The Indiana Tax Court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s property tax assessment system because the petitioning taxpayers didn’t exhaust their administrative options.
Indiana Tax Judge Thomas G. Fisher ruled Nov. 9 in Mel Goldstein, et al. v. Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, et al., No. 49T10-0709-TA-45, which was brought by 14 taxpayers and 10 citizen groups from across the state.
Indianapolis attorney John Price filed the suit in September on behalf taxpayers statewide pushing for tax reform, and Judge Fisher heard arguments Oct. 31. The suit included counts relating directly to Marion County and the recently passed income-tax increase and property-tax refunds, while the others focus on tax-rate equality and assessment practices statewide.
In his ruling, the judge said petitioners didn’t meet the requirements for the appeals court to have jurisdiction. One is that a case must arise under the state’s tax laws, while the second is that the suit appeals a final determination of either the Department of Revenue or Board of Tax Review.
But that didn’t happen, and Judge Fisher wrote in a footnote that only two of the total 24 petitioners started the administrative appeals process. He said that amounts to “a failure to exhaust administrative remedies” that deprives the Tax Court of subject matter in a case.
While petitioners conceded they hadn’t exhausted all the options administratively, Price argued that a past Indiana Supreme Court decision allows the tax appeals court to take on this case anyhow because it involves an issue of significant public interest.
Judge Fisher declined to accept that invitation.
“This Court is acutely aware of the public’s discontent with the purported inadequacies of Indiana’s property assessment and taxation system,” he wrote. “What the Petitioners are asking the Court to do, however, is to create and confer upon itself subject matter jurisdiction where subject matter jurisdiction does not exist. This the Court cannot do.”
Though he dismissed the suit, Judge Fisher also noted in a final footnote of the ruling that the petitioners can still have a day in court if they go through their administrative remedies.