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In re Hartman Bros. Construction Corp.

decided: December 28, 1987.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, No. 83 C 477, William E. Steckler, Judge.

Wood, Jr. and Posner, Circuit Judges, and Fairchild, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Senior Circuit Judge.

This appeal involves competition for priority between federal and state statutory tax liens on personal property of a bankrupt. The United States has a lien arising from an assessment of tax on December 8, 1975.*fn1 Indiana once had, and claims to continue to have, a series of liens arising from tax warrants issued and docketed in Shelby County, Indiana on dates before December 8, 1975, but none of which was reissued (in the form of an alias warrant). The question is one of interpretation of Indiana statutes. The United States argues that although the Indiana liens were originally valid on both real and personal property, they expired as to personal property sixty days after original issuance (no alias warrants having been issued). Indiana argues that the liens remained valid for ten years on both real and personal property, whether or not alias warrants were issued. the bankruptcy judge decided that the United States lien had priority. The district court reversed. We have jurisdiction of the appeal under former 11 U.S.C. § 47. See § 403(a), Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, P.L. 95-598; Central Trust Co. v. Creditors' Committee, 454 U.S. 354, 357, 70 L. Ed. 2d 542, 102 S. Ct. 695 (1982). We reverse, holding that the United States lien has priority over the Indian liens in dispute.

On March 4, 1976, Hartman, the federal and state tax debtor, filed a petition for arrangement under Chapter XI. The proceeding was converted into straight bankruptcy. Hartman's assets were sold, with the real estate bringing $84,525 and personal property $303,475. Indiana's first two tax liens (June 8, 1974 and May 27, 1975) were docketed before any other liens were perfected, and continued to be valid as to real estate whether alias warrants were issued or not. National Acceptance Corporation had a claim, secured as of June 5, 1985 by a recorded real estate mortgage and a perfected security interest in personal property. The parties stipulated that these liens and the costs of administration be first paid. All the proceeds of real estate and a substantial part of the proceeds of personal property were thus consumed. The contest is over priority as to the balance of proceeds of personal property.

Section 6-2-1-18, Burns Indiana Statutes Ann. (1972)*fn2 authorizes the Department of Revenue to issue a warrant for unpaid taxes. It is to be directed to the sheriff of any county, commanding him to levy upon and sell the real and personal property of the tax debtor. It must be returned "by a time to be therein specified, not more than sixty [60] days from the date of the warrant." The sheriff is to file a copy within five days with the clerk of the circuit court of his county, who shall enter it in the judgment record

and thereupon the amount of such warrant so docketed shall become a lien upon the title to and interest in real and personal property . . . in the same manner as a judgment duly enrolled in the office of the clerk. The judgments shall remain in full force and effect for a period of ten [10] years . . . The warrant provided for herein shall be the sheriff's instrument of execution on the judgment and in case the execution and levy is not made within the sixty [60] days provided, the department may issue an alias warrant . . . .

Indiana relies on the fact that Section 6-2-1-18 mentions both real and personal property, and specifies no distinction between them as to the effect or duration of the lien, and includes the provision that the "judgments" shall remain in effect for ten years; that Section 6-8-7-1, without reference to the type of property, provides that any lien established by recording a tax warrant shall expire ten years after the date of recording.

The United States, however, relies on Section 6-8-7-4, entitled " Extent of tax warrant lien upon personal property." It provides:

Any such warrant, or alias warrant, shall be and become a lien upon the personal property of the warrant debtor named therein within the county upon the issuance thereof to the sheriff of such county, and such lien shall continue until the payment thereof, provided, however, that such lien on personal property may be extended by the issuance of an alias warrant within five [5] days after the return of such original warrant.

The District Judge considered it appropriate, notwithstanding the language of Section 6-8-7-4, providing for the existence, duration, and possible extension of the lien upon personal property, to interpret it as pertaining only to the sheriff's authority to levy upon personal property. He considered a requirement of renewal of the lien on personal property every sixty days as unduly burdensome, and an interpretation of Section 6-8-7-4 as if limited to the sheriff's authority to collect as more harmonious with the other statutes. He deemed this interpretation reinforced by the version of the statutes adopted in 1980.

With all respect, we disagree. Section 6-8-7-4 both in its text and its title deals with the lien on personal property. The most that can be read from the general language of the other sections is an implication that a tax warrant lien on personal property has the same duration as one on real property.

We view Section 6-8-7-4 as a specific provision for the duration of a tax warrant lien on personal property, and therefore controlling over possible implications from more general language elsewhere.

However inclusive may be general language of a statute, it "will not be held to apply to a matter specifically dealt with in another part of the same enactment . . . . Specific terms prevail over the general in the same or another statute which otherwise might be controlling." ...

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