ATTORNEYS FOR PETITIONERS: ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENTS:
DAVID H. McNAMAR JEFFREY A. MODISETT
JOHN H. SHARPE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA
McNAMAR, FEARNOW, & McSHARAR
Indianapolis, IN JEFFREY S. McQUARY
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL
DAVID C. BRUNS, M.D. and ELLEN M. BRUNS ) ) Petitioners, ) ) v. )Cause No. 49T10-9712-TA-00206 ) INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF STATE REVENUE ) and STATE BOARD OF TAX COMMISSIONERSSee footnote 1 , ) ) Respondents. ) _____________________________________________________________________THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE REVENUE
ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF
February 2, 1999
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
Whether Bruns is a resident of Indiana.
Department determined that Bruns should have registered his automobile in Indiana
beginning in 1992 and should have paid motor vehicle excise tax from that date. See
Ind. Code Ann. § 6-6-5-2 (West Supp. 1998). Bruns filed a written letter of protest on
June 5, 1997 explaining that he was an Illinois resident. On that same day, the
Department issued a letter to Bruns indicating that it had voided its 1992 assessment
and had reduced his 1993 liability to $579.67. The Department did not alter its 1994-
1997 assessments. This resulted in a total tax assessment for the years 1993 through
1997 of $2,485.69.
Bruns filed an appeal of the Department's proposed assessment on July 22, 1997. On July 25, 1997, the Department issued a Letter of Findings (LOF) upholding its proposed assessment. On August 25, 1997, Bruns requested a rehearing from the Department. See Ind. Code Ann. § 6-8.1-5-1(f) (West Supp. 1998). The Department denied Bruns' request for a rehearing and on December 23, 1997, Bruns filed this original tax appeal. Bruns filed a motion for summary judgment on August 19, 1998. Oral argument on this motion was heard on October 20, 1998. Additional facts will be supplied as necessary.
only when no genuine issue of material fact exists. Ind. T. R. 56(C); Roehl Transp., Inc.
v. Department of State Revenue, 653 N.E.2d 539, 541 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1995).
because the phrase living in Indiana is so imprecise and vague that it fails to alert
the reader to what conduct constitutes 'living in Indiana.' (Pet'r Br. at 2).
Courts should accord statutes with the presumption of constitutionality. See Adoptive Parents of M.L.V. v. Wilkins, 598 N.E.2d 1054, 1058 (Ind. 1992); Bemis, 652 N.E.2d at 92; Helton, 624 N.E.2d at 505. A statute is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined. See Dep't. of Envtl. Management v. Chem. Waste Management, 643 N.E.2d 331, 338 (Ind. 1994); Bemis, 652 N.E.2d at 92; Johnson, 648 N.E.2d at 670; Helton, 624 N.E.2d at 505. A statute is not void for vagueness if it reasonably informs persons of ordinary intelligence of the proscribed conduct. See Bemis, 652 N.E.2d at 92; Johnson, 648 N.E.2d at 670; Helton, 624 N.E.2d at 505-06 (citing Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601 (1973)); McIntosh v. State, 638 N.E.2d 1269, 1276 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). [A] statute need not list with itemized exactitude each item of conduct prohibited.See footnote 4 McIntosh, 638 N.E.2d at 1276 (citing Hunter v. State, 172 Ind. App. 397, 360 N.E.2d 588, 595 (1977)).
In this case, Bruns complains that the phrase living in Indiana does not adequately inform him of the conduct that will trigger the tax. Therefore, according to Bruns, section 9-13-2-78(1) is unconstitutionally vague. Bruns points out that section 9-13-2-78(1) does not define what constitutes living in Indiana nor were any
regulations promulgated explaining how it is measured. (Pet'r Br. at 4). Therefore,
this Court should strike the statute down as unconstitutional. The Court disagrees with
The phrase living in Indiana was not defined by the legislature. However, living in Indiana is a phrase that a person of ordinary intelligence can interpret. Merely because the statute does not account for every scenario that might arise does not render the statute void for vagueness. Because statutes are condemned to the use of words, there will always be uncertainties for we cannot expect mathematical certainty from our language. Helton, 624 N.E.2d at 507 (citing Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 110 (1972)). The legislature simply cannot define every word it uses in a statute. Moreover, if the legislature attempted to do so, laws would become so cumbersome that more, rather than less, confusion might result.
Commonly understood phrases are often used by the legislature because this is an effective way of communicating to the public the focus and intent of a statute without the need to define each word or phrase. Indeed, one of the most well known tenets of statutory construction is that the words in a statute are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning. See Sangralea Boys Fund, Inc. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 686 N.E.2d 954, 956 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1997); see also Helton, 624 N.E.2d at 506 (citing Spaulding v. International Bakers Serv., Inc., 550 N.E.2d 307, 309 (Ind. 1990)). Thus, the legislature may use common words and phrases, while at the same time citizens are protected from being subjected to a tortured statutory interpretation by the government. Merely because the legislature did not to define living in Indiana and
there is a disagreement as to the meaning of that phrase, the phrase is not so vague as
to be unconstitutional. However, as noted above, this does not mean that any
interpretation given to the phrase by the Department is acceptable. This leads us to
Bruns' second argument.
Bruns second argument is whether he actually is a resident of Indiana under section 9-13-2-78(1). To determine whether someone is an Indiana resident, the Court must interpret the phrase living in Indiana. This phrase is not defined by statute or by any Department regulation. The Department argues that living in means spending the duration of a day in a particular place or occupying a home in that place. (Resp't Br. at 6). Bruns argues that under no commonly understood definition of the phrase living in Indiana could his merely staying overnight be considered living in Indiana.
In its brief to the Court, the Department asserts that 'living in Indiana' means residing in Indiana. (Resp't Br. at 6) (emphasis in original). However, the legislated definition of who is a resident is based on whether one lives in Indiana for 183 days per year, not the other way around. The Department goes on to argue that Bruns was present in Indiana for more than 200 days a year for three of the four years in question . . . . (Resp't Br. at 7).
The intent of the definition of resident in section 9-13-2-78(1) is to prevent people who actually live in Indiana from avoiding taxation here by registering their vehicles in nearby states. The Court fails to see how merely being present in Indiana for more than 183 days constitutes living here under any commonly understood definition of the phrase. If it did, many people from states that border Indiana who
leave their homes and families each morning to come to Indiana to work would be
deemed Indiana residents and subject to the excise tax on their vehicles.See footnote
The Court understands that the Department faces a difficult task in policing all the vehicles and residents of Indiana to ensure that excise taxes have been paid. The Court also understands that often people attempt to escape taxation through subterfuge, which results in other citizens of this state bearing a larger portion of the tax burden than otherwise would be appropriate. However, this is not an excuse for the Department to transform a phrase with a simple meaning into a trap for the unwary.
Before concluding, the Court will address one other argument made by the Department. The Department cites State Election Board v. Bayh, 521 N.E.2d 1313 (Ind. 1988), for the definition of domicile.See footnote 6 However, the Department argues that in spite of the fact that the Bayh court noted the word resident, as used in the Indiana Constitution, actually means domicile, id. at 1316, that the use of the word resident in section 9-13-2-78(1) should be strictly construed because section 9-13-2-78(1) applies
to the less august purpose of vehicle excise taxes. (Resp't Br. at 8). This is simply
an argument by the Department urging this Court to ignore the clear intent of section 9-
13-2-78(1). This Court will not do so.
The Department cites no authority in support of the proposition that because something is for a less august purpose, it must be construed narrowly. Although the Court may agree that the collection of taxes from a single individual may have fewer state-wide implications than the question of who may run for the office of Governor, the Court does not share the Department's belief that forcing even one taxpayer to pay taxes he does not owe is somehow less august than any other issue that may come before a court. This Court is sure that Bruns feels that he deserves just as close an examination of the laws of Indiana as does any litigant.
All this having been said, the Court notes that the question of whether one actually lives in Indiana is a factual question. More importantly, conflicting inferences may be drawn from the facts presented in this case. Summary judgment is not a substitute to resolve factual disputes and is an inappropriate means to resolve conflicting inferences from undisputed facts. C&C Oil Co. v. Department of State Revenue, 570 N.E.2d 1376, 1378 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1991) (citing ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Union Bank & Trust Co., 528 N.E.2d 1149, 1152 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988)). Even if the facts are not in dispute, summary judgment is inappropriate if conflicting inferences arise. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Union Bank & Trust Co., 528 N.E.2d 1149, 1152 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988) (citing Board of Aviation Comm'rs of St. Joseph County. v. Hestor, 473 N.E.2d 151, 153 (Ind. Ct. App. 1985)).
trans. denied; Johnson v. State, 648 N.E.2d 666, 670 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995); Helton v. State, 624 N.E.2d 499, 505 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993), cert. denied 117 S.Ct. 1252 (1997).
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