INDIANAPOLIS | A tool routinely used to shut down large dog breeding operations, sometimes called puppy mills, was scrutinized Thursday by the Indiana Supreme Court.
A jeopardy tax assessment allows the state to immediately seize and sell property to satisfy claims of unpaid taxes. On June 2, 2009, Virginia and Kristin Garwood each were ordered to pay $142,367.94 in allegedly unpaid taxes from the sale of puppies at their Mauckport, Ind., farm.
When the Garwoods were unable to pay, Indiana State Police and Humane Society volunteers seized 240 dogs from the farm, including the Garwoods' pets. All the dogs were sold to the Humane Society the next day for $300.
The Indiana Tax Court ruled in August the state exceeded its authority by using jeopardy assessments, which are intended to stop a person owing taxes from concealing property or fleeing the state. That the dogs were sold for far less than their value shows the state was not interested in collecting tax revenue but instead in shutting down a socially undesirable activity, Tax Court Judge Martha Wentworth said.
Department of Revenue attorney Andrew Swain argued to the Supreme Court that the specialized Tax Court did not have jurisdiction to review jeopardy tax warrants issued by the Harrison Circuit Court and asked that the case be dismissed.
Stacy Newton, attorney for the Garwoods, said the high court needed to send a message that jeopardy tax assessments cannot be used improperly.
"Jeopardy assessments are supposed to be rare, they're supposed to be extraordinary," Newton said. "The state had a multitude of ways other than a jeopardy assessment to determine whether the Garwoods owed sales tax."
A ruling by the five-member court is expected by September.