Indianapolis, IN
    Indianapolis, IN


    IN THE INDIANA TAX COURT _____________________________________________________________________

PAUL LeFEBVRE,                                                            )
    Petitioner,                                                                )
                                                                     v.                                                                         )   Cause No. 49T10-0101-TA-2
DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL                                                            )
See footnote         )
    Respondent.            )    


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?


    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. See footnote
    For the 1999 assessment, the Putnam County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) classified the exterior of LeFebvre’s first story as 100% brick and the second story as 100% frame. The PTABOA also assessed both fireplaces in LeFebvre’s home as “traditional masonry” fireplaces.
    LeFebvre challenged the PTABOA’s 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 LeFebvre’s 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.

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. Dep’t of Local Gov’t 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 taxpayer’s 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 . . . . . . . . . . . 18 10
Each Additional Opening . . 8 5

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 Resp’t Ex. A at 54-55.) The other firebox has no chimney whatsoever, as it vents directly back into the room. (See Resp’t 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 LeFebvre’s home are constructed of brick-veneer, the fireplaces were properly assessed as “traditional masonry.” The Court must disagree.
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 Comm’rs, 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 Comm’rs v. Two Market Square Associates Ltd. P’ship, 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 Dep’t of State Revenue, 568 N.E.2d 578, 581 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1991), aff’d 585 N.E.2d 1336 (Ind. 1992). “Stack” is defined as “a vertical pipe (as to carry off smoke): chimney, funnel, smokestack[.]” Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary at 2218 (1981 ed.) Thus, “stack,” under 50 IAC 2.2-7-11, means chimney. In this case, LeFebvre’s chimney is clearly metal – not “traditional masonry.” (See Resp’t Ex. A at 54-55.) Accordingly, the State Board’s determination on this issue is REVERSED.


For purposes of assessment, the State Board’s regulations require that a home’s 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 Board’s 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. See id.
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 Board’s 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 Pet’r Br. at 6; Resp’t Br. at 3.)
    In the case at bar, the local assessing officials classified the exterior of LeFebvre’s 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 brick. See footnote LeFebvre explains that the reason for the State Board’s 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 Pet’r 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’.” (Resp’t Ex. A at 46.) As a result, “[LeFebvre’s] analysis [carries] no weight.” (Resp’t 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 Comm’rs, 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 LeFebvre’s calculations were based on a “too literal” construction of “what constitutes all brick.” See footnote (Resp’t Ex. A at 46-47.) Instead, the State Board should have recalculated the total amount of brick on LeFebvre’s house – checking it against both the PTABOA’s calculations and LeFebvre’s calculations for accuracy. Accordingly, the State Board’s determination on this issue is REVERSED.


For the aforementioned reasons, the State Board’s 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 LeFebvre’s fireplaces as “prefabricated metal” and to assess his home with three units of brick.

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), see 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.

Footnote: 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.

Footnote: LeFebvre initially asserted that his house was comprised of only two units of brick. (Resp’t 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. (Pet’r Br. at 10.)

Footnote: The State Board contends that LeFebvre’s calculations are incorrect because he believes that “[i]n order for the [] first floor to be completely brick . . . brick must be ‘cut and transposed’ to cover window[] areas . . . as well as interior common walls between the residence and the attached garage.” (Resp’t Ex. A at 38 (emphasis in original).)

Footnote: 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).