agricultural labor,” but the department differed, and the COA agreed in C. Subah Packer v. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 93A02-1301-EX-83.

Packer agued the workers cared for “agricultural commodities,” and thus the stable is exempt from tax liabilities and providing unemployment insurance benefits. She argued none of the employees gave riding lessons, for instance, which would not qualify as agricultural labor.

“We have not previously construed the definition of ‘agricultural commodities’ in the unemployment compensation context,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the court, which found guidance in Day v. Ryan, 560 N.E.2d 77, 81 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990). That decision followed the line of established caselaw recognizing a fundamental distinction between an agricultural pursuit and a separately organized, independent productive activity.

“Packer operated a stable where she raised, managed, and conducted husbandry services for horses. Her employees fed and cared for the horses, turned them out to pasture, helped maintain the farm buildings and equipment, and performed husbandry services. In general, such activity is agricultural labor,” Najam wrote. “But the employees also cared for boarded horses and horses used for riding lessons in addition to tending Packer’s horses. The boarding of horses is not agricultural but, instead, is a separately organized, independent productive activity.”

Because the stables didn’t keep adequate employment records, the department couldn’t determine how much of the work might have been agricultural and how much might not have been.

"Thus, [Funderburk] could not make an evidence-based determination of which employees and how many hours were attributable to agricultural and non-agricultural labor, and the Department could not calculate the amount of unemployment compensation taxes owed solely for non-agricultural labor,” Najam wrote for the panel that included judges Elaine Brown and Paul Mathias. The opinion affirms that Packer must pay unemployment compensation taxes on the entire amount of employee pay for the audit years.

“To conclude otherwise would have allowed Packer to escape liability for taxes owed for non-agricultural labor. We cannot say that the ... factual determination is arbitrary, unreasonable, against the evidence, or contrary to law. As such, we affirm the ... determination that Packer is liable for unemployment insurance taxes for the audited years.”

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  1. Please I need help with my class action lawsuits, im currently in pro-se and im having hard time findiNG A LAWYER TO ASSIST ME

  2. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

  3. Both sites mentioned in the article appear to be nonfunctional to date (March 28, 2017). http://indianalegalanswers.org/ returns a message stating the "server is taking too long to respond" and http://www.abafreelegalasnswers.org/ "can't find the server". Although this does not surprise me, it is disheartening to know that access to the judicial branch of government remains out of reach for too many citizens (for procedural rather than meritorious reasons) of Indiana. Any updates regarding this story?

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