Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

By
At issue in this case was the adjustment of the valuation of three subclasses of residential real property in Douglas County. The Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) issued an order to show cause why it should not increase the valuation of two properties by seven percent and decrease the valuation of a third property by eight percent. TERC voted to adjust the valuations. Douglas County filed a motion to reconsider, which the TERC commissioners overruled. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) TERC’s order to decrease the valuation of one property by eight percent was not supported by competent evidence and was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable; (2) TERC’s order to increase the valuation of the other two properties was supported by competent evidence and was not arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable; and (3) TERC did not abuse its discretion by denying Douglas County’s motion to reconsider its order. View "County of Douglas v. Nebraska Tax Equalization & Review Commission" on Justia Law

By
The principal issue in this case was whether taxpayers could bring federal or state tort claims to challenge tax assessments, or instead must rely on the normal state tax appeals process. The taxpayers here are trucking companies that were assessed unemployment taxes after the Washington State Employment Security Department audited and reclassified their employment relationship with owner-operators who owned and leased out their own trucking equipment. The trucking companies, joined by their trade organization, Washington Trucking Associations, brought this suit asserting a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and a state common law claim for tortious interference with business expectancies. The superior court dismissed the suit, holding that the trucking companies must challenge the tax assessments through the state tax appeals process. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that the comity principle precluded the section 1983 claim only "to the extent that [Washington Trucking Associations] and the [trucking companies] seek damages based on the amounts of the assessments, but not to the extent that they seek damages independent of the assessment amounts." The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the superior court's dismissal of both the federal and state claims. View "Wash. Trucking Ass'ns v. Emp't Sec. Dep't" on Justia Law

By
8x8 provides telephone services via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Customers use a digital terminal adapter, containing 8x8’s proprietary firmware and software. Customers’ calls are switched to traditional lines and circuits when necessary; 8x8 did not pay Federal Communications Excise Tax (FCET) to the traditional carriers, based on an “exemption certificate,” (I.R.C. 4253). Consistent with its subscription plan, 8x8 collected FCET from its customers and remitted FCET to the IRS. In 2005, courts held that section 4251 did not permit the IRS to tax telephone services that billed at a fixed per-minute, non-distance-sensitive rate. The IRS ceased collecting FCET on “amounts paid for time-only service,” stated that VoIP services were non-taxable, and established a process seeking a refund of FCET that had been exacted on nontaxable services, stating stated that a “collector” can request a refund if the collector either “establishes that it repaid the amount of the tax to the person from whom the tax was collected”; or “obtains the written consent of such person to the allowance of such credit or refund.” The IRS denied 8x8’s refund claim. The Claims Court concluded that 8x8 lacked standing and granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed; 8x8 did not bear the economic burden of FCET, but sought to recover costs borne by its customers, contrary to the Code. The court rejected an argument that FCET was “treated as paid” during the transfer of services to traditional carriers. View "8x8, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

By
Musa owns and operates a restaurant in Milwaukee. The IRS determined that Musa made misrepresentations on his tax returns, including underreporting his federal income taxes by more than $500,000 for the years 2006-2010. The Tax Court upheld that determination, plus a civil fraud penalty of more than $380,000. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting, as “heavy on chutzpah but light on reasoning or any sense of basic fairness,” Musa’s argument that after his fraud was discovered, the Commissioner should have allowed him additional deductions on his individual tax returns based on amended employment tax returns in which Musa had corrected earlier false underreporting of wages. The court noted that he made those corrections after the statute of limitations had run on the Commissioner’s ability to collect the correct amounts of employment taxes that Musa’s amended returns admitted were due. The court also rejected Musa’s argument that the Tax Court erred by permitting the Commissioner to amend his answer to add the affirmative defense of the duty of consistency under tax law, and then erred by granting partial summary judgment to the Commissioner on that defense. View "Musa v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

By
Medical College of Wisconsin, a nonprofit corporation, received a refund of Social Security (FICA) taxes after the IRS ruled that medical residents were exempt from them until April 2005. The IRS added to the refund approximately $13 million in interest but later demanded $6.7 million back, claiming to have used too high a rate. Medical College returned the money and filed suit under 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(1), asking to have the disputed sum restored. The district court and Seventh Circuit denied the request, rejecting Medical College’s argument that, under 26 U.S.C. 6621, a nonprofit is not the sort of corporation to which a lower rate in paragraph (a)(1)(B) refers. View "Medical College of Wisconsin v. United States" on Justia Law

By
In July 2010, the City and County of Denver issued nine Notices of Final Determination, Assessment and Demand for Payment against various online travel companies: Expedia, Inc.; Hotels.com LP; Hotwire, Inc.; Orbitz, LLC; Trip Network, Inc.; Priceline.com Incorporated; Travelweb, LLC; Site59.com, LLC; and Travelocity.com LP. The Notices claimed unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest due according to the city lodger’s tax article, for the period from January 2001 through April 2010, totaling over $40 million. These online companies filed nearly identical protests, requesting hearings before a Denver Department of Finance hearing officer, and the protests were consolidated by stipulation. Denver petitioned for review of the court of appeals opinion reversing the judgment of the district court and remanding with directions to vacate the subject tax assessments against respondent online travel companies (“OTCs”). The district court had largely upheld the hearing officer’s denial of protests. Unlike the hearing officer and district court, the court of appeals concluded that the city lodger’s tax article was at least ambiguous with regard to both the purchase price paid or charged for lodging, upon which the tax is to be levied, and the status of the OTCs as vendors, upon which the ordinance imposes the responsibility to collect the tax and remit it to the city; and the intermediate appellate court considered itself obligated to resolve all ambiguities in the lodger’s tax article, being a tax statute, in favor of the OTCs. The Colorado Supreme Court found the “fair and reasonable interpretation” of Denver’s lodger’s tax article was that it imposed a duty on the OTCs to collect and remit the prescribed tax on the purchase price of any lodging they sell, to include not only the amount they have contracted with the hotel to charge and return but also the amount of their markup. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore reversed, and the matter was remanded for consideration of the remaining issues raised on appeal by the parties. View "City & Cty. of Denver v. Expedia, Inc." on Justia Law

By
The former owner of the subject property at issue in this case filed a valuation complaint in 2006 seeking to reduce the property’s tax-year-2005 value. The Franklin County Board of Revision (BOR) lowered the value but failed to send that notice to the Groveport Madison Local Schools Board of Education (BOE) at the time. When no appeal was timely filed, a refund was issued to a prior owner, and the case was closed. NSCO International Investment, LLC subsequently acquired the property. More than four years later, the BOE appealed, citing its lack of notice as the reason for its delay. The BOR made no effort to notify NSCO of the appeal. The Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) reinstated the auditor’s valuation. Two years after the BTA decision, NSCO asked the BTA to vacate its decision and schedule a new hearing because it had not been given notice or an opportunity to be heard. the BTA denied NSCO’s motion to vacate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the BTA lacked jurisdiction to vacate its decision after the time to appeal that decision had passed; and (2) the BTA complied with Ohio Rev. Code 5717.03(B) by sending a copy of its decision to NSCO’s tax mailing address. View "Groveport Madison Local Schools Bd. of Education v. Franklin County Board of Revision" on Justia Law

By
Taxpayer appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the government in this action to reduce a tax lien to judgment and foreclose upon real property. The court concluded that an underlying Tax Court appeal taxpayer filed in March 2006 served to toll the limitations period applicable to the government's current collection efforts. The court explained that, in the unique circumstances of this extremely tardy challenge, taxpayer cannot rely upon the absence of evidence of a date of mailing to carry her own heavy burden to disprove the Tax Court's jurisdiction over her 2006 appeal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Giaimo" on Justia Law

By
The Communications Services Tax (CST) imposed a 6.8 percent tax rate on cable service and a 10.8 percent tax rate on satellite service. DIRECTV, Inc. and Echostar, LLC filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment holding the sales tax provision in the CST unconstitutional, a permanent injunction against enforcement of the provision, and a refund of taxes paid pursuant to the provision. The trial court found that the CST does not violate the Commerce Clause. The First District Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the CST is invalid because it favors communications that use local infrastructure and therefore has a discriminatory effect on interstate commerce. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the CST is not discriminatory in either its purpose or its effect and therefore does not violate the dormant Commerce Clause. View "Florida Department of Revenue v. DirecTV, Inc." on Justia Law

By
The New Castle County Office of Assessment (“New Castle County”) valued office condominium units for real property tax purposes but failed to take into account depreciation. The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the New Castle County Board of Assessment Review (the “Board”) upholding New Castle County’s valuation. The property owner appealed, arguing that its office condominium units were over-assessed because New Castle County and the Board did not factor in the age and resulting depreciation of the units. Because Delaware law required that all relevant factors bearing on the value of a property (in its current condition) be considered, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and required that New Castle County reassess the value of the units, taking into account the influence depreciation has on their taxable value. View "Commerce Associates, LP, et al. v. New Castle County Office of Assessment, et al." on Justia Law