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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ind. Decisions - "Mixed ruling gives some tax relief to U.S. Steel" in a case filed under seal

In an 18-page ruling issued late yesterday afternoon, Lake County Assessor, Calumet Township Assessor, and Lake County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals v. United States Steel Corp, Judge Fisher wrote:

The Lake County Assessor, the Calumet Township Assessor, and the Lake County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) (collectively, Lake County) appeal the final determination of the Indiana Board of Tax Review (Indiana Board) valuing United States Steel Corporation's (US Steel) real property as of the March 1, 2001 assessment date. Because the pleadings, orders, and other materials in this case have been filed under seal, see generally Indiana Administrative Rule 9, this Court's opinion will provide only that information necessary for the reader to understand its disposition of the issues.
This is interesting. The entire case is under seal. The good news is there is no "secret docket" -- the fact that there is a lawsuit, and that there have been various filings, etc. is listed in the public docket -- access a copy here. And the Court's opinion is available online, albeit providing "only that information necessary for the reader to understand its disposition of the issues." Here is the relevant docket entry:
5/25/07 PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE UNDER SEAL CERTIFIE COPY OF RECORD (2) PROOF OF SERVICE (2) MAIL ED
5/25/07 ****RECEIVED: CERTIFIED RECORD OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS (8) EIGHT VOLUMES ****UNDER SEAL***** ED
5/29/07 ISSUED THE ENCLOSED ORDER:
5/29/07 THE COURT, HAVING CONSIDERED THE SAME AND FINDING IT TO BE WELL-TAKEN, NOW GRANTS THE MOTION, ACCEPTS THE CERTIFIED COPY OF THE INDIANA BOARD OF TAX REVIEW'S RECORD AS FILED UNDER SEAL AS OT THE DATE IT WAS FILED WITH THE CLERK OF THE TAX COURT AND ORDER THAT THE RECORD BE:
1. UNAVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC AND ACCESSIBLE ONLY TO JUDICIAL PERSONNEL NEEDING ACCESS TO THE COMPLETE RECORD.
2. ALL PLEADINGS, ORDERS AND OTHER MATERIALS FILED BY ANY PARTY OR ENTERED BY THE COURT THAT REVEAL CONFIDENTIAL CONTENT OF THE RECORD SHALL BE FILED AND MAINTAINED UNDER SEAL.
3. THE COMPLETE RECORD SHALL REMAIN UNDER SEAL AND CONFIDENTIAL AND SHALLNOT BE MADE AVAILABLE TO ANYONE UNTIL FURTHER ORDER OF THIS COURT.
THOMAS G. FISHER, JUDGE ED
But there is no indication as to whether a public hearing was held under Administrative Rule 9(H), as set out in this Order of the Supreme Court issued Oct. 10, 2008, in the case of Travelers Cas. & Sur. Co. v. United States Filter Corp, which describes at page 3, "How Rules 9 Works.". It is discussed in this ILB entry headed "Supreme Court orders hundreds of pages of sealed documents in a pending case to be open and available for public inspection." The US Steel case differs from Travelers in that it comes from an administrative entity, rather than a trial court. Still, the ILB is confused ... Should the docket perhaps indicate somewhere that such a public hearing has occurred?

As for the ruling itself, here is Bill Dolan's report from today's NWI Times:

The Indiana Tax Court issued a mixed ruling Monday afternoon in a long-running multimillion dollar tax dispute between Lake County and U.S. Steel Corp. regarding the company's 2001 tax bill.

Indiana Tax Court Judge Thomas Fisher upheld most of the complex calculations the Indiana Board of Tax Review relied upon two years ago to reduce the tax value of U.S. Steel's Gary Works plant from $269 million to $90 million.

The decision indicates the steelmaker succeeded in arguing its taxes should be reduced because the more than 700 buildings suffer from an inefficient building layout that reduces the plant's value.

The tax court ruling also indicates that U.S. Steel proved the bleak state of the steel industry and other factors reduced its property value in Gary.

The court reversed the tax board's decision that the steelmaker's land values should be reduced because of environmental contamination of the Grand Calumet River, which runs through its property.

County Attorney John Dull said Monday afternoon that county officials will decide soon whether an appeal is feasible.

Neither John Armstrong, a spokesman for U.S. Steel, nor the company's attorneys could be reached Monday for comment.

U.S. Steel paid the 2001 tax bill as calculated by Lake County and could receive a partial refund or future tax credits if the company wins out.

The 2001 tax bill in dispute was the last tax bill determined by local assessors. State lawmakers stripped local officials of their steel mill assessment duties a year later.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 10, 2009 10:10 AM
Posted to Ind. Tax Ct. Decisions