PETITIONER APPEARING PRO SE: ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT:
PAUL LeFEBVRE STEVE CARTER
Greencastle, IN ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL
INDIANA TAX COURT
PAUL LeFEBVRE, )
v. ) Cause No. 49T10-0101-TA-2
DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL )
ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF
THE STATE BOARD OF TAX COMMISSIONERS
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
September 8, 2003
Paul LeFebvre appeals from the final determination of the State Board of Tax
Commissioners (State Board) valuing his real property for the 1999 assessment. LeFebvre
presents two issues for the Court to decide:
I. Whether the State Board erred in assessing his fireplaces as traditional
masonry rather than prefabricated;
II. Whether the State Board erred in calculating the amount of assessable
brick on his home? FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
LeFebvre owns a home in Greencastle, Indiana. The house is two-story, the
exterior of which is a combination of both brick and wood siding.
There are two prefabricated steel fireplaces in the interior of his home, one
that vents to the outside through a metal chimney, and another that is
vent-less (i.e., it vents directly into the room). For decorative purposes, LeFebvre
constructed two brick-veneer housings on the exterior of his home.
For the 1999 assessment, the Putnam County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals
(PTABOA) classified the exterior of LeFebvres first story as 100% brick and the
second story as 100% frame. The PTABOA also assessed both fireplaces in
LeFebvres home as traditional masonry fireplaces.
LeFebvre challenged the PTABOAs assessment by filing a Form 131 Petition for Review
of Assessment (Form 131) with the State Board. In his Form 131,
LeFebvre alleged that only 33% of his first story was actually brick and
that the two fireplaces should have been assessed as prefabricated.
After conducting an administrative hearing, the State Board issued a final determination on
November 21, 2000, in which it denied LeFebvres claim. LeFebvre filed an
original tax appeal on January 3, 2001. The Court held a trial
on June 22, 2001. Additional facts will be supplied as necessary.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court gives great deference to the final determinations of the State Board
when it acts within the scope of its authority. Blackbird Farms Apartments,
LP v. Dept of Local Govt Fin., 765 N.E.2d 711, 713 (Ind. Tax
Ct. 2002). This Court will reverse a final determination of the State
Board only when it is unsupported by substantial evidence, arbitrary, capricious, constitutes an
abuse of discretion, or exceeds statutory authority. Id.
Furthermore, a taxpayer who challenges the propriety of a State Board final determination
bears the burden of demonstrating its invalidity. Id. To do so,
the taxpayer must present a prima facie case by submitting probative evidence concerning
the alleged assessment error (i.e., evidence sufficient to establish a given fact that,
if not contradicted, will remain sufficient). Id. Once the taxpayer presents
a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the State Board to rebut
the taxpayers evidence and support its findings with substantial evidence. Id.
The property assessment regulations in effect for the 1999 tax year provided that
residential fireplaces were assessed based on the construction of their stacks. See
Ind. Admin. Code tit. 50, r. 2.2-7-11 (Sched. E.1) (1996). Indeed, an
assessing official could classify a residential fireplace stack in one of two ways:
(in hundreds of dollars)
Average Quality Stack
Masonry Prefab Steel
First Opening . . . . . . . . . . .
Each Additional Opening . .
Id. See also Ind. Admin. Code tit. 2.2-7-7.1(c)(4)(G) (1996) (stating that when
collecting data for assessment, the assessing official should determine the number of stacks,
the number of fire openings, and whether the fireplace is a prefab metal
type [or] . . . the traditional masonry type[.])
LeFebvre contends that the State Board erred when it assessed his two fireplaces
as traditional masonry. More specifically, he argues that both fireboxes are prefabricated
steel, and that one of the fireboxes has a prefabricated metal chimney that
runs from the firebox up through the brick-veneer housing to the outside.
(See Respt Ex. A at 54-55.) The other firebox has no chimney
whatsoever, as it vents directly back into the room. (See Respt Ex.
A at 54-55.) Consequently, LeFebvre construes stack to mean chimney.
The State Board asserts, however, that the construction of a fireplace stack is
determined by viewing the construction of the housing. Consequently, the State Board
argues that because both of the stacks on LeFebvres home are constructed of
brick-veneer, the fireplaces were properly assessed as traditional masonry. The Court must
Duly promulgated property assessment regulations have the force of law and are therefore
subject to the same rules of construction as statutes. See Western Select
Properties, L.P. v. State Bd. of Tax Commrs, 639 N.E.2d 1068, 1073 (Ind.
Tax Ct. 1994). The foremost goal of regulatory construction is to determine
the intent of the State Board by giving the words and phrases their
plain, ordinary, and usual meaning and by reading the regulations within the context
of the entire act of which they are a part. State Bd.
of Tax Commrs v. Two Market Square Associates Ltd. Pship, 679 N.E.2d 882,
885-86 (Ind. 1997) (internal brackets, quotation, and punctuation omitted).
Fireplaces are to be assessed on the basis of their stack construction.
50 IAC 2.2-7-11 (Sched. E1). The regulations do not, however, define stack.
Therefore, the Court will give the word its plain, ordinary, and usual
meaning as found in the dictionary. See Johnson County Farm Bureau Coop.
v. Indiana Dept of State Revenue, 568 N.E.2d 578, 581 (Ind. Tax Ct.
1991), affd 585 N.E.2d 1336 (Ind. 1992). Stack is defined as a
vertical pipe (as to carry off smoke): chimney, funnel, smokestack[.] Websters
Third New Intl Dictionary at 2218 (1981 ed.) Thus, stack, under 50
IAC 2.2-7-11, means chimney. In this case, LeFebvres chimney is clearly metal
not traditional masonry. (See Respt Ex. A at 54-55.) Accordingly,
the State Boards determination on this issue is REVERSED.
For purposes of assessment, the State Boards regulations require that a homes exterior
be divided into six segments (units). See Ind. Admin. Code tit. 50,
r. 2.2-7-7.1(b)(5)(D)(1996). The front and back of a home each represents two
units, whereas each end represents one unit. See id. The
State Boards regulations provide a base price for a house based on its
square footage and then adjust the base price to reflect the materials used
in construction of each of the units (i.e., the exterior walls). See
Ind. Admin. Code tit. 50, r. 2.2-7-8.1(a)(3)(C)(1996). Consequently, houses with brick units
carry higher base prices than houses with wood or aluminum siding units.
Often, however, a homeowner may have both brick and siding on
a single unit (i.e, brick and wood siding on the front of the
house). While the State Boards regulations are silent with respect to such
a circumstance, both parties agree that, in such cases, cutting and transposing brick
from one area of the home to another is an accepted method by
which to calculate the total amount of brick contained on a unit for
assessment purposes. (See Petr Br. at 6; Respt Br. at 3.)
In the case at bar, the local assessing officials classified the exterior of
LeFebvres first story as all brick (six of six units) and the second
story as all frame. LeFebvre maintains that this is incorrect -- the
first story of his house has the equivalent of only three units of
LeFebvre explains that the reason for the State Boards miscalculation is
that it essentially counted his attached brick garage twice: once when it
assessed the brick garage as a separate line item on his property record
card, and again when it calculated the total units of brick on the
house. (See Tr. at 19.) To support his claim, LeFebvre presented
detailed calculations and testimony indicating that the first story of his house was
actually comprised of three units of brick. (See Petr Exs. 1, 2;
Tr. at 17-57.) In its final determination, however, the State Board claimed
[t]here is simply a difference of opinion as to how the brick should
be cut and transposed. (Respt Ex. A at 46.) As a
result, [LeFebvres] analysis [carries] no weight. (Respt Br. at 4.) Again,
the Court disagrees.
When a taxpayer presents detailed, alternate calculations to the State Board calculations
that are supported by photographs, explanations, property record cards, and mathematical formulas
-- the State Board has a duty to investigate the claim. See
Bock v. State Bd. of Tax Commrs, 683 N.E.2d 1368, 1370 (Ind. Tax
Ct. 1997) (stating that when a taxpayer challenges calculations based on objective measurements,
the State Board has a duty to check the calculations for accuracy.)
In this case, the State Board merely asserted that LeFebvres calculations were based
on a too literal construction of what constitutes all brick.
See footnote (Respt Ex.
A at 46-47.) Instead, the State Board should have recalculated the total
amount of brick on LeFebvres house checking it against both the PTABOAs
calculations and LeFebvres calculations for accuracy. Accordingly, the State Boards determination on
this issue is REVERSED.
For the aforementioned reasons, the State Boards final
determination is REVERSED. Consequently, the case is REMANDED to the Indiana Board
of Tax Review
See footnote with orders to instruct the local assessing officials to assess
LeFebvres fireplaces as prefabricated metal and to assess his home with three units
Footnote: The State Board of Tax Commissioners (State Board) was originally the Respondent
in this appeal. However, the legislature abolished the State Board as of
December 31, 2001. 198 Ind. Acts 2001 § 119(b)(2). Effective January
1, 2002, the legislature created the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF),
Indiana Code § 6-1.1-30-1.1 (West Supp. 2001)(eff. 1-1-02); 198 Ind. Acts 2001 §
66, and the Indiana Board of Tax Review (Indiana Board). Ind. Code
§ 6-1.5-1-3 (West Supp. 2001)(eff. 1-1-02); 198 Ind. Acts 2001 § 95.
Pursuant to Indiana Code § 6-1.5-5-8, the DLGF is substituted for the State
Board in appeals from final determinations of the State Board that were issued
before January 1, 2002. Ind. Code § 6-1.5-5-8 (West Supp. 2001)(eff. 1-1-02);
198 Ind. Acts 2001, § 95. Nevertheless, the law in effect prior
to January 1, 2002 applies to these appeals. I.C. § 6-1.5-5-8.
See also 198 Ind. Acts 2001 § 117. Although the DLGF has
been substituted as the Respondent, this Court will still reference the State Board
throughout this opinion.
With respect to the fireplace that has the metal chimney, LeFebvre
ran the chimney up through the housing so as to vent outside.
The other housing is not functional at all. In other words, because
the second fireplace does not vent to the outside, no chimney runs through
the second housing.
LeFebvre initially asserted that his house was comprised of only two
units of brick. (Respt Ex. A at 4.) However, he concedes
that if the Court determines that his fireplaces should have been assessed as
prefabricated, (which it did,
supra), then the brick-veneer housings should be counted towards
the amount of assessable brick, increasing the total number of brick units from
two to three. (Petr Br. at 10.)
The State Board contends that LeFebvres calculations are incorrect because he
believes that [i]n order for the  first floor to be
. . . brick must be cut and transposed to cover window areas
. . . as well as interior common walls between the residence and
the attached garage. (Respt Ex. A at 38 (emphasis in original).)
All cases that would have previously been remanded to the State
Board are now remanded to the Indiana Board of Tax Review (Indiana Board).
See Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15-8 (Supp. 2002). Final determinations made by
the Indiana Board are subject to review by this Court pursuant to Indiana
Code § 6-1.1-15. Ind. Code §§ 6-1.5-5-7; 33-3-5-2 (Supp. 2002).