Attorney fees unwarranted in tax sale appeal

July 31, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that despite strictly complying with procedural rules, the flaws in a tax case were not egregious enough to award appellate attorney’s fees.

In 2015, the Madison County Treasurer compiled a list of properties that were delinquent in the payment of real estate taxes, including a property that did not receive the statutory minimum bid and went unsold at the Treasurer’s Tax Sale in October 2015.

The Madison County Board of Commissioners then acquired a lien on the property, pursuant to Indiana Code section 6-1.1-24-6, in the amount of the statutory minimum sale price. A commissioners’ certificate sale was held in April 2016, where Picket Fence Properties purchased the property.

Issues arose when the trial court found the purchaser, Andrew Patrick, was not responsible to pay for 2015 spring and fall property taxes nor 2016 spring property taxes.

Madison County intervened and asked the trial court to correct its September 2016 order and clarify that, pursuant to statute, Patrick was indeed responsible for taxes accrued during those years.

Patrick then filed a motion to compel, asking that the trial court compel the Madison County Auditor to remove additional taxes from the tax duplicate, thereby continuing to claim that he did not owe the amount of taxes as calculated by the county. His motion was denied.

Patrick argues the trial court erred when it determined that the Madison County Auditor and Madison County Treasurer followed the trial court’s orders, which determined that Patrick owed taxes that accrued in 2015, the year of the tax sale, including those that accrued between the October 2015 tax sale and the April 2016 commissioners’ certificate sale.

In response, the Madison County Auditor and Madison County Treasurer argued that Patrick’s appeal is frivolous and in bad faith and requested appellate attorney’s fees.

The appellate court agreed that Patrick did not strictly comply with procedural rules, but in regard to the claims of substantive bad faith, it could not say that Patrick’s claim was utterly devoid of all plausibility.

“After the trial court issued the September 2016 order that waived certain taxes, Madison County intervened and requested a corrected order, which was issued on March 31, but the parties were unable to agree on the effect of the March 31 order and requested an order of clarification, which was issued on May 23,” Judge James Kirsch wrote.

“There was continued disagreement and yet another order was issued on October 9. At least two hearings were held during the course of the proceedings. … Given the statutes, claims, as well as the record before us, we conclude that an award of appellate attorney’s fees is not warranted in this case.”

The case is Picket Fence Property Company, and Andrew Patrick v. Chris Davis, and Madison County Auditor and Madison County Treasurer, 48A02-1710-MI-2493.



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