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Fisher v. Carroll County Assessor

Tax Court of Indiana

April 11, 2017

MARY K. FISHER, Petitioner,
v.
CARROLL COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

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

          ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER: C. REX HENTHORN HENTHORN, HARRIS & WELIEVER, P.C. Crawfordsville, IN

          ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA ANDREW T. GREIN GRAHAM T. YOUNGS DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL Indianapolis, IN

          FISHER, Senior Judge

         Mary K. Fisher challenges the final determination of the Indiana Board of Tax Review that established the assessed value of her real property for the 2012 and 2014 tax years. Upon review, the Court affirms the Indiana Board's final determination.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Fisher owns a 2.4 acre harbor lot that sits on Lake Freeman in Monticello, Indiana. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 2, 101-02, 194-95.) The lot, which contains a steel seawall, a boat ramp, and a shed, is adjacent to the lot upon which Fisher's house sits. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 101-02, 113, 194-95, 256, 378-79.) The lot is subject to a non-exclusive easement by which certain nearby property owners can access the lake. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 211-12.)

         Pursuant to Carroll County's zoning ordinances, Fisher's lot may be used for residential or public recreational (e.g., a public park or golf course) purposes. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 255, 357-67.) During the years at issue, Fisher allowed the Lafayette Sailing Club ("Club") to use her lot and the boat ramp; in exchange, the Club maintained the property and paid the applicable liability insurance and property taxes.[1] (See Cert. Admin. R. at 214-17, 474-75, 478.) Fisher also allowed the Department of Natural Resources to use her boat ramp and to maintain a boatlift on the property. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 111, 215, 252, 428-31.)

         In 2011, Fisher's property was assessed at $58, 300. In 2012, however, the property's assessment increased to $275, 000. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 7.) Fisher appealed the 2012 assessment to the Carroll County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA). The PTABOA subsequently reduced the assessment to $232, 800. In April of 2013, Fisher timely appealed the PTABOA's final determination to the Indiana Board.

         In August of 2014, while her 2012 assessment appeal was still pending with the Indiana Board, Fisher appealed her property's 2014 assessment of $238, 600. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 12, 15.) When the PTABOA failed to timely conduct a hearing on the 2014 assessment appeal, Fisher sought resolution with the Indiana Board. (Cert. Admin. R. at 9-11.) See also Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15-1(k), (o)(1) (2014) (providing that if a county ptaboa does not timely resolve an appeal before it, the taxpayer may proceed to the Indiana Board).

         The Indiana Board conducted a consolidated hearing on both of Fisher's assessment appeals on July 9, 2015. On November 20, 2015, the Indiana Board issued a final determination in the matter. In that final determination, the Indiana Board explained that with respect to the 2012 assessment appeal, the Carroll County Assessor bore the burden of proving that the assessment increase was correct under Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-17.2.[2] (See Cert. Admin. R. at 35 ¶¶ 20, 22.) The Indiana Board held the Assessor met her burden by presenting an appraisal, completed in conformance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice ("USPAP"), that valued Fisher's lot at $302, 500 for the 2012 tax year. (Cert. Admin. R. at 36 ¶ 26, 45 ¶ 58.) Consequently, the burden shifted to Fisher to rebut the Assessor's prima facie case. (Cert. Admin. R. at 45 ¶ 58.)

         The Indiana Board noted that in her rebuttal presentation, Fisher argued that the Assessor's appraisal was invalid because 1) it valued the lot using residential and commercial properties as sales comparables and not properties that were public parks; and 2) it did not take into account the easement's negative impact on the lot's overall value. (Compare Cert. Admin. R. at 41-44 ¶¶ 42-43, 45, 47, 49-51, 53-54 with 46 ¶ 59.) To support her argument, Fisher presented numerous photographs and maps of her lot as well as pictures of and property record cards for several other harbor properties on Lake Freeman. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 29-30 ¶ 6, 410-20, 498-502.) Fisher also provided testimony explaining that she did not intend to build a house on her lot, how the easement impaired her enjoyment of the property, and how, because other people used her property, it was being used as a public park. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 403-08, 461-62, 478, 492.) In fact, she claimed that prior to 2012, her property had actually been assessed as a public park. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 566.)

         The Indiana Board found, however, that Fisher's evidentiary presentation failed to rebut the Assessor's prima facie case. Indeed, it explained that the evidence clearly demonstrated that her lot had both residential and commercial use aspects and, even though members of the public used the property, that evidence did not prove that the lot was, or had ever been assessed as, a public park. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 44 ¶ 55 n.6, 46 ¶¶ 60-61.) Moreover, the Indiana Board found that even though the appraisal did not quantify the easement's negative effect on the lot's value, that fact did not render it completely devoid of any probative value: given that Fisher herself presented no market-based evidence that quantified the easement's impact on her property's value, the appraisal supported the conclusion that the lot was worth, at the very least, its assessed value of $232, 800. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 47-49 ¶¶ 64-65, 68; 52 ¶ 77.) Thus, the Indiana Board affirmed the PTABOA's 2012 assessment of Fisher's lot.

          With respect to Fisher's 2014 appeal, the Indiana Board explained that Fisher bore the burden of proving that the assessment was incorrect under Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-17.2 because she never appealed her 2013 assessment[3] and the assessment increase between 2013 and 2014 was less than 5%. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 35-36 ¶¶ 23-24.) See also supra note 2. The Indiana Board then held that Fisher did not meet her burden because she simply relied on the same evidence she used to rebut the propriety of the 2012 assessment. (Cert. Admin. R. at 52 ¶ 78.) This was particularly problematic, noted the Indiana Board, given that the Assessor presented a second USPAP appraisal that valued Fisher's lot at $301, 000 for the 2014 tax year. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 31 ¶ 7, 36 ¶ 26, 52 ¶ 78.)

         On December 29, 2015, Fisher initiated this original tax appeal. The Court heard oral argument on June 29, 2016. 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). Thus, Fisher must demonstrate to the Court that the Indiana Board's final determination 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 the procedure required by law; or unsupported by substantial or reliable evidence. See Ind. Code § 33-26-6-6(e)(1)-(5) (2017).

          ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Fisher argues that the Indiana Board's final determination is erroneous and must therefore be reversed. The gist of her argument is that the Indiana Board erred when it 1) determined that the Assessor made a prima facie case that the 2012 assessment was correct; 2) determined that Fisher bore the burden of proof on the 2014 assessment; and 3) ignored the evidence that demonstrated that both assessments were incorrect. (See, e.g., Pet'r Br. at 1-3, 11-25.)

         1.

         Fisher first claims on appeal that the Indiana Board erred when it determined that the Assessor made a prima facie case that the 2012 assessment was correct. More specifically, Fisher asserts that: a) the Assessor failed to present evidence, as required by Indiana Code ยง 6-1.1-4-4.4, demonstrating why her property's assessment changed ...


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