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Lake County Trust Co. v. St. Joseph County Assessor

Tax Court of Indiana

October 17, 2017

LAKE COUNTY TRUST CO., TRUST NO. 6, (FLOWERS FROM HEAVEN, INC.)[1] Petitioner,
v.
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

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

          ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER: SHAWN F. SULLIVAN ATTORNEY AT LAW South Bend, IN

          ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA WINSTON LIN PARVINDER K. NIJJAR DEPUTY ATTORNEYS GENERAL Indianapolis, IN

          WENTWORTH, J.

         This case concerns whether the Indiana Board of Tax Review erred when it dismissed Lake County Trust Co., Trust No. 6's appeal sua sponte without a motion. The Court reverses and remands the Indiana Board's dismissal.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Flowers for Heaven, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization based in St. Joseph County. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 29, 31.) It operates a pro-life ministry from property located in South Bend, Indiana. (Cert. Admin. R. at 2-3, 26 n.1.)

         On May 13, 2013, Flowers filed an Application for Property Tax Exemption (Form 136) for the 2013 tax year with the St. Joseph County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) seeking a charitable purposes exemption for its personal property and the land and improvements from which it operated. (Cert. Admin. R. at 29.) On August 8, 2013, the PTABOA issued two Notices of Action on Property Tax Exemption (Forms 120): one granting a 100% exemption for Flowers' personal property and the other denying an exemption for the real property. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 7-10.) On the Form 120 denying the real property exemption, the PTABOA listed "Lake County Trust Company[, ] Trust No. 6 (Flowers for Heaven)" as the property owner instead of Flowers, which was the owner listed on the Form 136. (Compare Cert. Admin. R. at 7-8 with 29.) The PTABOA stated the reason for its denial as follows:

The property tax assessment board of appeals has denied this application for 100% tax exemption due to the fact that this property is not in the charitable entit[y']s name 'Flower[s] for Heaven Inc[.]' [T]his is according to I.C. [§] 6-1.1-10-16.

(Cert. Admin. R. at 8.)

         Thereafter, the Trust, as the entity that received the PTABOA's Form 120 denial, filed the Petition for Correction of an Error (Form 133) with the PTABOA on May 15, 2014. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 2.) On its Form 133, the Trust specifically contended the error was made by the PTABOA when it named Lake County Trust Co., Trust No. 6 on the Form 120 denial, which

is just a holding conduit for the taxpayer [Flowers] who is a tax exempt entity performing tax exempt functions. The taxpayer has exclusive use of the property for their exempt activity and can revoke the trust at anytime, i.e., a revocable trust. Property held in a revocable trust is considered property of the owners. In this case Flowers for Heaven, Inc.

(Cert. Admin. R. at 3.) The PTABOA denied the Form 133 appeal stating:

On August 8, 2013, the petitioner[, the Trust, ] received a Notice of Action on Exemption Application. On that notice it stated that the application was DENIED. At that time a Form 132[2] to the State should have been filed, ...

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