Indiana Municipal Law: County Board of Commissioners Lacked Standing to Challenge Acts of Annexation by Town

This past May, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on a municipal annexation case coming out of Madison County. The Indiana municipal law case dealt with whether a county board of commissioners had standing to file a complaint challenging acts of annexation by a town of land in a formerly unincorporated area of the county.

In Indiana, the statutory framework of annexation consists of three stages: Legislative adoption of an ordinance annexing of certain territory and pledging to deliver certain services within a fixed period, an opportunity for remonstrance by affected landowners, and judicial review. Without the filing of a remonstrance, a court is not authorized to grant judicial review. Pursuant to Indiana law, the following code sections specify when a remonstrance may be filed: Ind. Code 36-4-3-11 allows a remonstrance to be filed by landowners in the annexed territory, Ind. Code 36-4-3-15.5 permits owners of land within ½ mile of the annexed territory to appeal the annexation, Ind. Code 36-4-3-16 allows property tax payers within the annexed territory to file a complaint against the municipality if it fails to implement the fiscal plan associated with the annexation, and Ind. Code 36-4-3-17 allows property owners on the border of a municipality to file a petition seeking disannexation with the works board of the municipality.

This dispute began when Madison County (“Madison”) approved the Summerbrook Planned Unit Development, which was to be developed by D.B. Mann Development, Inc, (“Mann”) on June 6, 2000. Per the approval of Madison, Mann was to pay fire service fees of up to $400,000 to Green Township at the time Summerbrook went through secondary review.

After the Town of Ingalls (“Ingalls”) passed two ordinances which commenced the process of annexing Summerbrook, and Ingalls filed a complaint naming Madison and Mann as defendants, seeking a declaration as to whom is entitled to receive the fire service fee. Ingalls shortly thereafter annexed Summerbrook by ordinance. Madison filed a counter claim and cross complaint requesting a declaration that the first two ordinances passed by Ingalls were illegal and void, and that the third which annexed Summerbrook was therefore invalid. The trial court found that because: (1) Madison owned no land in any of the annexation territories, (2) Madison owned no land within a half mile of the annexation territories, and (3) Madison had no other interest that could properly be used as a basis for challenging annexation, Madison lacked standing to challenge any of Ingalls’ annexations, and granted Ingalls summary judgment on all of Madison’s claims. The trial court also held that Mann lacked standing.

Madison appealed, contending that the trial court erred in its determination that Madison had no standing to challenge Ingalls’ acts of annexation, and that it was “aggrieved or adversely affected by the annexations because the annexations interfere with Madison’s ability to properly tax.”

Despite policy arguments made by Madison, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the sole means for any party to challenge an annexation is remonstrance, and because Madison does not meet the specifications of Ind. Code 36-4-3-11, 15.5, 16, or 17 for gaining standing to remonstrate, Madison County thus does not have the standing to seek the intervention of the court.

See Madison County Board of Commissioners v. Town of Ingalls, 905 N.E.2d 1022 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009).

Jeremy L. Fetty is an associate at Parr Richey whose practice focuses on corporate law, utility law, municipal law, and labor and employment law. The statements contained herein are for information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice and should not be construed to form an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions regarding this article, please contact an attorney.