Tax board ‘acted contrary to law’ by not dismissing CVS valuation appeals

CVS’ voluntary dismissal of two Lake County property tax assessment appeals should have been granted, the Indiana Tax Court ruled Friday, ordering the Indiana Board of Tax Review to dismiss the cases and reinstate original assessed valuations for a span of years for drugstores in Hobart and Schererville.

The drugstore chain had appealed eight valuations of CVS stores in Lake County in 2017, but in May of that year, CVS moved to voluntarily dismiss its appeal of the valuations of the stores in Hobart and Schererville. The Indiana Tax Review Board granted that motion before the assessor responded, but then after the assessor responded in opposition, the board issued an order vacating dismissal. The assessor argued dismissing the appeals “will not promote or encourage discussions of value, but will actually discourage negotiations and suggest [an] uneven playing field.” The cases then proceeded to arguments on the merits and a final determination valuing the properties.

CVS appealed to the Indiana Tax Court, arguing the Board of Tax Review abused its discretion in not permitting its voluntary dismissal, and the Tax Court agreed in CVS Corporation #2519-01, taxpayer v. Jerome Prince, in his official capacity as Lake County Assessor, 19T-TA-4, and CVS Corporation #0434-01, taxpayer v. Jerome Prince, in his official capacity as Lake County Assessor, 19T-TA-5.

First, The Tax Court found the Lake County assessor had offered no persuasive evidence that the assessor incurred a substantial expense in the litigation, simply because he said appraisals were expensive.

“The Indiana Board is not authorized to ride in on a white horse to save the day when the Assessor fails to provide relevant evidence, legal authority, or persuasive argument for his cause,” Judge Martha Blood Wentworth wrote in the companion opinions. “… By finding indirect claims to be facts and making arguments for the Assessor, the Indiana Board exceeded its statutory mandate.”

Second, the assessor would not have been legally prejudiced had CVS’ motions to dismiss been granted, the judge ruled. In doing so, Wentworth batted down a new legal right she said the board “conjured up”: allowing an assessor to seek a higher assessed value in a taxpayer appeal.

“The Indiana Board failed to cite any legal authority in support of its conclusion that the Assessor had a legal right to seek an increased assessed value in a taxpayer-initiated appeal,” the judge wrote.

“Accordingly, the Court finds that the Indiana Board erred in finding the Assessor had a legal right that would be prejudiced by the voluntary dismissal of this matter because it did not provide a legal basis for its determination, but instead exceeded its statutory authority by making the Assessor’s case for him,” Wentworth concluded.

In finding the board exceeded its authority and acted contrary to law in vacating CVS’ voluntary dismissals, the Tax Court remanded both matters with instructions to dismiss the cases and reinstate the original assessed values for CVS’ Schererville store for the 2007-2014 tax years and for the Hobart store for the 2012-2016 tax years.

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