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Armour v. Indianapolis

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: March 29, 2012
Case #: 11-161
Court Below: 946 N.E. 2d 553 (Ind. 2011)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/City_of_Indianapolis_v_Armour_946_NE2d_553_Ind_2011_Court_Opinion

Constitutional Law: Whether the City of Indianapolis violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by forgiving tax assessments to property owners who were paying in installments, while not offering refunds to property owners who paid in full.

In 2004, the Indianapolis Board of Public Works (“Board”) assessed a $9,278 special tax against approximately 180 parcels of land to pay for connection to the city sewer. Some of the property owners paid the assessment in full, while others opted to pay the assessment in installments. In 2005 the Board forgave the outstanding assessment debt. The Board did not refund any money to the property owners who paid in full. Thirty-one of the owners who paid in full filed suit against the City of Indianapolis alleging a violation of equal protection. The Indiana Supreme Court held that the assessment forgiveness was rationally related to a legitimate government interest, and consequently the city had not violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The petitioners base their first argument on Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. v. County Commission, 488 U.S. 336 (1989). They argue that in Allegheny the Supreme Court requires rough equality in tax treatment of similarly situated property owners. The petitioners argue that the Indiana Supreme Court erred when it neglected to follow Allegheny. The petitioners next argue that the city’s justification for treating the property owners differently fails rational basis review. They claim that the respondent’s decision to forgive the owners who were paying in installments is not rationally related to the given government interest of helping low-income homeowners. The respondent argues that the assessment forgiveness passes rational review and that the petitioners are mistaken in their reliance on Allegheny.