Jeopardy Tax Assessments: “Part of the State’s power of the purse, not …the sword”

Its been a long road since the Indiana Attorney General’s office seized 240 dogs from Breezy Valley Dairy farm by leveraging a jeopardy tax assessment against the Garwood family. The judgement is in and as damning to the office of the AG as we’ve been saying all along.

Result?

  • Judgement in favor of the Garwoods, the Court holds that the sixteen jeopardy assessments issued to the Garwoods for all or part of the 2007 though 2009 tax years are void as a matter of law, Department of State Revenue is ordered to “void all jeopardy assements and take any other actions necessary to give full effect to this Order

Reasons?

  1. NONE of the criteria for jeopardy tax assessment were fulfilled (The judge goes through the criteria point by point)
  2. Selling all 240 dogs to the Humane Society of the United States the day after the property seizure demonstrated that the jeopardy assessment was not used to protect the State fiscal interests
  3. Rapidly media appearances by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) regarding the “shutting down of a “puppy mill”” The judge also noted that “At the time of these events, Indiana‟s statutes and regulations neither defined the term “puppy mill” nor criminalized certain breeding or dog selling activities” (footnote 5 in the decision)
  4. “The absence of facts demonstrating the Garwoods‟ intent to thwart collection is palpable” Simple terms? There was NO EVIDENCE that the Garwoods were trying to avoid paying taxes.

Per the decision, “the Department wielded the power of jeopardy assessments as a sword to eliminate a socially undesirable activity and close down a suspected “puppy mill.” This is in direct conflict with a previous decision by the Indiana Supreme Court regarding use of jeopardy tax assessments, “power to issue jeopardy assessments “is part of the State‟s power of the purse, not its power of the sword”

So … jeopardy tax assessments CANNOT be used as a weapon against the people of Indiana. But will this message get through to AG Greg Zoeller and Andrew Swain, Chief Counsel, Tax Section? Surely they were both aware of the appropriate application of a jeopardy tax assessment. Yet, they have both been publically championing this tactic for over 2 years now. AG Greg Zoeller was on record definding this tactic with Indy Channel, 6 News. as recently as August 2, 2011. The AG’s office has applied this tactic to at least 2 more dog breeders in Indiana, what happens to them?

This isn’t just about dogs, this is about people with power and influence using the tax system as a club to beat down people who practice a LEGAL but socially undesireable behavior in the opinion of the people with the power. Its wrong, its abuse of power and it needs to stop.

Is there anyone among us who doesn’t practice a “legal but socially undesirable behavior” according to the opinion of somebody else? What happens to us if that person has the power of the tax code behind them? Should we be left to the wolves?

I leave you with a couple of parting thoughts

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not do sit by and do nothing.” Edmund Burke

“The law is not just for the protection of those you love but also those you hate” Erica Saunders (Me)

Supporting documentation