State tax authorities who couldn’t convince administrative boards to uphold a tripling of assessed valuation on Verizon facilities in Allen County had no better luck Friday before the Indiana Tax Court.
Verizon fought a reassessment for the 2007 tax year that raised the value for property tax purposes from $16.2 million to more than $50.2 million. The Tax Court affirmed the final decision of the Indiana Board of Tax Review in favor of Verizon.
The state Department of Revenue claimed Verizon’s challenge was untimely because the company waived deadlines to appeal the assessment. It argued that any procedural error on the state’s part should be decided in its favor because “a pattern in recent appellate decisions shows a clear willingness by courts to forgive procedural errors even where a consequence for the failure is specified.”
“The Court disagrees,” Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth wrote in Allen County Assessor v. Verizon Data Services, Inc., 49T10-1408-TA-53. "The cases upon which the Assessor has relied do not establish that appellate courts routinely excuse procedural defects to reach the merits of a case. Rather, the cases the Assessor cites, decided approximately eight years apart, explain that certain procedural defects, such as the untimely filing of a Notice of Appeal or complaint, are not defects that implicate a court’s subject matter jurisdiction."
Wentworth also noted the state raised this argument for the first time before the Tax Court. “Accordingly, the Court declines to provide the Assessor with a second bite of the proverbial apple at the expense of both Verizon and the Indiana Board.”
Verizon’s Form 131 petitioning for the Indiana Board of Tax Review to challenge the assessment was filed timely under any standard, Wentworth wrote. In a companion case, however, the court concluded that the applicable deadlines are found in Chapter 16 of Indiana Code § 6-1.1, not those under Chapter 15 of the article relied upon by the Department of Revenue.
In Washington Township Assessor, Allen County Assessor, and Allen County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals v. Verizon Data Services, Inc., 49T10-1102-TA-13, Wentworth affirmed the Indiana Board of Tax Review’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Verizon. In this case, the company appealed an increase in the assessed value of tangible personal property from $21 million to nearly $58 million for the 2005 tax year.
"(T)o the extent the deadlines under Section 15-1 and Chapter 16 conflict, Chapter 16 governs because it applies specifically to appeals of an assessing official’s change to a personal property assessment; whereas, Section 15-1 applies generally to appeals concerning real and personal property assessments," the court held. "This conclusion gives effect to the importance that the Legislature has placed on assessing officials’ compliance with Chapter 16’s statutory deadlines.
"Accordingly, the Chapter 16 deadlines applied to require the (Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals) to issue its final determination by October 30, 2005, which it did not."