Tax Court reverses assessment after ‘trial by ambush’

September 21, 2015

The Indiana Board of Tax Review abused its discretion and conducted a “trial by ambush” when it heard the appeal of a property owner who challenged the assessment of a property in Long Beach.

RJK Trust/Robert J. Kuchler challenged the $800,000 assessment of a property for the 2006 tax year that had previously been valued for tax purposes at $630,500 by the LaPorte County Assessor. Kuchler brought the matter to Tax Court after the trust was provided an independent appraisal of the property for the first time at an administrative hearing.

The appraisal was withheld until the hearing despite RJK’s repeated requests for responsive materials.

“(T)he Indiana Board’s small claims regulations require, upon request, pre-hearing disclosure to uphold the fundamental tenant of our judicial system that neither party by subjected to a trial by ambush,” Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth wrote.

“Here, however, a trial by ambush is exactly what happened.”

The board also failed to determine whether the appraisal report would be excluded. “Accordingly, the Indiana Board abused its discretion by making a determination that is clearly contrary to the logic and effect of the facts and the law because it is based on evidence tainted by the evils of unfair surprise,” Wentworth wrote in RJK/ Robert J. Kuchler, Trustee v. LaPorte County Assessor, 45T10-1304-TA-50.

The matter was remanded to the Indiana Board of Tax Review for a new hearing.



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