Supreme Court to hear argument in Henry County land dispute

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear argument this week over whether a Henry County redevelopment company can keep land it purchased at a tax sale, despite the county auditor’s claim that a mistaken transfer of the properties invalidated the tax sale.

The case of Lamasco Redevelopment, LLC v. Henry County, Indiana, Auditor, et al., 18S-MI-00198, began in 2015 when Lamasco Redevelopment purchased two parcels of Henry County land — known as parcels 413 and 91 — at a tax sale. When the original owners of the land failed to pay the back taxes owed on the property within one year of Lamasco’s bid, the Henry Circuit Court granted Lamasco’s petition to issue the tax deeds in December 2016.

However, the Henry County auditor’s office subsequently discovered that it had endorsed deeds purporting to transfer the original property owners’ interests in the land to other people in September and December 2016 — an error it said invalidated the tax sale under Indiana Code section 32-21-8-7 (2016). The trial court agreed and vacated the orders for the issuance of the tax deeds to Lamasco, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision in July 2017.

Applying the same statute the trial court used to invalidate the tax sale, Senior Judge John T. Sharpnack wrote for the appellate panel 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 transfer of Parcel 413 occurred outside of the redemption period, so the conveyance of that land to the third parties was void, Sharpnack said. And though Parcel 91 was conveyed within the redemption period, neither the original owner nor the purchaser appeared, so there was no statutory basis to stop the otherwise lawful tax sale, he said.

The appellate panel remanded the case to reinstate the orders and to issue the tax deeds to Lamasco, then reaffirmed that decision in October. The county sought transfer, which the court granted last month. Thursday’s oral argument will begin at 10:45 a.m. in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom at the Indiana statehouse.

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