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Hamilton County Assessor v. Duke

Tax Court of Indiana

February 3, 2017

HAMILTON COUNTY ASSESSOR, Petitioner,
v.
CHARLES E. DUKE, Respondent.

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

          ATTORNEYS FOR PETITIONER MARILYN S. MEIGHEN ATTORNEY AT LAW Carmel, IN, BRIAN A. CUSIMANO ATTORNEY AT LAW Indianapolis, IN

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT: BRADLEY D. HASLER BINGHAM GREENEBAUM DOLL LLP Indianapolis, IN

          WENTWORTH, J.

         This case concerns whether the Indiana Board of Tax Review erred when it determined that, for the 2009, 2010, and 2011 tax years (the "years at issue"), Charles E. Duke's real property qualified for an educational purposes exemption, but did not qualify for a religious purposes exemption. The Court reverses the Indiana Board's determination on the educational purposes exemption, and affirms its determination on the religious purposes exemption.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Duke owns a 5, 298 square foot facility on a 1.03 acre lot located in Carmel, Indiana. (Cert. Admin. R. at 184-86.) In 1987, Duke incorporated the Little Lamb Daycare, Inc. as a for-profit corporation to own and operate a daycare facility on the property. (Cert. Admin. R. at 447-48.) Duke does not charge Little Lamb any rent for its use of his property. (Cert. Admin. R. at 1228.)

         During the years at issue, Little Lamb was open on weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Cert. Admin. R. at 200.) Children up to six years old attended Little Lamb and spent approximately 1.25 hours each day being instructed in various subjects, such as reading, math, science, history, language arts, and social studies. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 200, 1375-77, 1439, 1507-08, 1512-18.) Little Lamb had a Level II certification from Paths to Quality, an Indiana "Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement System." (Cert. Admin. R. at 211-12.) Moreover, its curriculum was Bible-based, but not governed by the tenets of a specific church or denomination. (Cert. Admin. R. at 1237-38.) Each day also included other activities, such as approximately 15 minutes of cleaning, 30 minutes of exercise, 45 minutes of prayer and bible study, 1.75 hours of free play and recess, 2 hours for a nap period, and 2.5 hours for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 200, 1373, 1375-76, 1425-26, 1494-96, 1500-04, 1511-12.) Little Lamb also offered children from six to ten years old daily 1 hour before-school and 1.5 hour after-school programs. (Cert. Admin. R. at 198-200.)

         Duke filed three Applications for Property Tax Exemption (Forms 136) with the Hamilton County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA). Duke claimed that because Little Lamb used 84% of his property for educational and religious purposes, that portion of the property was entitled to an exemption from property tax under Indiana Code §§ 6-1.1-10-16 and 6-1.1-10-36.3.[1] The PTABOA denied Duke's Forms 136, and Duke appealed to the Indiana Board.

         The Indiana Board held a hearing on Duke's appeals on May 20, 2013. On August 9, 2013, the Indiana Board issued its final determination, denying the partial religious purposes exemption and granting the partial educational purposes exemption. (Cert. Admin. R. at 143 ¶ 63.)

         On September 10, 2013, the Assessor initiated this original tax appeal. The Court heard the parties' oral arguments on January 29, 2016. Additional facts will be supplied as necessary.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court gives great deference to decisions by the Indiana Board when it acts within its authority. Marineland Gardens Cmty. Ass'n v. Kosciusko Cnty. Assessor, 26 N.E.3d 1087, 1089 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2015). Thus, the Court will reverse a final determination only 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 of procedure required by law; or unsupported by substantial or reliable evidence. Ind. Code ยง 33-26-6-6(e)(1)-(5) (2016). The party challenging the Indiana Board's final determination bears the burden of ...


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