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In re Carroll County 2013 Tax Sale

Supreme Court of Indiana

December 4, 2014

IN RE: THE CARROLL COUNTY 2013 TAX SALE; TWIN LAKES REGIONAL SEWER DISTRICT, Appellant (Intervenor Below),
v.
RICHARD C. RAY AND PATRICIA A. ALFORD, Appellees (Petitioners below), AND CARROLL COUNTY, INDIANA, BY AND THROUGH THE CARROLL COUNTY AUDITOR, Appellee (Respondent below)

Appeal from the Carroll Circuit Court, No. 08C01-1308-MI-20. The Honorable Benjamin A. Diener, Judge. On Appellate Rule 56(A) Petition To Transfer, No. 08A04-1309-MI-455.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Donald J. Tribbett, Tribbett Law Office, Logansport, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: Dale W. Arnett, Winchester, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR AMICUS CURIAE: Indiana Regional Sewer District Association, Anne H. Poindexter, Stephenie K. Gookins, Campbell Kyle Proffitt LLP, Carmel, Indiana.

Dickson, Justice. Rush, C.J., Rucker, David, and Massa, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 833

Dickson, Justice.

After two landowners, delinquent in paying fees and penalties owed to a regional sewer district, successfully petitioned the Carroll County Circuit Court to remove their properties from the list of properties subject to a tax sale, the lienholder sewer district appealed, challenging the trial court's interpretation of Indiana Code section 13-26-14-4. We hold that the statute does not apply to prohibit a tax sale of these properties.

Twin Lakes Regional Sewer District is one of roughly 100 non-municipal regional sewer districts in Indiana, and it serves areas in Carroll and White counties. Richard Ray and Patricia Alford each own property served by the District. Both the Ray property and the Alford property had outstanding sewer bills owed to the District, which had perfected liens against the properties and certified those liens to the Carroll County Auditor for collection with the upcoming property tax bill. On August 26, 2013, the Carroll County Treasurer and Auditor filed a joint affidavit and joint application for judgment against the listed properties ordering that the properties be sold at a tax sale to satisfy obligations for the unpaid sewer bills owed the District.

The trial court entered the requested judgment, but in advance of the tax sale the land-owners each separately petitioned the trial court objecting to their respective properties being listed for tax sale and asserting that " [a]ll property taxes are paid on this property and the only amount due is an attached sewer lien." Appellant's

Page 834

App'x at 8-9. Further, the landowners each requested, in part, that the trial court find that their respective properties " [cannot] be sold at tax sale" pursuant to Indiana Code section 13-26-14-4. Id. The District intervened and requested a hearing to determine whether the Ray or the Alford property ought to be removed from the tax sale list. Following the hearing, the trial court found that the only outstanding lien on either property was owed exclusively to the District for unpaid sewer bills and ordered that both properties be removed from the 2013 tax sale because " [the District] maintains the only lien" and as such " is precluded from foreclosing on the parcels pursuant to [Indiana Code section] 13-26-14-4." Id. at 7. The District then initiated this appeal and petitioned this Court to accept jurisdiction pursuant to Appellate Rule 56(A), which we granted.

All parties agree that the central issue in this case is the interpretation of the last sentence, the lien foreclosure prohibition clause, in Indiana Code section 13-26-14-4. See Appellees' Br. at 2; Appellant's Br. at 1. Section 4 is the last of four brief sections comprising Chapter 14. Section 1 authorizes regional sewer districts to use lien foreclosure to collect rates, charges, and penalties. Ind. Code § 13-26-14-1. Section 2 permits such lien foreclosure actions to recover the rates, charges, penalties, and reasonable attorney's fees and expressly directs a court-ordered sale " without relief from valuation or appraisement statutes." Ind. Code § 13-26-14-2. Section 3 states that the lien foreclosures are subject to " the laws concerning municipal public improvement assessments" and the " rights, remedies, procedure, and relief granted the parties to the action." Ind. Code § 13-26-14-3. Section 4, however, limits the availability of lien foreclosure in certain circumstances. In its entirety, Section 4 states:

Sec. 4. Rates fees, or charges made, assessed, or established by the district are a lien, in the same manner established under IC 36-9-23 for municipal sewage works, on a lot, parcel of land, or building that is connected with or uses the ...

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