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City of Fort Wayne v. Southwest Allen County Fire Protection District

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 10, 2017

City of Fort Wayne, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Southwest Allen County Fire Protection District and Tera K. Klutz, in her official capacity as Auditor of Allen County, Indiana, Appellees-Defendants.

         Appeal from the Allen Superior Court The Honorable Craig J. Bobay, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 02D02-1605-PL-231

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT James Patrick Fenton Timothy Allen Manges Eilbacher Fletcher, LLP Fort Wayne, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES Thomas Alan Hardin Shine & Hardin, LLP Fort Wayne, Indiana Thomas Franklin Bedsole Emily K. Cremeans Margaret Lee Smith Frost Brown Todd, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

          Riley, Judge.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         [¶1] Appellant-Plaintiff, the City of Fort Wayne (City), appeals the trial court's dismissal of its Complaint for Declaratory Relief against Appellees-Defendants, the Southwest Allen County Fire Protection District (SWFD) and Tera K. Klutz, [1] in her official capacity as Auditor of Allen County, Indiana (Auditor), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1).[2]

         [¶2] We reverse and remand.

         ISSUE

         [¶3] The City raises one issue for our review, which we restate as: Whether the trial court committed reversible error by dismissing the City's claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Ind. T.R. 12(B)(1).

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶4] The SWFD is a fire protection district created in 1986 pursuant to state law. Beginning in December of 1987, the City effected a series of fifteen annexations of territory, formerly located within the SWFD. The first of these annexations took effect in December 1987, with the most recent being on January 1, 2006. Following the effective date of these annexations, the Fort Wayne Fire Department (FWFD) provided fire protection services to the areas within the annexed territories (Annexed Territories) that formerly were serviced by the SWFD. Subsequent to the annexations, neither the City, FWFD, or the FWFD Pension Fund received distributions of property tax revenue relating to the fire protection services from the Annexed Territories; rather, the Auditor continued to make these distributions to the SWFD.

         [¶5] By letter dated August 27, 2014, the City notified SWFD and the Auditor that pursuant to Indiana's annexation statutes-enacted in Ind. Code §§ 36-8-11-16; -22-once the areas that were part of the SWFD were annexed by the City, and once the City began providing fire protection services to the Annexed Territories, the Annexed Territories were no longer part of the SWFD and the property tax revenues derived from these Annexed Territories should have been redirected to the applicable City fire protection funds.

         [¶6] Each year, the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) prepares a document, titled the 1782 Notice, [3] and sends it to the City. The 1782 Notice is based on assessed values information provided by the Auditor. This information submitted by the Auditor includes an allocation of the values to be directed, among others, to specific City or SWFD funds. The Auditor provides the total valuation of the Annexed Territories to the DLGF, based upon an understanding, rooted in an Unofficial Indiana Attorney General Advisory Letter of July 6, 1988, that advised that the SWFD was grandfathered. Specifically, this Unofficial Letter advised that the annexing municipality cannot tax the annexed area within the fire protection district for fire protection services in order to avoid the risk of double taxation. Accordingly, the Auditor calculates the total assessed value of land within the boundaries of the SWFD, including the assessments of the Annexed Territories. The Auditor does not include the Annexed Territories now serviced by the FWFD in the calculation of the total attributable to the City and the FWFD.

         [¶7] On May 11, 2016, the City filed its Complaint for Declaratory and Other Relief against SWFD and the Auditor, seeking a declaration that the City is entitled to receive the property tax revenues of the Annexed Territories. On July 27, 2016, the Auditor filed her Motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Request, arguing that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the City's claim because the City had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to it. On August 8, 2016, the Auditor filed a complementary motion to dismiss, in which the Auditor sought a complete dismissal of the City's Complaint based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the claims asserted fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the ...


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