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Blesich v. Lake County Assessor

Tax Court of Indiana

December 30, 2015

MIRKO BLESICH, Petitioner,
v.
LAKE COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent

          ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE INDIANA BOARD OF TAX REVIEW.

         MIRKO BLESICH, PETITIONER, Pro se, St. John, IN.

         ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA; ANDREW T. GREIN, JESSICA R. GASTINEAU, DEPUTY ATTORNEYS GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN.

          OPINION

         FISHER, Senior Judge

         Mirko Blesich challenges the final determination of the Indiana Board of Tax Review that valued his real property at $205,000 for the 2010 tax year. While Blesich raises several issues on appeal, the Court consolidates and restates them as: whether the Indiana Board's final determination was improper. The Court affirms the Indiana Board.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Blesich owns residential real property in Schererville, Indiana. In 2010, the St. John Township Assessor assigned that property an assessed value of $229,300 ($41,700 for land and $187,600 for improvements). The Township Assessor and Blesich subsequently attempted to reach an agreement regarding the value of the property, but they could not resolve their differences.

         Thereafter, Blesich filed an appeal with the Lake County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (" PTABOA" ). On April 24, 2013, the PTABOA issued a Notification of Final Assessment Determination that reduced Blesich's 2010 assessment to $205,000. Still not satisfied, Blesich appealed to the Indiana Board in May of 2013, electing to litigate his appeal under the Indiana Board's small claims rules.

         On June 9, 2014, the Indiana Board conducted a hearing during which Blesich presented

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an Appraisal that valued his property at $181,000 as of October 1, 2010. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 37-45.) Blesich also presented a letter, dated April 24, 2012, that documented the Township Assessor's previous offer to reduce Blesich's 2010 assessment to $193,700 (hereinafter, " the Settlement Letter" ).[1] (See Cert. Admin. R. at 36.) Blesich asserted that the totality of this evidence established that his 2010 assessment should be either $181,000 or $193,700. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 80, 90-91.)

         In response, the Lake County Assessor[2] (" County Assessor" ) claimed that the Appraisal should be disregarded, asserting that it was inadmissible hearsay because the appraiser was not available for cross-examination and that it lacked probative value because it contained several " questionable" adjustments. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 81, 83.) The County Assessor also asserted that the Settlement Letter was not relevant because, among other things, it concerned negotiations to which he was not a party. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 90-91.) Finally, the County Assessor claimed that the PTABOA's valuation should be upheld because the sales data for several comparable properties indicated that the $205,000 valuation was " more than fair." (See Cert. Admin. R. at 51-57, 82-84.)

         On October 15, 2014, the Indiana Board issued a final determination, finding that the Appraisal was admissible hearsay evidence that was " arguably probative" of the subject property's value. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 15-16 ¶ ¶ 10-11, 18-19 ¶ 19(b).) Nonetheless, the Indiana Board explained that the Appraisal could not be the sole basis for a reduction of Blesich's assessment because the County Assessor had properly raised the hearsay objection without exception. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 18-19 ¶ 19(b).) The Indiana Board also found that the Settlement Letter lacked probative value under Indiana law. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 18-19 ¶ 19(c) (citing Dep't of Local Gov't Fin. v. Commonwealth Edison Co. of Ind., 820 N.E.2d 1222, 1227-28 (Ind. 2005)).) The Indiana Board therefore concluded that Blesich had not made a prima facie case for any additional reduction to his 2010 assessment. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 19 ¶ 20.)

         On November 24, 2014, Blesich initiated this original tax appeal. The Court heard oral argument on September 16, 2015. Additional facts will be supplied as necessary.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

          The party seeking to overturn an Indiana Board final determination bears the burden of demonstrating its invalidity. Osolo Twp. Assessor v. Elkhart Maple Lane Assocs., 789 N.E.2d 109, 111 (Ind.Tax Ct. 2003). The Court will reverse a final determination if it is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity; in excess of or short of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations; without observance ...


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