INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals appears to have definitely resolved a Crown Point property ownership dispute that has lingered in courts for a quarter century.
At issue are three vacant lots in an industrial area that were purchased for $541 by the late Kathryne Borchert at a 1988 Lake County tax sale after the original owner of the properties, Gregory Schafer, stopped paying taxes on them in 1984.
According to court records, Schafer asked the Lake County auditor’s office about the lots in 1991 and was told they had been sold to Borchert, who received a tax deed for the land in 1989.
Schafer then clouded Borchert’s title to the land by attempting to transfer it to other individuals, which could not be completed since Borchert was the owner, court records indicate.
Borchert sued Schafer on May 28, 1991, to firmly eliminate Schafer’s claim to the land. Schafer countersued, asking the court to set aside the results of the 1988 tax sale.
The case was transferred to Newton County where various procedural maneuvers, motions for dismissal, a failed attempt at mediation, numerous status hearings and repeated continuances reminiscent of a Dickens novel kept the case unresolved — until a trial finally was held in 2015.
In court, Schafer claimed the tax sale to Borchert on Oct. 3, 1988, was invalid because notice was mailed to him only 20 days prior to the sale, not the 21 days required by the law in effect at that time.
Newton Circuit Judge Jeryl Leach rejected Schafer’s argument by finding that the auditor “substantially complied” with the statute, and declared the estate of Borchert, who died in 1997, the rightful owner of the land.
The judge noted the extra day would have made no difference as Schafer still would not have received notice and been able to protect his interest in the properties, since he did not correct his address on file with the auditor after moving in 1986 to Porter County from Lake County.
The appeals court, in its 3-0 ruling, effectively removed all doubt that Borchert owns the land after determining the auditor’s office actually complied — not just substantially complied — with the 21-day notice requirement.
Appeals Judge Robert Altice Jr. said Schafer and Leach incorrectly tallied 20 days by counting from the day after the tax sale notice was mailed, when the law required them to count backward 21 days from the day prior to the Oct. 3 tax sale.
“Properly applying Trial Rule 6(A) to the statute at hand establishes as a matter of law that the notice mailed on Sept. 12, 1988, was timely,” Altice said.
Schafer still can request the Indiana Supreme Court review the appellate decision.