High court takes tax issue

March 12, 2010

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer Thursday to a property-tax exemption case which depends on whether the real property is owned or predominately used for religious or charitable purposes.

In Oaken Bucket Partners v. Hamilton County Property Tax Assessment Board, et al., No. 49S10-1003-TA-140, the Indiana Tax Court reversed the Indiana Board of Tax Review's decision to uphold the denial of Oaken Bucket Partner's property tax exemption application for the 2004 tax year. During the year at issue, Oaken Bucket leased at below market rate nearly 30,000 square feet of its building to a church and claimed it qualified for the exemption. The review board affirmed the finding that Oaken Bucket failed to prove it owns and uses the space in a predominantly exempt manner.

The review board's conclusion that Oaken Bucket owned and used the space for investment purposes only and that the company charged Heartland market rate rent wasn't supported by substantial evidence. Oaken Bucket also prima facie demonstrated that it fulfilled the ownership and use requirements of Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-10-16, the Tax Court concluded.

The matter was remanded to the review board so it could instruct the appropriate assessing officials to take actions consistent with the opinion.

The high court also granted transfer this week to Regunal Dowell v. State of Indiana, No. 32S01-1003-PC-136, in which it issued an opinion March 10; and Michael Francis v. Lawrence T. Newman, No. 49S02-1003-CV-137, in which it issued an order remanding the case to the trial court.

Attorney Lawrence Newman sued Michael Francis for what he claimed were attorney fees and expenses owed to him in his representation of Francis in an estate case. The estate case had been closed without Newman's fees and costs being considered.

Francis appealed the trial court order awarding Newman nearly $5,000 in fees, claiming the trial court awarded the fees without a hearing. The Indiana Court of Appeals assumed but didn't decide that Francis was entitled to a hearing but held he hadn't made any showing of prejudice from such an error.

"But we are unable to resolve on this record the extent to which Francis was entitled to the records from the Estate Case, if for no other reason than what was at issue was Newman's entitlement to attorney fees and expenses for his services in the Estate Case," wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

The justices also believed Francis was entitled to a hearing to test the reasonableness of Newman's fee request. The high court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.


Recent Articles by Jennifer Nelson