Justices reject appeal to make public Indianapolis’ Amazon HQ2 offer

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The Indiana Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a tax trade publication that sought disclosure of tax dollars and incentives Indianapolis and the state offered Amazon in the city’s failed attempt to lure the online retail giant’s coveted second headquarters project known as HQ2.

Justices unanimously rejected a petition to transfer in Tax Analysts, et al. v. Indiana Economic Development Corp., 20A-PL-1141.

Indianapolis was among some 200 cities and regions nationwide that submitted proposals competing to attract HQ2. Amazon ultimately decided to locate its massive $5 billion complex in northern Virginia.

The publisher Tax Analysts sought to gather comparative details of what cities had offered to lure Amazon, including from Indianapolis and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Many cities agreed, including Gary, which disclosed that the IEDC offered Amazon more than $1.5 billion in incentives to locate in the Lake County community, as well as the potential of $792 million from the city and another $2.75 billion in potential further incentives if approved by the General Assembly.

But Indianapolis and the IEDC refused to disclose their offers, leading Tax Analysts to sue, claiming the incentives were subject to disclosure under the Access to Public Records Act. The Marion Superior Court ruled against Tax Analysts, holding that the records were exempt from disclosure under APRA because they were created during negotiations and did not include terms of a final offer of public financial resources.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, affirming the trial court in a New Year’s Eve opinion last year. The COA further found IEDC’s offers were part of ongoing negotiations that “had not developed yet into ‘terms of the final offer of public financial resources.’ … As such, the IEDC had discretion to deny TA’s request for copies of those records.”

The Hoosier State Press Association had filed an amicus brief in support of Tax Analysts’ request for disclosure of the offers.

The case is one of 14 transfer petitions the court reviewed and denied last week, taking up no new cases. Justices unanimously denied 11 cases, but in two instances split 3-2. Justices Christopher Goff and Geoffrey Slaughter dissented from the majority and voted to hear these two cases:

• Trey Matthew Fields v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1799. Madison County man Trey Fields will be permitted to file a belated notice of appeal. Fields was sentenced to 25 years in the Department of Correction after he pleaded guilty in 2016 to six felony charges including two counts of stalking and one count of each of battery, disarming a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement and escape. He was also found to be a habitual offender. The COA in a January opinion found his sentence to be unlawful because the trial court relied on an improper aggravator in sentencing.

• CHINS: A.C. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 20A-JC-1348. The majority let stand a January Court of Appeals decision allowing a Henry County mother the opportunity to challenge the voluntary relinquishment of her parental rights because she was not given a proper advisement before signing a relinquishment form.

Finally, the Supreme Court rejected a petition in a dog-mauling case, Brooke Brown, By Next Friend, Mark Brown v. Southside Animal Shelter, Inc., et al., 20A-CT-66. There, the COA in October reversed a Marion Superior Court summary judgment ruling in favor of a south side Indianapolis animal shelter, determining the shelter must face a lawsuit from an adopter whose child was attacked by a dog with a history of aggression. The COA in January reaffirmed its ruling in the case after a rehearing. Slaughter did not participate in the decision denying transfer in the case.

Indiana Supreme Court transfer decisions for the week ending April 30 are available here.

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