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Convention Headquarters Hotels, LLC v. Marion County Assessor

Tax Court of Indiana

May 22, 2019

CONVENTION HEADQUARTERS HOTELS, LLC, Petitioner,
v.
MARION COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

          ATTORNEYS FOR PETITIONER: DAVID A. SUESS DANIEL R. ROY BENJAMIN A. BLAIR FAEGRE BAKER DANIELS LLP Indianapolis, IN

          ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA WINSTON LIN KELLY S. EARLS ZACHARY D. PRICE DEPUTY ATTORNEYS GENERAL Indianapolis, IN

          ORDER ON RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          MARTHA BLOOD WENTWORTH, JUDGE

         On January 25, 2019, the Court dismissed Convention Headquarters Hotels, LLC's ("CHH's") first direct appeal with this Court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See generally Convention Headquarters Hotels v. Marion Cty. Assessor (Convention Headquarters I), 119 N.E.3d 245 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2019). In that case, the Court held that even though Indiana Code §§ 6-1.1-15-4(i)(2) and 6-1.1-15-5(g) provided for a direct appeal to the Tax Court without an Indiana Board of Tax Review final determination, the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over CHH's direct appeal "because the maximum time for the Indiana Board to give notice of its final determination had not elapsed when CHH sought judicial review[.]" Id. at 250. Accordingly, the Court remanded the matter to the Indiana Board explaining that "once the maximum time for the Indiana Board to give notice of its final determination lapses (i.e., 366 days after CHH filed its Form 131 petition), CHH may once again seek direct review in the Tax Court." Id.

         On March 1, 2019, CHH filed its second direct appeal with the Court claiming, among other things, that the 2010 assessment of its real property violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the Property Taxation and Equal Privileges and Immunities Clauses of Indiana's Constitution. Before the Court addresses the merits in this case, however, it must determine anew whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over this direct appeal. The Court finds it does not.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 28, 2019, upon remand, the Indiana Board scheduled CHH's case for a hearing on March 1, 2019. (Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 2.) On February 8, the Assessor requested that the Indiana Board issue a subpoena duces tecum to CHH, which it did, requiring the deposition of CHH's designated Indiana Trial Rule 30(B)(6) witness on February 22 and the simultaneous production of certain documents. (See Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 3-9, 22-27.) See also 52 Ind. Admin. Code 2-8-4(d) (providing that "upon receipt of a properly filed request, the appropriate subpoena shall be issued"). On February 14, the Indiana Board issued a "Preliminary Order on Remand" explaining the propriety of scheduling the March 1 hearing. (See Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 12-14.)

         CHH responded on February 20 by filing a "Motion to Vacate Hearing," explaining that it would not attend the March 1 hearing because it planned to file another direct appeal with the Tax Court after the maximum time elapsed on February 28, 2019, the date it calculated using its own arithmetic. (See Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 15-21.) In addition, the day before the February 22 deposition, CHH filed a "Motion for Protective Order Pursuant to Trial Rule 26(C)," claiming a protective order was warranted "to resolve the deficiencies in, clarify, and otherwise tailor the scope of the [Assessor's 30(B)(6) deposition] Notice and Request [for Production of Documents] so that [it] could adequately prepare its witness(es) for a deposition." (Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 22-27.)

         On February 22, the Assessor appeared for the deposition, but CHH did not, consistent with its previous communications with both the Assessor and the Indiana Board. (See, e.g., Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 43-48.) Consequently, that same day, the Assessor filed a "Motion to Compel" the deponent's appearance and the production of documents. (Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 28-44.) On February 25, the Indiana Board denied CHH's Motion to Vacate the March 1 hearing and explained that it would address the pending discovery issues during the hearing. (Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 49-52.)

         On March 1 at 12:02 a.m., nearly nine hours before the commencement of the hearing, CHH filed this second direct appeal with the Tax Court, immediately notifying the Indiana Board and the Assessor of its actions. (See Pet'r Pet. Judicial Review at 1; Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 53.) The Assessor appeared for the Indiana Board's 9:00 a.m. March 1 hearing, but CHH did not. (Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 53.) Thereafter, the Assessor filed a "Motion for Sanctions" with the Indiana Board for CHH's failure to appear. (Resp't Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 at 54-58.)

         On April 1, 2019, the Assessor moved to dismiss CHH's second direct appeal with the Tax Court claiming, among other things, that the appeal was premature. CHH filed its response brief on April 11, 2019, and the Assessor filed a brief in reply on April 18, 2019. Thereafter, the Court took the matter under advisement.

         LAW

         Subject matter jurisdiction, the power of a court to hear and determine a particular class of cases, can only be conferred upon a court by the Indiana Constitution or by statute. Grandville Co-op., Inc. v. O'Connor, 25 N.E.3d 833, 836 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2015). Consequently, the "'[t]he only relevant inquiry in determining whether any court has [ ] subject matter jurisdiction is to ask whether the kind of claim which the plaintiff advances falls within the general scope of the authority conferred upon [the] court by the constitution or by statute.'" Marion Cty. Auditor v. State, 33 N.E.3d 398, 400-01 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2015) (quoting Pivarnik v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 636 N.E.2d 131, 137 (Ind. 1994)).

         The Tax Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Ind. Code § 33-26-3-1 (2019). It has "exclusive jurisdiction over any case that arises under the tax laws of Indiana and that is an initial appeal of a final determination made by" the Indiana Board. I.C. § 33-26-3-1. The Tax Court also has "any other jurisdiction conferred by statute[.]" Ind. Code § 33-26-3-2 (2019). See also Ind. Code § 33-26-3-3 (2019) (stating that the Court does not have "jurisdiction over a case unless . . . [it] has otherwise been specifically assigned jurisdiction by statute"). Accordingly, the Tax Court has subject matter jurisdiction over an appeal, even though there is no Indiana Board final determination, if the appeal is filed after "the ma ...


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