Taxes are difficult. Given. Even for the professionals that deal with them every day, it can be an exhausting mental exercise that will inevitably lead to mistakes. Example: Back in 2003, Indiana’s Department of Revenue (“DOR”) sent a $1.1 million refund to Aisin USA Manufacturing for its 2001 return. Aisin filed an amended return to show this refund only to have the DOR inform the company that a “clerical error” had been made and the company actually owed over $600k. Aisin wasn’t exactly thrilled with this and, citing the statute of limitations, told Indiana to drop dead. Surprisingly, this seemed to work:

The company then received a letter from DOR stating, “Your recent explanation and/or payment, with respect to the specific liability number referenced above, is satisfactory. No further action is required on your part for this liability.”

Then, not unlike the girlfriend who decides to change her outfit the moment you’re working out the door, the state took it back:

[I]n 2007 and 2008, the DOR notified Aisin that they actually did have to pay the disputed sum.

The state gave the company a break, cutting the amount due by about $70k but begrudgingly added, “Aisin’s continued wrongful retention of this amount d[id] not represent the action of a responsible corporate citizen.”

Long story, short – the DOR sued Aisin to get the taxes due in trial court because it hadn’t jumped through all the hoops necessary to submit the case in tax court. The Court of Appeals wasn’t impressed by this but ultimately the Indiana Supreme Court said everything was kosher and ruled in favor of the state and is now going back to Superior Court.

So, there are lots of lessons here. It appears that Indiana’s DOR can 1) make really bad mistakes; 2) decide those mistakes are NBD; 3) can change their minds and conclude that, mistakes or not, you owing them money is a BFD; 4) don’t feel the need to follow their own rules.

And they ultimately win the right to continue a battle over half a million bucks that has been going on for almost ten years. Seems about right.

Indiana Department of Revenue Rivals the Ministry of Silly Procedures in Tax Refund Case [Tax Foundation]
Zoeller v. Aisin USA Manufacturing, Inc. [Justia]