ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER
DOUGLAS J. DeGLOPPER
ATTORNEY AT LAW
ATTORNEYS FOR THE RESPONDENT
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA
LINDA I. VILLEGAS
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL
INDIANA TAX COURT
PARK STECKLEY I, )
v. ) Cause No. 49T10-0107-TA-50
DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT )
ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF
THE STATE BOARD OF TAX COMMISSIONERS
December 17, 2002
Park Steckley I (Park Steckley) appeals the final determination of the State Board
of Tax Commissioners (State Board) valuing its two commercial parcels as of the
March 1, 1997 assessment date. The issue before the Court is whether
the State Board erred in valuing Park Steckleys land at $180,000 per acre.
For the reasons given below, the Court REVERSES the State Boards final
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Park Steckley owns two parcels of commercial land in Washington Township, Hamilton County,
Indiana. The parcels are in a geographic area bordered on the east
by U.S. Highway 31 (U.S. 31), on the west by railroad tracks, on
the north by State Road 32, and on the south by 146th Street.
Park Steckleys land does not, however, front U.S. 31. Rather, a
row of parcels owned by another party lies between Park Steckleys land and
In accordance with Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-13-6 (1993), a Hamilton County land order
was promulgated by the Hamilton County land valuation commission and adopted as a
rule after review by the State Board. The Washington Township Assessor (Assessor)
valued Park Steckleys parcels from the land order at $180,000 per acre.
In particular, the Assessor assessed Park Steckleys parcels from the section of the
land order for commercial land located in the geographic area of US 31
Corr from 146th St to St. Rt 32 [sic]. (See Admin. R.
at 71.) The true tax value under this section of the land
order ranged from $30,500 to $350,000 per acre. (Admin. R. at 68.)
Park Steckley appealed the assessment on each of its parcels to the Hamilton
County Board of Review (BOR). On February 5, 1998, the BOR denied
Park Steckleys appeals. On February 10, 1998, Park Steckley appealed its assessment
to the State Board. The only issue Park Steckley raised was whether
its land was properly valued pursuant to the land order. On May
17, 2001, the State Board issued a final determination affirming Park Steckleys assessment.
On July 2, 2001, Park Steckley initiated an original tax appeal. In
January 2002, the parties stipulated the evidence in this case and briefed the
issues in lieu of a trial. On November 1, 2002, the parties
presented oral arguments. Additional facts will be supplied as needed.
ANALYSIS AND OPINION
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. Walker Mfg. Co.
v. Dept of Local Govt Fin., 772 N.E.2d 1, 4 (Ind. Tax Ct.
2002). This Court will reverse a final determination of the State Board
only when its findings are unsupported by substantial evidence, arbitrary, capricious, constitute an
abuse of discretion, or exceed statutory authority. Id.
A taxpayer who appeals to this Court from a State Board final determination
bears the burden of showing that the final determination is invalid. Id.
The taxpayer must present a prima facie case by submitting probative evidence, i.e.,
evidence sufficient to establish a given fact that, if not contradicted, will remain
sufficient. Id. Once the taxpayer carries the burden of establishing a
prima facie case, the burden shifts to the State Board to rebut the
taxpayers evidence and justify its decision with substantial evidence. Clark v. State
Bd. of Tax Commrs, 694 N.E.2d 1230, 1233 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1998).
The sole issue is whether the State Board properly valued Park Steckleys parcels
pursuant to the land order. Park Steckley argues that because its parcels
are located west of land that fronts U.S. 31, the State Board should
have assessed its parcels from the section of the land order for commercial
land located west of the U.S. 31 corridor. The State Board argues,
however, that Park Steckleys land was appropriately valued from the section of the
land order applicable to parcels located within the area of the U.S. 31
A land order is a set of land values used to assess real
property. These land values are expressed as ranges of base rates that
are applied to various geographic areas delineated within the land order. See
Ind. Admin. Code tit. 50, rr. 2.2-4-4 (1996) (repealed 1998); 2.2-4-17(a) (2001).
In this case, the Assessor valued Park Steckleys land at $180,000 per acre
using the following section of the land order:
Low Value High Value
US 31 Corr from 146th St. to St. Rt 32
(See Admin. R. at 68.) Park Steckley argues that the Assessor used
the wrong section. Rather, Park Steckley contends that the Assessor should have
used the section that stated:
Low Value High Value
W. of US 31 Corr to RR tracks from 146th St
to St. Rt 32
(See Admin. R. at 68.) The crux of Park Steckleys argument is
that because the State Board has not defined what comprises the U.S. 31
corridor, the reference to the U.S. 31 corridor in both sections of the
land order creates an ambiguity as to whether Park Steckleys land is within
or to the west of the U.S. 31 corridor. The Court agrees.
Because land orders are administrative rules, they are subject to the same rules
of construction as statutes. Poracky v. State Bd. of Tax Commrs, 635
N.E.2d 235, 236 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1994). Thus, this Court will construe
terms within a land order only if they are ambiguous. See
Zakutansky v. State Board of Tax Commrs, 758 N.E.2d 103, 108 (Ind. Tax
Ct. 2001). When terms within a land order are susceptible to
more than one interpretation, they are ambiguous. See May Dept Stores
Co. v. Indiana Dept of State Revenue, 749 N.E.2d 651, 658 (Ind. Tax
Ct. 2001). Although a disagreement between the parties does not necessarily indicate
ambiguity, opposing interpretations are persuasive in suggesting that an ambiguity exists. Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted).
In construing a land order, the first and foremost rule of construction is
to ascertain and give effect to the land commission's intent, and the most
reliable guide to that intent is the language of the land order itself.
The Precedent v. State Bd. of Tax Commrs, 659 N.E.2d 701, 704
(Ind. Tax Ct. 1995). Where the language of a land order is
undefined, however, the Court will give the language its plain and ordinary meaning;
the Court may do so by referring to a dictionary. May Dept
Stores, 749 N.E. 2d at 658, 661. The term corridor is defined
as a . . . narrow passageway or route. Websters Third New
International Dictionary 512 (1981). Given that definition, a narrow passageway or route
would be a geographic area that includes only those properties fronting a highway
that runs down the center of the area. Therefore, Park Steckleys argument
that its parcels do not lie within the area of the U.S. 31
corridor, but rather lie in the area immediately west of the U.S. 31
corridor, is persuasive.
The State Board suggests no alternative construction to corridor, except to say that
[t]he definition of Corridor need not be as limiting as [Park Steckley] states.
(Respt Br. at 6.) This, however, gives no reasonable indication as
to what lies within the U.S. 31 corridor and what lies without.
See Mechanics Laundry & Supply, Inc. v. Indiana Dept of State Revenue, 650
N.E.2d 1223, 1233 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1995) (holding that administrative rules must be
written with sufficient precision to give fair warning as to what factors an
agency will consider in making an administrative decision).
The State Board attempted to rebut Park Steckleys prima facie case with the
Assessors testimony: [B]asically we did three things, we reviewed sales, we compared values
with surrounding parcels, and we applied those values uniformly and fairly. (Admin.
R. at 71; see also Respt Br. at 8 (citing Admin R. at
71).) The State Board also submitted a property record card of a
putatively comparable parcel near Park Steckleys land that was valued the same as
Park Steckleys parcels. (Admin. R. at 4748.) Nevertheless, the State Board
presented no explanation as to why it thought the land was comparable to
Park Steckleys. Neither a conclusory statement nor a property record card unaccompanied
by an explanation constitutes substantial evidence. See Damico v. Dept of Local
Govt Fin., 769 N.E.2d 715, 723 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002) (holding that a
taxpayers conclusory, unannotated evidence did not constitute probative evidence).
The Court holds that the Hamilton County land valuation commission intended its reference
to corridor to include only those lands that front U.S. 31. Park
Steckley made a prima facie case showing that its parcels were not in
the geographic area of US 31 Corr from 146th St to St. Rt
32 [sic], but rather were in the geographic area of W. of US
31 Corr to RR tracks from 146th St to St. Rt 32
See footnote [sic].
Because the State Board did not rebut Park Steckleys prima facie case,
the Court REVERSES the State Boards final determination and REMANDS this case to
the Indiana BoardSee footnote to determine the appropriate assessment of Park Steckleys parcels from
page 695 of the land order containing the section for land in the
geographic area W. of US 31 Corr to RR tracks from 146th St
to St. Rt 32 [sic].
For the aforementioned reasons, the Court REVERSES the State Boards final determination and
REMANDS this case to the Indiana Board for further proceedings consistent with this
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. Pub. L. No. 198-2001, § 119(b)(2). Effective January 1,
2002, the Legislature created the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) and the
Indiana Board of Tax Review (Indiana Board).
Ind. Code §§ 6-1.1-30-1.1; 6-1.5-1-3
(West Supp. 2001); Pub. L. No. 198-2001, §§ 66, 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. 2002); Pub.
L. No. 198-2001, § 95. Nevertheless, the law in effect prior to
January 1, 2002 applies to these appeals. I.C. § 6-1.5-5-8. See
also Pub. L. No. 198-2001, § 117. Although the DLGF has been
substituted as the Respondent, this Court will still reference the State Board throughout
At oral argument, the Court asked the State Board to explain where
west of the corridor began. Counsel responded that the U.S. 31 corridor
included properties being in the proximity and having access to U.S. 31 and
that west of the corridor began as the accessibility and the proximity of
U.S. 31 . . . begins to diminish. (Oral Argument Tr. at
2324.) Nevertheless, the State Board offered no clear explanation of where in
the proximity of . . . U.S. 31 was, thus, its answer simply
begged the Courts question.
Footnote: To avoid disputes over the interpretation of land orders, counties should refrain
from using the crabbed shorthand and eccentric abbreviations that typify the land orders
this Court has seen.
Footnote: All cases that would have previously been remanded to the State Board
are now remanded to the Indiana Board.
Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15-8.
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.