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Township assessor loses appeal

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled against a township assessor who filed a suit last year after the General Assembly enacted a bill that eliminated her office and transferred her duties to the county assessor.

In Joan Stoffel, individually and as named representative of the class of township assessors v. Gov. Mitch Daniels, State of Indiana, et al., No. 35A05-0902-CV-87, Joan Stoffel, as Huntington Township Assessor in Huntington County, appealed the trial court's ruling on the township assessors' verified complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, and grant of the state's motion to dismiss.

Stoffel was elected in 2006 as township assessor and her term was set to expire at the end of 2010; however, the General Assembly passed legislation in 2008 that dictated after June 30, 2008, the county assessor shall perform the assessment duties prescribed by Indiana Code Section 6-1.1 in a township in which the number of parcels of real property on Jan. 1, 2008, is less than 15,000. As of July 1, 2008, the Huntington County Assessor assumed the duties of Stoffel's township.

In Stoffel's complaint, she sought a declaration that portions of the new enrolled act were unconstitutional under Articles 6 and 15 of the Indiana Constitution by abolishing an official position in the middle of an incumbent's term, claimed tortious interference with the contract she has with her constituents, and filed a petition for an emergency hearing on verified complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court adopted the state's findings and granted the state's motion to dismiss.

The township assessor's position is provided for in the Indiana Constitution, but its actual existence depends entirely on statutory action by the legislature, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Stoffel's argument that Article 15, Section 3 supports her position that she is entitled to hold her office for the full four-year term and noted Indiana caselaw has consistently established that the legislature has the determinative vote regarding the existence and duties of elected officers.

The General Assembly has the authority to curtail the duties, powers, and obligations of an elected township assessor, even in the middle of the term, and transfer those duties, wrote the judge. As such, the trial court properly dismissed Stoffel's constitutional challenge.

Her tortious interference claim also failed because there is no contractual relationship or obligation that can be interfered with, wrote Judge Riley. Holding office is a public duty prescribed by law, not by a contract. Her request for preliminary injunctive relief also failed because the holding her constitutional challenge claim was properly dismissed preempts the entry of injunctive relief for Stoffel.

The trial court erred by ruling Stoffel didn't have standing to bring her claims and the state defendants are the proper parties from whom she seeks redress, ruled the appellate court.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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