ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT
Karen M. Freeman-Wilson
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE
Kurt St. Angelo
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
STATE OF INDIANA ex rel. )
INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF )
) Indiana Supreme Court
Appellant (Plaintiff Below), ) Cause No. 73S01-0104-CV-207
v. ) Indiana Court of Appeals
) Cause No. 73A01-0002-CV-49
TIMOTHY L. DEATON and )
MARIE E. DEATON, )
Appellees (Defendants Below). )
APPEAL FROM THE SHELBY SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Russell J. Sanders, Judge
Cause No. 73D02-9901-SC-195
ON PETITION FOR TRANSFER
September 26, 2001
We hold that the Indiana Department of Revenue may collect a tax judgment
lien through proceedings supplemental in a court in any county where the taxpayer
owns property without first filing suit and obtaining a judgment foreclosing the lien.
Factual and Procedural Background
When the Department reasonably believes an income tax return does not reflect the
proper amount of tax due, the Department may issue an assessment. Ind.
Code § 6-8.1-5-1(a) (1998). If the taxpayer disagrees with that assessment, the
taxpayer may protest it at the administrative level. Id. § 6-8.1-5-1(c).
If the Department denies the protest and issues a letter of finding, that
letter becomes a final determination, and the taxpayer must pursue further review by
requesting a rehearing or by pursuing an appeal to the Tax Court.
Id. § 6-8.1-5-1(e-h). The statute provides that failure to pursue an appeal
through the Tax Court conclusively establishes the amount of taxes owed. Id.
§§ 6-8.1-5-1(i-j) & 33-3-5-11(a).
The Department assessed a deficiency against the Deatons as to their state income
tax return, apparently for 1993. The Deatons protested unsuccessfully and received a
letter of finding from the Department. They neither sought rehearing nor pursued
an appeal to the Tax Court. Acting pursuant to Indiana Code section
6-8.1-8-2(a), the Department issued a demand notice to the Deatons for the total
amount due. When the Deatons still did not pay, the Department issued
a tax warrant for $1901 pursuant to section 6-8.1-8-2(b). The Department next
filed that warrant with the Shelby Clerk. The statute provides that at
this point the warrant became a judgment lien against the Deatons, attaching to
all of their real and personal property in Shelby County.
The Department next instituted proceedings supplemental in the small claims division of the
Shelby Superior Court. The Deatons moved to dismiss, contending that the court
lacked personal jurisdiction over them because the Department had not filed a complaint
and obtained a judgment against them in that court. The crux of
the Deatons position is their contention that the judgment lien described in the
tax statute is not a judgment. The trial court and the Court
of Appeals agreed, holding that the Department is required to file an independent
lawsuit in a court of general jurisdiction and obtain a judgment foreclosing its
lien before it can pursue proceedings supplemental in that court.
rel. Indiana Dept. of Revenue v. Deaton, 738 N.E.2d 695, 698-700 (Ind. Ct.
App. 2000). This Court granted transfer.
I. Proceedings Supplemental to Collect a Tax Judgment Lien
The Deatons argued, and the majority of the Court of Appeals held, that
the Department must domesticate its final determination by filing suit and obtaining a
judgment foreclosing its lien in an Indiana court of general jurisdiction before it
may begin proceedings supplemental. Deaton, 738 N.E.2d at 700. As support
for this proposition, the Deatons and the Court of Appeals cite Borgman v.
Aikens, 681 N.E.2d 213, 220 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), trans. denied, in which
the Court of Appeals held that an Indiana court of general jurisdiction could
enforce a federal judgment or a judgment from another Indiana county through proceedings
supplemental only if the judgment was first domesticated.
Borgman, the Court of Appeals relied on Stocker v. Cataldi, 521 N.E.2d
716, 718 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988), which held that a trial court properly
dismissed a complaint for proceedings supplemental for lack of jurisdiction where that court
had not rendered the original judgment. Stocker, in turn, was based on
the language of Indiana Trial Rule 69(E), which states in pertinent part, [P]roceedings
supplemental to execution may be enforced . . . in the court where
the judgment is rendered. In the case of tax lien enforcement, however,
the statutory framework overlays the general Trial Rule governing proceedings supplemental. When
a tax warrant that embodies an unappealed final determination of the Department is
recorded in the judgment record of a county court, the statute provides that
the warrant becomes a judgment lien of that court, and the court acquires
jurisdiction for the limited purpose of enforcing the judgment lien. We think
the General Assembly intended by this language to provide that the judgment lien
for the tax obligation has the status of a judgment of the court
of general jurisdiction.
In Indiana, the Tax Court has exclusive jurisdiction over any case that arises
under the tax laws of this state and that is an initial appeal
of a final determination of the Department. Ind. Code § 33-3-5-2(a) (1998).
A case arises under the tax laws of Indiana if an Indiana
tax statute creates the right of action, or if the case principally involves
collection of a tax or defenses to that collection.
State v. Sproles,
672 N.E.2d 1353, 1357 (Ind. 1996). The Deatons case principally, indeed solely,
involves the collection of taxes or defenses to that collection, and so arises
under the tax laws of Indiana. Resort to a court of general
jurisdiction to challenge a tax is precluded by this grant of exclusive jurisdiction.
The domestication of judgments from other courts described in Borgman permits the domesticating
court to entertain attacks on the validity of the judgment itself, either for
want of personal jurisdiction or subject matter jurisdiction. Am. Mgmt., Inc., v.
Riverside Natl Bank, 725 N.E.2d 930, 933 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). If
this were permitted as to tax liability, it would be inconsistent with the
grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the Tax Court to hear these issues.
If, on the other hand, litigation in the court of general jurisdiction is
foreclosed even in a domestication proceeding, then that proceeding becomes a purely perfunctory
waste of time and resources. This exclusive grant of jurisdiction to the
Tax Court thus strongly suggests that no independent domestication proceeding is contemplated under
the tax statutes.
Section 6-8.1-8-8 also supports the view that a judgment lien as that term
is used in that section is intended to be a final judgment.
That section provides that after a tax warrant becomes a judgment lien, the
Department may seize bank accounts, garnish earnings, and levy upon and sell property,
all without subsequent judicial proceedings. The Deatons contend, and the Court of
Appeals held, that section 6-8.1-8-8 operates only to limit the actions the Department
may take without subsequent judicial proceedings to these three specifically enumerated ones.
Deaton, 738 N.E.2d at 699. We do not agree. Section 6-8.1-8-7
states that the remedies for tax collection provided to the department under this
chapter are cumulative and the selection or use of one (1) of the
remedies does not preclude the subsequent or corresponding use of one (1) or
more of the other remedies. Therefore, absent express limiting language, section 6-8.1-8-8
cannot be construed to be an exhaustive list of remedies available to the
Department without initiating subsequent judicial proceedings. Rather, it authorizes summary collection proceedings
without further judicial action. This demonstrates the understanding of the General Assembly
that once a tax warrant becomes a judgment lien, the day for disputing
the tax is over, and the matter has progressed to the collection stage.
And, of course, proceedings supplemental are one means of collecting. As
the Court of Appeals pointed out, a judgment lien may fairly be regarded
as distinct from a judgment. In this context, however, we believe the
General Assembly equated the two.
For these reasons we hold that, unless and until it is appealed to
the Tax Court, a final determination of the Department is the equivalent of
a judgment, and when the tax warrant that embodies that final determination is
recorded as a judgment lien in the judgment record of a county court,
the warrant becomes a judgment of that court, which thereby acquires jurisdiction for
the limited purpose of enforcing the judgment. The judgment may be enforced
as any other judgment of the court, including by means of proceedings supplemental.
Accordingly, the Deatons motion to dismiss should have been denied, and the
Shelby Superior Court should have allowed the Department to commence proceedings supplemental.
II. Adequacy of Notice under the Income Tax Statute
A final concern raised by both the Deatons and the Court of Appeals
is whether the notice procedures used by the Department meet constitutional due process
standards. Throughout its tax collection administrative proceedings, the Department is authorized to
send all notices to the taxpayer by first class mail. Ind. Code
§§ 6-8.1-3-11 & 6-8.1-5-1 (1998). As the Court of Appeals noted, if
these notices are not received by the taxpayer, the taxpayers first notice of
an alleged deficiency might well be a personally served subpoena in proceedings supplemental
in a court of general jurisdiction commanding appearance on pain of contempt.
Deaton, 738 N.E.2d at 699.
The Deatons do not have standing to raise this issue. This Court
has held that the standing requirement mandates that courts act in real cases,
and eschew action when called upon to engage only in abstract speculation.
Pence v. State, 652 N.E.2d 486, 488 (Ind. 1995). As a general
proposition, for a private individual to invoke the exercise of judicial power, such
person must ordinarily show that some direct injury has or will immediately be
sustained. Id. The Deatons have not alleged that they did not
receive full and complete notice of all administrative and judicial proceedings against them.
There are a number of administrative and judicial remedies potentially available to a
taxpayer who contends that he, she, or it has been the subject of
a proceeding supplemental without becoming aware of a dispute with the Department.
If all fail, and the issue of adequate notice arises, we can address
it at that time. We note, however, that this Court affirmed the
constitutionality of notice by first class mail in the context of the abandoned
vehicle statute in
Holmes v. Randolph, 610 N.E.2d 839 (Ind. 1993). We
also observe that under the statutory scheme our General Assembly has conceived, before
proceedings supplemental can begin against a taxpayer for an alleged deficiency, the Department
must send at least three separate mailings to the address the taxpayer provided
on the tax return in question. The first of these mailings, the
assessment notice, typically would be sent within one year of the Departments receipt
of the return. During that year, mail for which the taxpayer had
left a forwarding address should be forwarded in the normal course.
The judgment of the Shelby Superior Court is reversed, and this action is
remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SULLIVAN, and RUCKER, JJ., concur.