COA reaffirms decision to allow developer to purchase Henry County land

A land redevelopment company can continue to move forward with its purchase of land in Henry County after the Indiana Court of Appeals Thursday reaffirmed its original decision.

In a July 25 opinion in the case of Lamasco Redevelopment, LLC v. Henry County, Indiana, Auditor and Henry County, Indiana, Treasurer, 33A01-1702-MI-398, the Indiana Court of Appeals allowed Lamasco Redevelopment LLC to move forward with its purchase of two Henry County properties at tax sale despite the county auditor’s failure to comply with Indiana Code 32-21-8-7. The auditor claimed it inadvertently violated that statute by endorsing deeds to transfer the original property owners’ interests in the parcels to other persons prior to issuing tax deeds for the parcels to Lamasco.

But under the language of I.C. 32-21-8-7 — which holds that “unless the property of the delinquent taxpayer is redeemed during the redemption period, the tax sale process continues to its conclusion with the issuance by the auditor of a deed to the tax sale purchaser” — the appellate court determined the conveyance of the first parcel to Lamasco was proper because it was transferred to the redevelopment company outside of the redemption period. Though the second property was conveyed within the redemption period, neither the original owner nor the purchases appeared in the case, and there is no statutory basis to stop a tax sale process based solely on an auditor’s failure to comply with the statute, the court held.

On petition for rehearing, the Henry County auditor and treasurer claimed the court failed to consider all the evidence in its original opinion, specifically arguing there was evidence in the record that a purchaser paid $30,000 for the second parcel, not $10 as the court wrote in the original opinion.

But “the amount (the purchaser) paid is ultimately immaterial to our decision in this case,” Senior Judge John T. Sharpnack wrote. “…The Auditor’s mistake appears to be a matter for the Auditor and (the purchaser) to resolve between themselves, not grounds to undo Lamasco’s good-faith purchase, particularly considering Lamasco’s compliance with the requirements of the tax sale process.”

The auditor and treasurer also claimed the opinion misstated key points in the case of In re 2014 Johnson County Tax Sale, 48 N.E.3d 340 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), which they had cited to support their position on appeal. They claimed that in that case, the county auditor, not the property owner, prosecuted the action in court and requested relief from a tax sale. But Sharpnack disagreed and said in the 2015 case, the property owner was a party and participated in a hearing.

“Here, the Auditor and Treasurer sent (the purchaser) a copy of their motion to invalidate the tax sale, but he made no appearance in the trial court or in this Court to assert his claim to the property based on his deed,” Sharpnack said. “…Viewed equitably, Lamasco, who did all required by law, stands on higher ground than the county officials who failed to do all required by law and the grantees who benefitted from that failure.”

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