BARNES & THORNBURG    Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis, IN    
    Indianapolis, IN


INDIANA TAX COURT _____________________________________________________________________

PIONEER HI-BRED INTERNATIONAL, INC.,                                  )
                                                                          Petitioner,                                                            )
             v.    )Cause No. 49T10-9810-TA-132
         Respondent.    )    


December 29, 1999

    Petitioner Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (Pioneer) appeals the final determinations of the Indiana State Board of Tax Commissioners (State Board) finding that it had no statutory authority to act on Pioneer's seven separate petitions for review. The sole issue for the Court's consideration is whether the State Board had authority to consider Pioneer's petitions.
     Pioneer is a producer and seller of hybrid seed corn and other seed genetics. As of March 1, 1995, Pioneer owned seven parcels (the Parcels) of real property in Carroll County, Indiana. On February 5, 1996, the Monroe Township Assessor issued Form 11 notices of assessment to Pioneer, valuing the Parcels as of March 1, 1995. See footnote The total assessed value for the Parcels was $615,020. See footnote On March 19, 1996, Pioneer submitted for each parcel a Form 130 petition for review of assessment with the Carroll County Board of Review (BOR), with respect to the March 1, 1995 assessment date. Pioneer mailed the petitions to Carroll County Assessor Neda K. Duff, along with a letter dated March 19, 1996, stating “Enclosed are the 130 CI petition forms which request review of the 3/1/95 assessment for the [Parcels] . . . and a letter outlining the pertinent facts Pioneer requests be considered in determining the 3/1/96 assessment for the parcels.” (Strothcamp Aff., Ex. 16.) The attached letter explained several facts regarding the conditions of the Parcels as of March 1, 1996.
    The BOR conducted a hearing on April 18, 1996. On May 20, 1996, the BOR issued its notification of final assessment determination for the parcels as of March 1, 1995. The BOR lowered the assessed value of all but one parcel, granting fifteen percent economic and ten percent functional obsolescence to those parcels. The total assessed value of the Parcels was $460,570.
    At a hearing on May 24, 1996, the BOR voted to leave the Parcels' assessed values unchanged for the March 1, 1996 assessment date. On June 12, 1996, the BOR issued a notification of final assessment determination valuing the Parcels as of March 1, 1996. The notice indicated that the Parcels remained valued at $460,570 and further indicated that the BOR granted a fifteen percent economic and a ten percent functional obsolescence for the Parcels. Moreover, the notice informed Pioneer that it could petition the State Board to review the BOR's action.
    On July 10, 1996, Pioneer filed a Form 131 petition for review of assessment with the State Board for each of the seven parcels. Attached to each petition was the following statement:

    Carroll County only issued Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. a Notification of Final Assessment Determination, State Form 20916, for March 1, 1996. No Notice of Assessment of Land and Structures, Form 11 C/I, was issued; therefore, Pioneer was not given the opportunity to petition the Carroll County Board of Review via Form 130 C-I.
    Pioneer did provide the Carroll County Assessor with a letter dated March 19, 1996, that provided pertinent facts regarding the status and condition of the property on March 1, 1996, and asked that the assessor's office included [sic] the information in determining a fair assessment for the property on March 1, 1996. . . .
(Strothcamp Aff., Exs. 23-29.) The State Board conducted a hearing on the petitions on June 2, 1998. On September 8, 1998, the State Board issued its final assessment determinations. The State Board rejected Pioneer's claims, denying it possessed jurisdiction to review them. Specifically, the State Board wrote for each petition that it lacked “statutory authority to act on this appeal.” (Strothcamp Aff., Exs. 43-49.)
    Pioneer filed its original tax appeal in this matter on October 23, 1998. On June 9, 1999, Pioneer filed a motion for summary judgment and brief in support thereof. The State Board on August 5, 1999 filed its response to the summary judgment motion together with its own cross motion for summary judgment. Pioneer filed a reply brief on August 13, 1999. The Court heard oral argument on the summary judgment motions on September 8, 1999. Additional facts will be supplied where needed.
Standard of Review
    This Court gives the final determinations of the State Board great deference when the State Board acts within the scope of its authority. See Wetzel Enters., Inc. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 694 N.E.2d 1259, 1261 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1998). Accordingly, this Court reverses final determinations of the State Board only when those decisions are unsupported by substantial evidence, are arbitrary or capricious, constitute an abuse of discretion, or exceed statutory authority. See id.
    Summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issues of material fact exist and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Ind. T.R. 56(C); Bock Prods. v. Indiana State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 683 N.E.2d 1368, 1369 (Ind. Tax 1997). Cross motions for summary judgment do not alter this standard. See id.    
     Pioneer argues that the State Board had jurisdiction over its appeals and should have reviewed and decided the petitions on their merits. Pioneer admits that it did not file a Form 130 petition for review of assessment with the BOR, with respect to any of the Parcels' valuations as of the March 1, 1996 assessment date. However, Pioneer contends that this failure does not dispossess the BOR of jurisdiction over its petitions. According to Pioneer, the BOR had the authority to reassess the Parcels. See Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.1-15-3 (West 1989) (amended 1993 and 1997). See footnote In contrast, the State Board contends that because Pioneer failed to properly file an appeal with the BOR, the BOR was limited to two actions with respect to the assessments of the Parcels: (1) raising or lowering the assessment pursuant to Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.1-13-5 (West 1989) (amended 1997); or (2) carrying the 1995 assessment forward to 1996, see Wetzel Enters., 694 N.E.2d at 1260 n.3 (observing that, in Indiana, “the assessed value of a piece of property as determined during the general reassessment carries forward until the next general reassessment”) (citations omitted).
    The Court first considers the effect of Pioneer's failure to file a Form 130. In so doing, the Court examines the relevant statutory language and State Board regulations. The Court will only construe and interpret a statute if it is ambiguous. See Indianapolis Historic Partners v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 694 N.E.2d 1224, 1227 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1998). A clear and unambiguous statute must be read to mean what it plainly expresses; its plain and obvious meaning may not be enlarged or restricted. See id. (quoting Department of State Revenue v. Horizon Bancorp, 644 N.E.2d 870, 872 (Ind. 1994)). The words and phrases of a statute shall be construed in their plain, ordinary, and usual sense. See id. (quoting State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs v. Jewel Grain Co., 556 N.E.2d 920, 921 (Ind. 1990)).     
    Indiana Code Ann. § 6-1.1-15-1(e) (West 1989) (amended 1993 & 1997) provides that “The state board of tax commissioners shall prescribe the form of the petition for review of an assessment determination by a township assessor. . . . An appeal of such a determination must be made on the form prescribed by the board.” To have a change in assessment for the most recent assessment date, the petition must be filed with the county auditor See footnote within forty-five days “after notice of a change in the assessment is given to the taxpayer” or by May 10 of that year, whichever is later. Id. Further, Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.1-15-2.1 (West 1989) (amended 1993 & 1997) states that a board of review shall conduct a hearing of a taxpayer's timely petition for review filed under section 6-1.1-15-1 and, in so doing, “may assess the tangible property in question.” In addition, the State Board's regulations describe the process for appealing an assessment to a county board of review. See footnote Ind. Admin. Code tit. 50, r. 4.2-3-3 (1996) states that a taxpayer “may appeal to the county board of review by filing a Form 130 . . . petition for review of assessment with the county auditor in the county where the property was assessed within thirty (30) days from the mailing of the written notice of assessment by the assessor.” The regulations describe a Form 130 as a “Petition to the County Board of Review for Review of Assessment.” Id. r. 4.2-2-9.
    This Court has consistently found that, in challenging the assessment of her property, a taxpayer must follow the required appeals procedures. For example, this Court previously observed:
    While a taxpayer has the right to challenge her property's value, she must also bear the responsibilities that are attached to that right. Indeed, because the legislature has created specific appeal procedures by which to challenge assessments, a taxpayer must comply with the statutory requirements of filing the proper petitions within a timely manner.
Williams Indus. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 648 N.E.2d 713, 718 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1995) (citing Reams v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 620 N.E.2d 758, 761 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1993)). In The Kent Company v. State Board of Tax Commissioners, this Court noted “The law is well-settled that a taxpayer challenging a property assessment must use the appropriate means of doing so.” 685 N.E.2d 1156, 1158 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1997)(citations omitted), review denied, 698 N.E.2d 1188 (Ind. 1998).
    Pioneer did not file a Form 130 petition for any of the Parcels. The State Board, as authorized by statute, required the Form 130 for appealing an assessment to a county board of review. This is true even though Pioneer challenged an unchanged assessment, rather than challenging an assessing official's actions after receiving a Form 11 or a tax bill. See Williams Indus., 648 N.E.2d at 717 n.3 (noting that, beginning in 1994, a taxpayer in any year merely has to file a Form 130 within certain time limits to gain review of an assessment). Pioneer did not comply with the statutory mandates and departmental rules for prosecuting an appeal of its assessment.
    Moreover, the letter dated March 19, 1996 from Pioneer to the county assessor did not serve as a substitute for the Form 130. Section 6-1.1-15-1 clearly requires that an appeal “must be made on the form prescribed by the board.” This language is unambiguous; to obtain review of its assessment by the county board, Pioneer was obligated to file its appeal on the form prescribed by the State Board. The State Board has designated Form 130 as the proper form to petition the county board for review of an assessment. Thus, absent some alternative statutory authority, the BOR was precluded from making any assessment of Pioneer's property.
    Pioneer asserts that the BOR did have such alternative statutory authority to conduct its own assessment of the Parcels and that the State Board in turn had authority to review the BOR's determinations. Pursuant to Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.1-15-4 (West 1989) (amended 1993, 1995 and 1997), the State Board, after receiving a petition for review, shall conduct a hearing on the matter and “may assess the property in question, correcting any errors which may have been made.” However, the State Board may only exercise its authority to review a petition under this section if there was a valid assessment in the first place. See Scheub v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 716 N.E.2d 638, 644 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1999) (quoting Joyce Sportswear Co. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 684 N.E.2d 1189, 1191 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1997), appeal dismissed). See footnote The Court next will examine whether the statutes relied upon by Pioneer allowed the BOR to make a valid assessment of the Parcels.
    Pioneer cites the following statues to support its contention that the BOR had authority to assess the Parcels without it having filed a Form 130 petition: Ind. Code Ann. §§ 6-1.1-4-25, -30 and 6-1.1-13-2 to _5 (West 1989)(as amended). The Court will consider these statutes in turn. Section 6-1.1-4-25 provides in part that “Each township assessor shall keep his reassessment data and records current by securing the necessary field data and by making changes in the assessed value of real property as changes occur in the use of the property. His records shall at all times show the assessed value of real property . . . .” This section requires the township assessor to keep certain records and information up-to-date and to alter the assessed value of real property according to changes that take place. It does not give the BOR authority to independently assess real property.
    Section 6-1.1-4-30 states that “In making any assessment or reassessment of real property in the interim between general reassessments, the rules regulations, and standards for assessment are the same as those used in the preceding general reassessment.” This section merely provides that an interim reassessment is governed by the same rules under which the immediate preceding general reassessment was conducted. It points to no applicable rule allowing a board of review to assess property when no Form 130 has been timely filed concerning the assessment.
    Section 6-1.1-13-2 provides:
     When the county board of review convenes, the county auditor shall submit to the board the assessment list of the county for the current year as returned by the township assessors and as amended and returned by the county assessor. The county assessor shall make recommendations to the board for corrections and changes in the returns and assessments. The board shall consider and act upon all the recommendations.
In the present case, there is no evidence that the county assessor made any recommendation regarding the Parcels' assessments as of March 1, 1996. The assessor apparently moved to grant Pioneer the fifteen percent economic and ten percent functional obsolescence to those parcels at the April 18, 1996 BOR meeting. (Strothcamp Aff., Ex. 40.) However, this meeting only assigned value for the parcels as of March 1, 1995. Without any recommendation by the county assessor to act upon, the BOR could not act under this section to reassess the property as of the March 1, 1996 assessment date. See footnote
    Section 6-1.1-13-3 provides that “A county board of review shall, on its own motion or on sufficient cause shown by any person, add to the assessment lists . . . the description and current assessed value of real property undervalued on or omitted from the lists.” The Parcels in question were not omitted from the assessment lists. They also were not undervalued. In fact, Pioneer claims they were overvalued. Without the Parcels being either omitted from the assessment lists or being undervalued on the lists, the BOR could not assess the property under this section.
    Section 6-1.1-13-4 states:
    A county board of review shall correct any errors in the names of persons, in the description of tangible property, and in the assessed valuation of tangible property appearing on the assessment lists. In addition, the board shall do whatever else may be necessary to make the assessment lists and returns comply with the provisions of this article and the rules and regulations of the state board of tax commissioners.
Although it claims the assessment valuations of the Parcels were incorrect, Pioneer points to no recording error on the assessment lists. There is no evidence that the assessment lists did not reflect the values of the Parcels as the BOR assigned those values. Further, no evidence was presented showing that the assessment lists and returns before the BOR did not comply with Indiana statute or with the State Board's regulations.
    Finally, Section 6-1.1-13-5 provides “A county board of review shall, on its own motion or on sufficient cause shown by any person, reduce or increase the assessed value of any tangible property in order to attain a just and equal basis of assessment between the taxpayers of the county.” The statute only authorized the BOR to reduce or increase the Parcels' assessed values. It did not allow the BOR to take action that resulted in the Parcels' assessments remaining the same. In the present case, the BOR neither increased nor reduced the assessed values for the Parcels. It merely sustained the same assessment values for the March 1, 1996 assessment date as were assigned for the March 1, 1995 assessment date. Because the BOR did not lower or increase the Parcels' assessed values, any assessment of the property by the BOR under this section was invalid.
    Under the circumstances, where the BOR ultimately left the Parcels' values from the preceding general assessment remain unaltered, none of the statutory provisions cited by Pioneer gave the BOR the power to conduct its own assessment of the Parcels. Therefore, the Court finds that the BOR's purported assessments, as regards the March 1, 1996 assessment date, were invalid. Thus, the State Board lacked authority to consider Pioneer's seven petitions as part of its typical administrative review process. The State Board correctly asserts that it had no jurisdiction to consider Pioneer's petitions for review.    


    For the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby GRANTS the State Board's cross motion for summary judgment and DENIES Pioneer's motion for summary judgment.

Footnote: See Ind. Admin. Code tit. 50, r. 2.2-1-12 (1996) (defining “Assessment notice” or “Form 11" as “a written notification to a property owner of the assessed value of certain properties described in the notice” and stating that the notice must by law be given to each property owner following a revaluation of the property).

Footnote: The affidavit of Jeffrey L. Strothcamp, International Tax Manager for Pioneer, incorrectly asserts that the total assessed value equaled $614,620. (Strothcamp Aff., ¶ 5.) This error does not affect the Court's decision in this matter.
Footnote: Section 6-1.1-15-3 provides that a “taxpayer may obtain a review by the state board of tax commissioners of a county board's action with respect to the assessment of that taxpayer's tangible property if the county board's action requires the giving of notice to the taxpayer.” To support its claim that the State Board had jurisdiction to consider its petitions for review, Pioneer argues that, pursuant to the language of section 6-1.1-15-3 quoted supra, it must prove each of the following three points: (1) the BOR had authority to reassess the Parcels; (2) the BOR took action with respect to the assessment of the Parcels; and (3) the BOR was obligated by statute to issue notice to Pioneer regarding its actions. (Pet'r Brief at 4-6.) Because the present case is resolved based upon an analysis of the first point, the Court need not consider Pioneer's arguments for points two and three.
Footnote: The current version of section 6-1.1-15-1 requires the petition to be filed with the county assessor.
Petitions for review are now heard by the “county property tax assessment board of appeals.” Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.1-15-1 (West Supp. 1999).

Footnote: As discussed in Scheub, 716 N.E.2d at 644-46, the State Board may also conduct a sua sponte review of a taxpayer's property, subject to certain requirements and limitations. See Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.1-14-10 and -11 (West 1989); see also Joyce Sportswear, 684 N.E.2d at 1191-92. In the present case, the State Board has opted not to exercise its authority to conduct a sua sponte review.
Thus, had the county assessor recommended or moved to grant the obsolescence deductions to Pioneer for the March 1, 1996 assessment date, the BOR could have properly acted upon the recommendation or motion under section 6-1.1-13-2, and the State Board would then have had jurisdiction to review the BOR's actions.

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