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Tax Court lets owners’ appeal go forward in alleged ‘puppy mill’ case

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The former owners of an alleged puppy mill in Harrison County may pursue their claim that because the state overreached in using jeopardy tax warrants to seize their animals and property, they are entitled to a refund of the value of the taken property.

The Tax Court on Thursday denied a state motion to dismiss the appeal in Virginia Garwood v. Indiana Dept. of State Revenue, 82T10-1208-TA-46. The state argued the court lacked jurisdiction because a related suit was pending in a Harrison County trial court.

Long-running litigation voided the tax warrants used in 2009 by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller to demand more than $142,000 in sales taxes the state claimed were owed by Virginia and Kristin Garwood, who the state accused of running a puppy mill. The Garwoods pleaded guilty in May 2010 to Class D felony charges of failing to pay sales taxes.

Zoeller had described the use of jeopardy tax warrants in the case as an “Al Capone” approach to taking down what was described as a puppy mill on a dairy farm. Police, state agents and dozens of animal rescue workers raided the farm in 2009.

The state served jeopardy assessments on the Garwoods and demanded they pay $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.  

After the Tax Court voided the use of the warrants, the Garwoods formally requested a refund of the value of the seized animals, cash and other property, claiming they were owed a refund of $122,684.50. The state disputed the claim, and the Garwoods brought the current suit the state unsuccessfully moved to dismiss.

“Based on the totality of ... jurisdictional facts, the Court finds that Garwood’s case ‘arises under Indiana’s tax laws’: she filed a refund claim with the Department ... and now seeks to have the validity of her claim resolved by this Court," Senior Judge Thomas Fisher wrote.

The state argued that Garwood sought to recover money that wasn't paid and that the claim is for compensatory damages rather than a refund of sales taxes. "The Court, however, is not persuaded by either of these arguments," Fisher wrote, denying the motion and lifting a stay imposed in August.


 

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