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Garwood v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 5, 2017

Virginia Garwood and Kristen Garwood, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
State of Indiana, et al., Appellees-Defendants.

         Appeal from the Harrison Circuit Court The Honorable John T. Evans, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 31C01-1105-CT-24

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT James D. Johnson Blair M. Gardner Jackson Kelly PLLC Evansville, Indiana.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana David L. Steiner Frances Barrow Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.

          Mathias, Judge.

         [¶1] Mother and daughter Virginia and Kristen Garwood ("Virginia, " "Kristen, " collectively, "the Garwoods") ran a dog-breeding business from their Harrison County, Indiana, dairy farm. On June 2, 2009, the Indiana Department of Revenue ("DOR"), in concert with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General ("OAG") and the Indiana State Police (collectively, "the State"), raided the Garwoods' farm and seized and immediately sold more than two hundred dogs in partial satisfaction of the Garwoods' unpaid sales and income tax liability.

         [¶2] The Garwoods sued a large number of public and private defendants in Harrison Circuit Court for federal constitutional and state-law torts arising from the raid. The Garwoods found success against only one: Andrew Swain ("Swain") in his personal capacity, then chief counsel for tax litigation in OAG, against whom a Harrison County jury entered a $15, 000 verdict. The Garwoods now appeal and seek a new trial. The State cross-appeals and seeks reversal of the judgment against Swain.

         [¶3] We reverse the judgment against Swain as unsupported by sufficient evidence. We affirm the trial court in other respects.

         Facts and Procedural Posture

         I. The Raid of June 2, 2009, and Events Leading to It

         [¶4] Stated in the terms most favorable to the Garwoods and the judgment against Swain, and incorporating a decision of the Indiana Tax Court regarding the principals of this case, the events of and leading to June 2, 2009, may be summarized as follows. In 2007, dairy prices fell, and the Garwoods' dairy farm became less profitable. The Garwoods started breeding dogs for retail sale to make up the lost income. Without malicious intent, they did not register with the Indiana Secretary of State or DOR as retail merchants. They did not collect sales tax on the dog sales or remit sales tax to DOR, and they incompletely or incorrectly reported their income from the sales. They cared for their dogs properly and sold them responsibly.

         [¶5] In February 2009, the Harrison County animal control officer told Swain he thought the Garwoods' dog-breeding business was unregistered and did not collect or remit sales tax. The officer had received a complaint from one of the Garwoods' alleged customers about a sick dog. Swain relayed the message to OAG's investigations section and asked DOR to investigate the Garwoods' tax status.

         [¶6] It was determined that the Garwoods were in fact selling dogs through advertisements in local newspapers but had not registered as retail merchants or remitted sales tax. OAG investigators incognito purchased two puppies from the Garwoods using funds supplied by the Humane Society of the United States ("the Humane Society"), a private animal-rights organization. Swain had first worked with the Humane Society while pursuing another unregistered, non-remitting dog-breeder for unpaid tax liability. The Garwoods did not collect sales tax on the sale to the investigators.

         [¶7] A meeting was held of staff from DOR, OAG, and the Indiana Office of Management and Budget ("OMB"), the final decision-maker with respect to the State's enforcement actions in this context. Swain and then-Attorney General Greg Zoeller ("Zoeller") advocated or counseled pursuing the same approach used against the other unregistered, non-remitting dog breeder, and against certain other such businesses: issuing jeopardy assessments and jeopardy tax warrants in conjunction with criminal prosecution for tax crimes.

         [¶8] A jeopardy assessment, as summarized by Swain,

is an extraordinary tax remedy. Normally when . . . [DOR] . . . says that you owe tax, . . . what's called a proposed assessment [is issued. The proposed assessment may go through several stages of administrative and judicial review before it becomes a final, collectible judgment.] . . . What a jeopardy assessment is designed to do is that if various criteria are satisfied to the Commissioner's satisfaction, [DOR] . . . can issue an immediate tax warrant that turns automatically into a tax judgment which is immediately collectible.

Tr. pp. 283-84. In particular, Swain's interpretation of the jeopardy assessment statute's criteria hinged on the argument that the Garwoods' failure to register, collect, and remit in itself constituted an "act that would jeopardize the collection of . . . taxes." Ind. Code § 6-8.1-5-3. The Garwoods' conduct did not satisfy the jeopardy assessment criteria, as our tax court would later hold, and Swain's and DOR's interpretation of the statute was in excess of their authority. Nevertheless, before the tax court so held, drawing in part on his experience in the Garwoods' case, Swain would later author an article for a state tax law publication, "Tax Ills Behind the Mills[1] - The Advancement of Puppy Protection, " Ex. Vol. I, Pls.'s Ex. 2, about "combatting puppy mills" and other participants in the unregistered, non-remitting "underground economy" with "civil and criminal tax enforcement techniques." Id. He would also later give a presentation to the animal law section of the Indiana State Bar Association on the same topic.

         [¶9] The State's investigation prior to this extraordinary enforcement action was not as thorough as it could have been and gave the Garwoods little or no benefit of the doubt. In estimating the Garwoods' tax liability by the "Best Information Available" ("BIA") assessment procedure, DOR staff used the least conservative estimate of the Garwoods' sales and income, and assessed the maximum penalty for delinquency. The State never sought the Garwoods' co-operation with its investigation.

         [¶10] DOR and OAG arrived at the Garwoods' farm early on the morning of June 2, 2009, and demanded payment of the assessed liabilities. When the Garwoods said they could or would not pay, State officers seized around 240 dogs, including several family pets, in a dramatically staged raid involving a large media presence, a state legislator, and a group of volunteers enlisted and directed by the Humane Societies of the United States and of Missouri. The dogs were sold to the Humane Society the next day for $300, less than $2 per dog, a negligible amount relative to the nearly $300, 000 figure alleged by DOR as the Garwoods' outstanding tax liability.

         [¶11] Zoeller trumpeted the success of the raid, giving several media interviews and congratulating his staff and DOR for closing an alleged "puppy mill." That evening, Swain and two OAG law student interns met Zoeller for a celebratory toast at a hotel in nearby Louisville, Kentucky. Zoeller and Swain would later be honored by the Humane Society in Washington, D.C., for their work.

         II. Proceedings in Harrison Circuit Court

         [¶12] On June 2, 2009, the morning of the raid, a DOR investigator presented the jeopardy assessments to the Garwoods, Ex. Vol. II, Defs.'s Ex. B., pp. 312-27, and demanded immediate payment of the amounts assessed. When the Garwoods said they could or would not pay, jeopardy tax warrants[2] in those amounts were filed in Harrison Circuit Court, id. pp. 328-337, and then presented to the Garwoods before seizure of the dogs. Tr. p. 296.

         [¶13] The same day, DOR petitioned Harrison Circuit Court for temporary and permanent restraining orders and an injunction against the Garwoods continuing to do business in the state. See I.C. § 6-8.1-8-5 (authorizing such orders). On June 4, 2009, DOR and the Garwoods entered an agreed order in the circuit court stipulating that the Garwoods "ha[d] done a cash-and-carry business of selling dogs at retail" without reporting their income from that business, collecting or remitting sales tax on the dog sales, or registering as retail merchants. Ex. Vol. II, Defs.'s Ex. F, p. 353. The parties further stipulated that the Garwoods' "unlawful acts ha[d] made it prejudicially difficult" for DOR to collect the taxes owed by them and that the injunction should therefore issue. Id. The injunction was issued accordingly.

         [¶14] On June 8, 2009, DOR filed in the circuit court a petition for proceedings supplemental, presumably to collect on the outstanding balance of the judgment created by the tax warrants. See I.C. § 6-8.1-8-8.5(b) (authorizing DOR to initiate); Ind. Trial Rule 69(E) ("Proceedings supplemental to execution"). Soon after, see infra Part IV, the Garwoods sought judicial review of the jeopardy assessments in the tax court and petitioned that court to enjoin further collection efforts by DOR. See I.C. § 33-26-6-2 (authorizing such injunction). On August 12, 2009, Harrison Circuit Court enjoined DOR from collecting on the judgment pending the Garwoods' tax court appeal.

         [¶15] The complaint in the instant case was filed in the circuit court on May 16, 2011, the procedural history of which is detailed below. See infra Part V.

         III. Proceedings in Marion Superior Court

         [¶16] On May 29, 2009, three days before the raid, the OAG sought a search warrant in Marion Superior Court for the Garwoods' property to investigate criminal tax law violations. An investigator from that office submitted a probable cause affidavit detailing the Garwoods' business activities and their failures to pay income and sales tax and to register as retail merchants. Ex. Vol. II, Defs.'s Ex. C. The warrant issued the same day, authorizing search and seizure of inter alia "[a]ny and all . . . canines, or other inventory . . . found." Ex. Vol. I, Pls.'s Ex. 9, p. 81.

         [¶17] On June 22, 2009, the State charged the Garwoods with eight counts of tax evasion by information filed in Marion Superior Court. Ex. Vol. II, Defs.'s Ex. I. On May 18, 2010, Virginia pleaded guilty to Class D felony evasion of income tax and Class D felony failure to remit or collect sales tax; Kristen pleaded guilty to Class D felony evasion of income tax. Both women admitted that the facts contained in the probable cause affidavit and information were true and served as the factual basis for their pleas. Ex. Vol. II, Defs.'s Ex. G, p. 360 (Kristen's plea agreement), Defs.'s Ex. H, p. 364 (Virginia's plea agreement). The Garwoods were sentenced the same day, and their sentences were suspended to probation.[3]

         IV. Proceedings in the Tax Court

         [¶18] On June 10, 2009, the eighth day after the raid and two days after DOR initiated proceedings supplemental in Harrison Circuit Court, the Garwoods protested the jeopardy assessments administratively to DOR and requested a hearing. See I.C. § 6-8.1-5-1 (general protest procedure; DOR "shall" hold hearing if requested); Clifft v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue, 660 N.E.2d 310, 317 (Ind. 1995) (protest procedure permits protest of jeopardy assessments); 45 Ind. Admin. Code 15-5-8(c) (same; DOR "may" hold hearing if requested). On June 22, 2009, the same day the Garwoods were charged in Marion Superior Court, DOR by letter "respectfully decline[d] the opportunity to conduct the hearing requested" and pointed the Garwoods to Harrison Circuit Court instead, where, DOR believed, "the relief requested . . . [was] best available." Ex. Vol. I, Pls.'s Ex. 15.

         [¶19] On June 29, 2009, less than three weeks after they lodged their protest, and a week after DOR denied the requested hearing, the Garwoods sought judicial review of the jeopardy assessments in the tax court. On both parties' motion, proceedings were continued until October 20, 2010, when DOR moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. DOR read Deaton incorrectly, see supra ¶ 12 note 2, to mean that its jeopardy tax warrants had become final judgments of Harrison Circuit Court and could not be challenged in the tax court. The tax court disagreed. Garwood v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue (Garwood I), 939 N.E.2d 1150, 1154 (Ind. T.C. 2010). The tax court held further that the Garwoods' administrative remedies with respect to the jeopardy assessments were exhausted when DOR denied the requested hearing. Id. at 1156. DOR sought a writ of mandamus and prohibition from our supreme court to prohibit the tax court from exercising jurisdiction, but that application was unsuccessful.

         [¶20] DOR and the Garwoods each moved for summary judgment. The Garwoods claimed that the jeopardy assessments were invalid because DOR had denied them constitutional due process in refusing to hold the hearing requested. On August 29, 2011, the tax court avoided the constitutional question and held instead that DOR had exceeded its authority under the jeopardy assessment statute. Garwood v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue (Garwood II), 953 N.E.2d 682, 684 (Ind. T.C. 2011). The tax court held the Garwoods' mere failure to register, collect, and remit did not in itself rise to an "act that would jeopardize the collection of . . . taxes." Id. at 688 (quoting I.C. § 6-8.1-5-3). The court's opinion took a generally dim view of what it characterized as DOR's effort to "wiel[d] the power of jeopardy assessments as a sword to eliminate a socially undesirable activity . . . [rather than] to fill the State's coffers with the tax liabilities the Garwoods purportedly owed." Id. at 690. The tax court concluded the jeopardy assessments were "void as a matter of law." Id.

         [¶21] DOR sought transfer to our supreme court. On March 16, 2012, transfer was granted but vacated as improvident on May 15, 2012, after briefing and argument. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue v. Garwood, 966 N.E.2d 1258 (Ind. 2012) (mem.). That was the end of the jeopardy assessment protest.

         [¶22] On August 29, 2011, ten days after the tax court decided Garwood II and declared the jeopardy assessments void, Virginia sought a tax refund from DOR, claiming the dogs seized by DOR were worth far more than her actual tax liability and she was therefore owed the difference: more than $100, 000. On May 29, 2012, two weeks after our supreme court vacated its grant of transfer in Garwood II, DOR offered Virginia a little over $100. DOR then issued proposed assessments, the normal mechanism for challenging a taxpayer's self-reported tax liability, see I.C. § 6-8.1-51, which Virginia protested. By August 27, 2012, DOR had not ruled on Virginia's new protest, and she appealed for the second time to the tax court.

         [¶23] DOR again moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and on the basis that the same action, the case before us now, was pending in Harrison Circuit Court. See T.R. 12(B)(8). Without explanation, the tax court declined to address DOR's 12(B)(8) claim and instead held that it had jurisdiction and denied DOR's motion to dismiss. Garwood v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue (Garwood III), 998 N.E.2d 314, 315 (Ind. T.C. 2013). DOR then moved for summary judgment, claiming that Virginia was actually seeking compensatory damages rather than a tax refund. The tax court saw no barrier to Virginia's "prosecut[ing] her claim for compensatory damages, . . . asserted concurrently with her refund claim, " in that forum. Garwood v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue (Garwood IV), 24 N.E.3d 548, 551 (Ind. T.C. 2014). The tax court therefore denied DOR's motion and ordered the matter set for trial. Id. The outcome of those proceedings does not appear in the record before us or from further decisions of the tax court. The matter was apparently still ongoing at the time of trial in this case. See, e.g., Tr. pp. 124, 861, 893.

         V. Proceedings in This Case

         [¶24] The Garwoods filed their initial complaint in this case in Harrison Circuit Court on May 19, 2011, three months before the tax court's Garwood II decision invalidated the jeopardy assessments. On June 17, 2011, the case was removed to federal district court and then remanded for lack of all defendants' consent on October 11, 2011. Garwood v. State of Indiana, No. 4:11-cv-72, 2011 WL 4826998 (S.D. Ind. Oct. 11, 2011).

         [¶25] On July 3, 2012, within two months of our supreme court's decision to vacate transfer in Garwood II, the Garwoods filed their second amended complaint. That complaint pleaded seven claims against fifty-six defendants. The Garwoods alleged the state-law torts of conversion, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Garwoods alleged denial of procedural due process under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal constitution, unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and selective enforcement under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, the Garwoods alleged conspiracy to violate their civil rights.

         [¶26] These claims were brought against numerous employees of DOR and OAG, Zoeller himself, the state legislator, and state police officers, all in their personal and official capacities, as well as the state police and the State of Indiana ("the State defendants"); the Harrison County animal control officer and the county itself ("the County defendants"); employees of the Humane Societies of the United States and Missouri, and the organizations themselves ("the Humane Society defendants"); and several private parties ("the Private defendants").

         [¶27] By January 2015, several State defendants and most or all the Humane Society, County, and Private defendants had been dismissed by agreement of the parties, and the remaining State defendants moved for summary judgment. The State argued the Fourth Amendment, procedural due process, equal protection, and conspiracy claims failed; the defendants were entitled to official immunity in their personal capacities and not subject to suit in their official capacities; and the tax court had exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit. Appellee's App. pp. 2-41. On January 29, 2015, the trial court entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of the State on the § 1985 conspiracy claim, the defamation claim, and all official capacity claims under § 1983. The remaining issues were to be tried; the jurisdictional issue was not addressed.

         [¶28] The Garwoods tried their case to a Harrison County jury over six days, February 22, 2016, to February 29, 2016, against eleven State defendants; one was dismissed by agreement during trial. Between summary judgment and trial, the Garwoods appear to have abandoned their Fourth Amendment claim in favor of a substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. All over the Garwoods' strident objections, the trial court declined to give preclusive effect to Garwood II and admitted only the opinion's clear holding invalidating the jeopardy assessments; admitted the jeopardy assessments; admitted the jeopardy tax warrants; admitted the Garwoods' plea agreements in the criminal case and a transcript of the Garwoods' May 18, 2010, change of plea hearing in Marion Superior Court; and refused the Garwoods' proffered final instruction that a void judgment is, "from its inception, . . . a complete nullity and without legal effect." Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 88.

         [¶29] At the close of evidence, the State moved for a directed verdict in its favor as to all claims and all defendants. The court took the motion under advisement after briefing and argument, and denied it on February 29, 2016. The jury returned a $15, 000 compensatory verdict against Swain, $7, 500 each for Virginia and Kristen, for one or more constitutional injuries. The Garwoods' counsel, three lawyers from two firms, petitioned for more than $300, 000 in attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The court awarded counsel $40, 000 in fees plus $4, 750 costs for each plaintiff, for a total award of $89, 500.

         [¶30] The Garwoods timely appealed. The State cross-appealed. The Garwoods seek a new trial against the same defendants except Swain. The Garwoods claim the trial court abused its discretion by failing to collaterally estop the State to litigate issues decided by the tax court in Garwood II, or alternatively by failing to admit the tax court's Garwood II decision in its entirety; by failing to exclude the jeopardy assessments or to give an instruction as to their voidness; and by failing to exclude records of the criminal proceedings against them. The Garwoods' lawyers also seek an increase in their fee award under § 1988. On cross-appeal, the State claims that the trial court erred by failing to grant Swain either absolute or qualified immunity, and that the judgment against Swain was unsupported by sufficient evidence.

         [¶31] Before proceeding to the merits of these claims, in light of the importance of the question and its appearance at several junctures of litigation, we first clarify our jurisdiction over them.

         Discussion and Decision

         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         [¶32] We have a duty to investigate our jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case on appeal if it appears doubtful. Albright v. Pyle, 637 N.E.2d 1360, 1363 (Ind.Ct.App. 1994). Subject matter jurisdiction is jurisdiction over the general class of actions to which a case belongs. K.S. v. State, 849 N.E.2d 538, 542 (Ind. 2006). Such jurisdiction is the power of a court to decide a case. Austin Lakes Joint Venture v. Avon Utils., Inc., 648 N.E.2d 641, 645 (Ind. 1995); State ex rel. Young v. Noble Cir. Ct., 263 Ind. 353, 356, 332 N.E.2d 99, 101 (1975). A court of this state has only such jurisdiction - that is, only such power - as granted to it by statute or our constitution. State v. Sproles, 672 N.E.2d 1353, 1356 (Ind. 1996).

         [¶33] Upon review, we lack jurisdiction to the extent the trial court lacked it. Albright, 637 N.E.2d at 1364; 4 C.J.S. Appeal and Error §§ 50, 76 (2007). By statute, the tax court has exclusive jurisdiction over "original tax appeals." I.C. § 33-26-3-3. An original tax appeal is a case that arises under the tax laws and comes within an appeal from a final determination of a state revenue agency. Id. § 1. To the extent the Garwoods' case was an original tax appeal, therefore, the tax court had jurisdiction over it to the exclusion of Harrison Circuit Court and every other court of this state. See Sproles, 672 N.E.2d at 1356.

         [¶34] A case arises under the tax laws if it "principally involves collection of a tax or defenses to that collection." Sproles, 672 N.E.2d at 1357. Our supreme court has construed the tax court's jurisdictional mandate broadly. State ex rel. Zoeller v. Aisin USA Mfg., Inc., 946 N.E.2d 1148, 1153 (Ind. 2011). This ensures a "single authoritative voice on state tax matters, " Bielski v. Zorn, 627 N.E.2d 880, 886 (Ind. T.C. 1994), cited in Sproles, 672 N.E.2d at 1357 n.13, by "channel[ing] tax disputes to a single specialized tribunal . . . ." Aisin, 946 N.E.2d at 1152. A case principally involves tax collection or defenses to it if the taxpayer, on statutory, constitutional, or other grounds, contests or challenges tax liability imposed on her by the tax laws.

         [¶35] In Sproles, a taxpayer sought a declaratory judgment in the circuit court invalidating a tax lien on a real property interest filed by DOR for nonpayment of the controlled substances excise tax ("CSET") in conjunction with the State's criminal prosecution of the taxpayer for possessing marijuana. 672 N.E.2d at 1355. The taxpayer claimed that imposition of the tax, following his criminal conviction, violated the federal constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy. Id. Our supreme court held the tax court had jurisdiction over the action to exclusion of the circuit court. Id. at 1357. This was because the taxpayer's "declaratory relief action squarely challenge[d] the validity of an Indiana tax statute as applied, " and "the Legislature intended that all challenges to the tax laws - regardless of the legal theory relied on - be tried in the Tax Court." Id.

         [¶36] The shared feature of similar cases directed to or kept within the tax court's jurisdiction was the taxpayers' claim that controlling law prohibited the imposition of tax liability created by the tax laws. State ex rel. Att'y Gen. v. Lake Super. Ct., 820 N.E.2d 1240 (2005) (rejecting "distinction for [jurisdictional] purposes between a challenge to assessments, whether procedural or substantive, and any other basis to contest a tax" in constitutional challenge to real property assessments); State v. Costa, 732 N.E.2d 1224, 1225 (2000) (state constitutional challenge to property tax levy under Health Care for the Indigent program); Bd. of Tax Comm'rs v. Montgomery, 730 N.E.2d 680, 686 (2000) (same); Clifft v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue, 660 N.E.2d 310 (1995) (one year before Sproles, tax court's jurisdiction unquestioned in challenge to CSET jeopardy assessments grounded on constitutional rights to procedural due process, equal protection, and protection against self-incrimination); Zayas v. Gregg Appliances, Inc., 676 N.E.2d 365 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997) (claim against retailer for allegedly improperly collecting sales tax on delivery fees), trans. denied, discussed in Aisin, 946 N.E.2d at 1156; UACC Midwest, Inc. v. Ind. Dep't of State Revenue, 667 N.E.2d 232 (Ind. T.C. 1996) (claim for tax refund grounded in disagreement over applicable tax rate), discussed in Aisin, 946 N.E.2d at 1158. By contrast, liability to DOR because of clerical error leading to unjust enrichment is not tax liability imposed by the tax laws and does not rise under the tax laws. Aisin, 946 N.E.2d at 1155.

         [¶37] Harrison Circuit Court had jurisdiction over the instant case because the Garwoods did not seek to challenge tax liability imposed by the tax laws. We cannot overlook the "fundamental difference" between what the Garwoods sought to recover (damages) and what the Garwoods originally owed DOR (their tax liability). Id. To the Garwoods, it seems, this suit was basically an enforcement action: a trial on damages for injuries proved by the tax court's voiding of the jeopardy assessments in Garwood II, now repackaged as state and constitutional torts for a court of general jurisdiction. When the trial court failed to give Garwood II preclusive effect, the Garwoods argue on appeal, the Garwoods "lost the value of the [tax court's] decision . . . ." Appellant's Reply Br. at 7 (emphasis added). As the Garwoods' counsel said in his opening statement after a brief recitation of the State's conduct, "[T]he facts that support all of this are largely undisputed." Tr. p. 151. What was still disputed was how much those facts were worth in damages.

         [¶38] It is true that the Garwoods could have also challenged their tax liability in Garwood II by means of the constitutional theories advanced in the instant case, [4]and could have joined any remaining claims, federal and state, in that forum as well.[5] However, such joinder of claims was not mandatory, and lack of it does not impede our review. To the extent that the Garwoods' claims could have been brought in the tax court as a basis for tax-law relief, the State might have opposed them here as res judicata. However, it did not.

         [¶39] We conclude that the proper course is to take this case as it came to Harrison Circuit Court via the Garwoods' second amended complaint, filed after the decision in Garwood II.[6] The question presented by this case then becomes, assuming the tax-law violation, do that violation and the circumstances surrounding it give rise to tort liability of any kind? Proceeding thusly comports with the legislative purpose declared in Sproles and Aisin, and with the parties' actual course of litigation. Through the Garwoods' second amended complaint, the invalidation of the jeopardy assessments in Garwood II was treated and put to the jury as a fact. See Tr. pp. 129-30 (ruling on admissibility).

         [¶40] The settled and limited purpose of the tax court's exclusive jurisdiction is to ensure the uniform interpretation of the tax laws. Aisin, 946 N.E.2d at 1152. The tax court has already spoken conclusively to the statutory question at the heart of this litigation in Garwood II. Neither the jurisdictional value of finality nor that of validity, see Restatement (Second) of Judgments §§ 11 cmt. d, 12 (Am. Law Inst. 1982), would be served by returning this case to the tax court to decide the constitutional and tort-law consequences of its earlier tax-law holding. The Garwoods' claims were validly asserted in Harrison Circuit Court, and that court's decision is properly and squarely in front of us.

         [¶41] Assured of our jurisdiction on this basis, we proceed to consider the merits of the parties' appeals, ...


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