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Patrick v. Painted Hills Association, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 22, 2019

Andrew Patrick, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Painted Hills Association, Inc., Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Morgan Superior Court Nos. 55D03-1712-SC-1304, 55D03-1811-SC-1183. The Honorable Terry E. Iacoli, Magistrate Judge.

          Appellant Pro Se Andrew Patrick Anderson, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellee Glen E. Koch II Martinsville, Indiana

          BAILEY, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] In 2016, Andrew Patrick ("Patrick") obtained tax deeds to three unimproved lots in Morgan County (the "Property"). A neighborhood association-Painted Hills Association, Inc. (the "Association")-later filed two small-claims actions against Patrick. The Association sought to collect unpaid dues for 2017 and 2018, attempting to enforce restrictive covenants that were recorded prior to the tax sale. The trial court held a consolidated hearing on the claims, and ultimately entered judgment in favor of the Association. Patrick filed a motion to correct error, which the trial court denied. Patrick now brings a pro se appeal. The dispositive issue is whether the restrictive covenants survived the tax sale.[1]

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Standard of Review

         [¶3] "We generally review a trial court's ruling on a motion to correct error for an abuse of discretion." Santelli v. Rahmatullah, 993 N.E.2d 167, 173 (Ind. 2013). An abuse of discretion occurs if a ruling is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances or if the trial court erred on a matter of law. Id. at 175. Here, the motion to correct error related to the judgment in favor of the Association. In support of that judgment, the court entered sua sponte findings and conclusions, which control the issues they cover-with a general-judgment standard applicable to any other issue. See Ind. Trial Rule 52. We "shall not set aside the findings or judgment unless clearly erroneous," and must give "due regard . . . to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses." T.R. 52(A). In conducting our review, we look to whether the evidence supports the findings and the findings support the judgment. See State v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 51 N.E.3d 150, 158 (Ind. 2016). Moreover, although we defer to findings of fact, we "do not defer to conclusions of law." Id.

         [¶4] "The meaning of a statute is a question of law [that] is subject to de novo review." ESPN, Inc. v. Univ. of Notre Dame Police Dep't, 62 N.E.3d 1192, 1195 (Ind. 2016). "If a statute is unambiguous, we may not interpret it, but must give the statute its clear and plain meaning. If a statute is ambiguous, however, we must ascertain the legislature's intent and interpret the statute so as to effectuate that intent." Elmer Buchta Trucking, Inc. v. Stanley, 744 N.E.2d 939, 942 (Ind. 2001) (cleaned up). "[A] statute is ambiguous when it allows more than one reasonable interpretation." Day v. State, 57 N.E.3d 809, 813 (Ind. 2016).

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶5] Patrick does not dispute that, prior to the tax sale, the Property was subject to recorded restrictive covenants that the Association could enforce.[2] The dispute is about the effect of the tax sale. As to the instant tax deeds, the parties agree that the following statute applies-but they proffer competing readings:

A tax deed executed under this chapter vests in the grantee an estate in fee simple absolute, free and clear of all liens and encumbrances created or suffered before or after the tax sale except those liens granted priority under federal law and the lien of the state or a political subdivision for taxes and special assessments which accrue subsequent to the sale and which are ...

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