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Marion County Assessor v. Stutz Business Center, LLC

Tax Court of Indiana

August 30, 2019





          WENTWORTH, J.

         The Marion County Assessor has appealed the Indiana Board of Tax Review's final determination that overruled his objection to the voluntary withdrawal, and ultimate dismissal of, Stutz Business Center, LLC's property tax appeals for the 2012 through 2014 assessment years. Upon review, the Court affirms the Indiana Board's final determination.


         During the years at issue, Stutz owned four parcels of land located in downtown Indianapolis, Center Township, Marion County, Indiana. (Cert. Admin. R. at 1-2, 43-44, 65-66, 97-98.) The Assessor assigned Stutz's property a total assessed value of $3, 668, 000 for 2012, $3, 783, 500 for 2013, and $3, 511, 900 for 2014. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 1-2, 11-12, 21-22, 33-34, 43-44, 53-54, 65-66, 75-76, 85-86, 97-98, 107-08, 117-18.) Stutz subsequently appealed the assessments to the Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (the "PTABOA"). (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 3-8.) The PTABOA, however, took no action on Stutz's appeals. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 9-10.) As a result, Stutz transitioned its appeals to the Indiana Board on March 7, 2016.[1](See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 1-2, 127-28.)

         On February 20, 2018, the Indiana Board's designated administrative law judge (the "ALJ") issued an order setting Stutz's appeals for a telephonic case-management conference on March 14, 2018. (Cert. Admin. R. at 135-36.) The Assessor's counsel filed her Notice of Appearance on the day of the telephonic case-management conference, but she was not prepared to discuss certain scheduling matters due to her unfamiliarity with the case. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 137-39, 302-03 ¶ 2.) Therefore, the ALJ "told the parties to submit a proposed appeal-management plan within 30 days." (Cert. Admin. R. at 302-03 ¶ 2.)

         On April 17, 2018, Stutz filed its "Proposed Appeal Management Plan." (Cert. Admin. R. at 142-46.) The Assessor did not submit his own proposed appeal management plan, and he did not object to Stutz's Proposed Appeal Management Plan. (Cert. Admin. R. at 302-03 ¶ 2.) Consequently, the ALJ assumed that the Assessor had no objections and adopted Stutz's Proposed Appeal Management Plan on May 11, 2018. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 147-48, 302-03 ¶ 2.) The Appeal Management Plan provided 1) the parties were to identify expert witnesses and exchange expert reports by July 12, 2018; 2) the parties were to complete discovery by August 10, 2018; and 3) a three-day hearing on all of Stutz's appeals would commence on September 17, 2018. (Cert. Admin. R. at 147-50.)

         On June 27, 2018, the Assessor served Stutz with his written discovery requests that, among other things, sought to determine whether Stutz's property had been appraised to qualify for mortgages and to obtain copies of any related appraisals. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 193 ¶ 1, 202-03, 213.) Stutz objected to the Assessor's discovery requests and did not produce any appraisals, explaining that the requests were irrelevant and unduly burdensome because they utilized "limitless" timeframes. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 202-03, 213.) After discovering that Stutz had mortgages in 2011, 2012, and 2017, the Assessor notified Stutz of his intent to depose both the signatory of the mortgages and Stutz's designated 30(B)(6) witness on August 29, 2018. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 194 ¶¶ 6-7, 202-03, 222-26.) One day before the scheduled depositions, Stutz gave the Assessor a copy of an appraisal for one of its parcels. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 194 ¶ 8.) After the depositions, Stutz searched for and eventually located six additional appraisals ranging from 1998 through 2017. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 194 ¶ 11.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 227.) Stutz gave the Assessor five of those appraisals, but it withheld the 2017 appraisal on the basis of relevancy. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 227, 232-36.)

         On September 7, 2018, the Assessor filed a Motion to Compel with the Indiana Board, seeking the production of the 2017 appraisal. (See Cert. Admin. at 193-229.) That same day, Stutz filed an unopposed motion that requested the three-day hearing be shortened to two-days, commencing on September 18, 2018, because neither party planned to utilize expert witnesses. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 129-32 (providing that the parties did not disclose expert witnesses or exchange expert witness reports by the July 12, 2018, deadline).) Stutz also filed a "Motion for Pre-Hearing Conference" seeking guidance regarding "the preclusion of expert witness testimony at [the] hearing." (See Cert. Admin. R. at 161-92.) The Indiana Board granted both of Stutz's motions and ordered the parties to appear for a telephonic pre-hearing conference on September 12, 2018. (Cert. Admin. R. at 133-34, 230-31.)

         During the pre-hearing conference, the Assessor indicated that he did not intend to use any of the exhibits that caused Stutz to believe expert witness testimony would be offered at the hearing. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 304 ¶ 7.) The Assessor further explained that he intended to use "data from the consumer price index and [his] witness would simply perform mathematical calculations to Stutz's appraisal." (Cert. Admin. R. at 304 ¶ 7.) The ALJ offered Stutz the opportunity to depose the Assessor's witness, but Stutz declined. (Cert. Admin. R. at 304 ¶ 7.) The ALJ also granted the Assessor's Motion to Compel, ordering Stutz to produce a copy of its 2017 appraisal. (See Cert. Admin at 304 ¶ 7.) Later that day, Stutz filed its "Notice of Withdrawal of Appeals" ("Notice of Withdrawal") that provided: "[Stutz] herewith respectfully withdraws its [appeals] in this case which are detailed in the list attached hereto as Exhibit A. As a result, the hearing currently set to begin on September 18, 2018 may be vacated." (Cert. Admin. R. at 266-68.)

         The Assessor promptly objected, claiming that Stutz cited no authority to support its right to voluntarily withdraw its appeals, and he had "already incurred 'substantial expense' due to the time, effort, and research necessary to obtain evidence from [Stutz]." (See Cert. Admin. R. at 269-71 (citation omitted).) In addition, the Assessor claimed he would be prejudiced by the withdrawal because the evidence supported an increase in Stutz's assessments and "the time to increase the 2012 to 2014 assessments outside of the appeals process had already lapsed." (See Cert. Admin. R. at 270-71.)

         In response, Stutz explained that Indiana Trial Rule 41(A)(1)(a) allowed for the withdrawal of its appeals without an order from the Indiana Board because the Assessor had not raised "the equivalent of a cognizable counterclaim" and its Notice of Withdrawal was filed before any evidentiary hearings were held. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 277-79.) Stutz further asserted that the Assessor had "made no showing by affidavit or otherwise of having incurred any 'substantial expense'" and he would not be legally prejudiced by the withdrawal ...

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