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Rolls-Royce Corp. v. Marion County Assessor

Tax Court of Indiana

September 17, 2019

ROLLS-ROYCE CORPORATION, Petitioner,
v.
MARION COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

          ATTORNEYS FOR PETITIONER: DAVID A. SUESS ABRAHAM M. BENSON BENJAMIN A. BLAIR FAEGRE BAKER DANIELS LLP Indianapolis, IN.

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT: JESSICA R. GASTINEAU SPECIAL COUNSEL - TAX LITIGATION OFFICE OF CORPORATION COUNSEL Indianapolis, IN.

          ORDER ON RESPONDENT'S SECOND MOTION TO DISMISS

          Martha Blood Wentworth, Judge.

         Rolls-Royce Corporation has appealed the assessments of its real property for the 2013 through 2016 tax years. The Marion County Assessor has filed a second Motion to Dismiss Rolls-Royce's appeal, claiming that it failed to 1) state a claim upon which relief can be granted, 2) comply with certain statutory prerequisites, and 3) exhaust its administrative remedies. Upon review, the Court denies the Assessor's Motion.

         FACTS

         Rolls-Royce owns an industrial manufacturing facility that it refers to as Rolls-Royce Plant 5 located in Indianapolis, Wayne Township, Marion County, Indiana. (Pet'r Pet. Judicial Review ("Pet'r Pet.") ¶¶ 3-4.) The Assessor assigned the property a total assessed value of $17, 755, 100 for 2013, $17, 971, 000 for 2014, $15, 920, 100 for 2015, $15, 834, 800 for 2016. (See Pet'r Pet. ¶¶ 6, 8, 10, 12.) Rolls-Royce subsequently protested the assessments to the Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals ("PTABOA") by filing "Notice[s] to Initiate an Appeal" with the Assessor. (Pet'r Pet. ¶¶ 7, 9, 11, 13.) The PTABOA, however, did not act upon Rolls-Royce's protests in a timely manner. (See Pet'r Pet. ¶ 14.)

         On March 6, 2018, Rolls-Royce transitioned its appeals to the Indiana Board of Tax Review by filing "Petition[s] for Review of Assessments] Before the [Indiana Board]" ("Form 131 petitions").[1] (Pet'r Pet. ¶ 14, Exs. 1-4.) Rolls-Royce's Form 131 petitions provided that it was appealing its 2013 through 2016 assessments because they exceeded the market value-in-use of the property. (See, e.g., Pet'r Pet. ¶ 14, Ex. 1 at 2.) The Indiana Board, however, did not conduct a hearing or issue final determinations on Rolls-Royce's appeals. (See Pet'r Pet. ¶¶ 15-16.)

         On June 28, 2019, after the maximum time for the Indiana Board to give notice of its final determinations elapsed, Rolls-Royce filed a direct appeal with the Court pursuant to Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-5(g). (See Pet'r Pet. ¶¶ 17-18.) See also Convention Headquarters Hotels, LLC v. Marion Cty. Assessor (Convention Headquarters I), 119 N.E.3d 245, 250 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2019) (holding that under the facts of that case, the maximum time for the Indiana Board to give notice of its final determination lapsed on the 366th day after the taxpayer filed its appeal with the Indiana Board). On July 18, 2019, the Assessor filed his first motion to dismiss, arguing that Rolls-Royce's appeal should be dismissed due to certain procedural failures. (See, e.g., Pet'r Resp. Opp'n Resp't Mot. Dismiss ("Pet'r Resp. Br.") at 2.) The Court denied that motion on August 8, 2019. (See, e.g., Pet'r Resp. Br. at 2.) On August 19, 2019, the Assessor filed his second Motion to Dismiss ("Motion"), claiming that Rolls-Royce's appeal "should be dismissed for failure to state a claim and failure to comply with judicial review procedures." (Resp't Mot. Dismiss.) On September 5, 2019, after the matter was fully briefed, the Court took the Assessor's Motion under advisement. Additional facts will be supplied when necessary.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The Assessor maintains that Rolls-Royce's appeal should be dismissed under Indiana Trial Rules 12(B)(1) and 12(B)(6) because it failed to 1) state a claim for which relief can be granted, 2) comply with the statutory prerequisites barring the Court's exercise of its subject matter jurisdiction, and 3) exhaust its administrative remedies. (See generally Resp't Br. Supp. Mot. Dismiss ("Resp't Br.").) Rolls-Royce maintains, however, that the Assessor's Motion should be denied because, among other things, it "seeks to relitigate multiple decisions handed down by this Court just days before the Motion was filed" and is thus repetitive and frivolous. (Pet'r Resp. Br. at 10.) As a result, Rolls-Royce has asked the Court for an award of reasonable attorney's fees for responding to the Motion. (Pet'r Resp. Br. at 10.)

         At the outset, all of the Assessor's claims are rooted in the premise that the Tax Court is a record-reviewing court - an intermediate reviewer - in all property tax cases rather than a trier of fact. (See generally Resp't Br.) The Legislature removed the Indiana Board's jurisdiction to determine property tax cases, like this one, however, when the Indiana Board fails to decide the matter within the prescribed statutory timeframe. See Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15-5(g) (2019) (amended 2019) (providing that if the Indiana Board fails to issue a final determination before the "maximum time elapses," a taxpayer may file a direct appeal with the Tax Court). See also Convention Headquarters I, 119 N.E.3d at 248-50 (interpreting Indiana Code §§ 6-1.1-15-4 and 6-1.1-15-5). In place of the Indiana Board's administrative adjudication, the Legislature conferred jurisdiction to the Tax Court "to determine the matter de novo." I.C. § 6-1.1-15-5(g).

         When the Court reviews a matter de novo under Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-5(g), it is not bound by the issues or evidence presented at the administrative level. See Convention Headquarters Hotels, LLC v. Marion Cty. Assessor (Convention Headquarters III), Case No. 19T-TA-00021, slip. op. at 11, 2019 WL 3955388, at *5 (Ind. Tax. Ct. Aug. 16, 2019); Convention Headquarters I, 119 N.E.3d at 249 n.4. Accordingly, Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-5(g) expressly requires the Tax Court to exercise its jurisdiction in a new beginning, unfettered by adherence to executive branch administrative procedures.

         1. Failure to state a claim

         The Assessor asserts that Rolls-Royce has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted because its Tax Court Petition contains "arguments and averments that are outside the scope of its [Form 131 petitions.]" (Resp't Br. at 5.) The Assessor's claim fails, however, because it is based on the faulty premise that the Tax Court is bound by the Indiana Board's procedural statutes and regulations. The Tax Court's de novo determination is governed by its own judicial procedure, under which Rolls-Royce has ...


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