Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court held that a tax imposed solely upon a small number of billboard operators is a discriminatory tax that violates the rights to freedom of speech and a free press protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.The City of Cincinnati imposed a tax on outdoor advertising signs, but through definitions and exemptions within the city's municipal code, the tax burdens feel predominantly on two billboard operators only. The two billboard operators (Appellants) sought a declaration that the tax violated their constitutional rights to free speech and a free press and requesting an injunction against the tax's enforcement. The trial court permanently enjoined the City from enforcing the tax. The court of appeals reversed in part. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the injunction, holding that the billboard tax did not survive strict scrutiny and therefore impermissibly infringed on Appellants' rights to free speech and a free press. View "Lamar Advantage GP Co. v. City of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the Towns of Chester and Hudson (collectively, Towns), appealed a Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order granting respondent Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH) abatements of taxes assessed against its property located in Chester for tax years 2014 and 2016 and in Hudson for tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016. PSNH submitted an appraisal report prepared by its expert, Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., setting forth the expert’s opinion of the aggregate fair market value of PSNH’s taxable property located in each municipality for each tax year. Two appraisers employed by the Towns’ expert, George E. Sansoucy, P.E., LLC (GES), used a substantially similar methodology in appraising the fair market value of the land interests. The BTLA compared the equalized market value to the aggregate assessed value for each municipality for each tax year. The BTLA concluded that an assessment was unreasonable and granted an abatement when it determined that the difference between the equalized market value and the aggregate assessed value was greater than five percent. The Towns argued that because both GES and Concentric relied upon the assessed value of PSNH’s land interests in reaching their opinions of fair market value, the values that the BTLA incorporated into its analysis “were already proportionate” and “should not have had the equalization ratio[s] applied to them.” The BTLA denied the Towns’ motion for reconsideration, noting that it based its calculations upon values that “were supplied by the [Towns] themselves in the stipulations agreed to by them” and adopting the arguments PSNH raised in its objection. Finding no reversible error in the BTLA's order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Town of Chester et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition with the U.S. Tax Court challenging the IRS's deficiency determination and the imposition of an accuracy-related penalty. The Tax Court issued a decision upholding in part the IRS's deficiency determination and imposition of the accuracy-related penalty.After the Fifth Circuit found that collateral estoppel does not bar the Commissioner from litigating this issue, the court concluded that the Tax Court did not clearly err in finding that petitioner is not entitled to deduct his 2014 legal expenses under 26 U.S.C. 162(a). In this case, petitioner has not carried his burden of proof to show that the origin of the claims underlying his litigation to recoup his trading agreement losses—the trading agreement venture—was related to his engagement in a trade or business within the meaning of section 162(a). The court also concluded that the Tax Court did not err in finding that petitioner cannot deduct his legal expenses incurred litigating to recover on his ex-wife's indebtedness as expenses for the production of income under 26 U.S.C. 212(1). However, the court concluded that petitioner is entitled to a reasonable cause and good faith defense for his understatement attributable to deducting his trading agreement legal fees under section 162(a) rather than section 212. View "Ray v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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This appeal challenged the validity of a possessory interest tax imposed by the County of Riverside, California (the county) upon lessees of federally owned land set aside for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (Agua Caliente tribe) or its members. A subset of the more than 450 plaintiffs in this appeal also challenged the validity of voter-approved taxes funding the Desert Water Agency, Coachella Valley Water District, Palm Springs Unified School District, Palo Verde School District, and Desert Community College District. A small minority of the plaintiffs claimed to hold a possessory interest in land set aside for the Colorado River Indian tribe (CRIT), but they argued the challenged taxes were invalid for the same reasons asserted by the other plaintiffs. A trial court upheld the validity of the challenged taxes and plaintiffs’ appeal, arguing the challenged taxes were preempted by federal law. The question of whether the county could impose a possessory interest tax on lessees of land set aside for the Agua Caliente tribe or its members was the subject of repeated litigation in both federal and state courts, and the validity of the county’s possessory interest tax in this context has been repeatedly upheld. During the pendency of this appeal, the Court of Appeal issued its decision in Herpel v. County of Riverside, 45 Cal.App.5th 96 (2020), again upholding the validity of the county’s possessory interest tax under almost identical circumstances as those presented here. Although plaintiffs claim that the Herpel decision was not controlling because it did not consider many of the arguments presented here, the Court concluded the facts and arguments presented in this case did not materially differ from those already considered in Herpel, and plaintiffs did not present any persuasive reason for the Court to depart from that recent decision. View "Albrecht v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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When Seminole Nursing Home, Inc. failed to pay $61,916.19 in federal employment taxes due for 2013, the IRS provided notice to Seminole of its intent to issue a levy to collect these unpaid taxes plus penalties and interest. Seminole challenged the validity of a Tax Code regulation that restricts economic hardship to individual taxpayers who fail to pay delinquent taxes after notice and demand. Seminole contended the economic-hardship exception should be applied to all taxpayers, including corporations. The United States Tax Court rejected the contention on the ground that the regulation was a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. The Home appealed, but agreeing with the Tax Court, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Seminole Nursing Home v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the decision of the Second District Court of Appeal invalidating the decision of a property appraiser assessing back taxes after discovering his purported clerical error in undervaluing and undertaxing a taxpayer's property, holding that the district court did not err.After discovering valuation errors, the property appraiser reassessed the taxpayer's property and sent her a bill for back taxes. The taxpayer brought this action to obtain aa judgment declaring the invalidity of the back-assessment. The trial court ruled against the taxpayer. The Second District reversed, concluding that the property had not "escaped taxation," which is a prerequisite for a property appraiser's authority to assess back taxes under Fla. Stat. 193.092(1). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 193.092(1) did not give the property appraiser authority to back-assess the taxpayer's property. View "Furst v. DeFrances" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Tax Court upholding that constitutionality of the Minnesota sales or use tax for aircraft purchases, holding that Minn. Const. art. X, 5 bars only the application of duplicative personal property taxes to aircraft.Article X, section 5 allows the Legislature to tax aircraft using the airspace over Minnesota "in lieu of all other taxes." Relators purchased aircraft outside of the state, paid the use tax, paid a separate annual tax imposed on aircraft, and then requested a refund of the use tax. When the refunds were denied, Relators sued the Department of Revenue, arguing that the use tax is unconstitutional under Minn. Const. art. X, 5. The Tax Court granted summary judgment for the Commissioner of Revenue. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the phrase "[a]ny such tax on aircraft shall be in lieu of all other taxes," as used in article X, section 5, prohibits only the application of duplicative personal property taxes on aircraft; and (2) the tax imposed on aircraft by Minn. Stat. 297A.82 does not violate article X, section 5. View "Sheridan v. Commissioner of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Guam’s Department of Revenue concluded that Guerrero owes approximately $3.7 million in unpaid taxes because he did not pay his full tax liability for the tax years 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 after belatedly filing his returns for these years. The parties dispute when the Department assessed Guerrero’s taxes because the official records are missing, likely due to water, mold, and termite damage at the storage facility. Guam filed tax liens on real property that Guerrero owns with his former spouse in joint tenancy, then filed suit to collect Guerrero’s tax deficiencies through foreclosure. Guerrero argued that the Department cannot prove that it timely assessed his taxes, timely levied the tax liens, nor timely commenced its action, 26 U.S.C. 6501(a), 6502(a)(1). Guam invoked the presumption of regularity based on the Department’s standard procedure and internal documents to establish that Guam acted within the statute of limitations.The district court partially ruled in favor of Guam, on the issues of the presumption of regularity and the timeliness of the Department’s actions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The presumption of regularity applied and Guerrero failed to rebut it. Guam established the timeliness of its assessment of Guerrero’s unpaid taxes, its filing of the tax lien, and its commencement of this action through the internal documents and testimony from the Department’s employees. View "Government of Guam v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this property valuation matter for further proceedings, holding that the use of a now-defunct tax appeal form challenging assessments to certain homeowners' association lands for the years 2001, 2002 and 2003 was proper.Petitioners, homeowners' associations located in Marion County, filed petitions for correction of an error (Form 133) alleging that property tax assessments from the years 2001 through 2003 were illegal because certain common areas of the properties were so encumbered by restrictions that the land had no value. The Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals denied the forms. The Tax Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding in part that the HOAs' claim was not proper for a Form 133. The Supreme Court reversed in part and summarily affirmed in part, holding that Form 133 was a proper avenue to challenge the application of a discount to common land within the HOAs' property. View "Muir Woods Section One Ass'n Inc. v. Marion County Assessor" on Justia Law

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In 2011-2013, rather than retiring many older semi-tractors and purchasing all new replacements, Schneider bought 61 new tractors, and overhauled 982 existing tractors using new and refurbished parts packaged together in “glider kits.” Schneider’s older tractors were lighter and realized better fuel economy than newer models. Schneider’s tax advisors counseled that Schneider would have to pay the 12% excise tax (26 U.S.C. 4051) if it bought new tractors but a “safe harbor” (4052) permits companies to repair or modify tractors they already own, which have already been taxed. Each glider kit contained a cab, chassis, radiator, front axle, front suspension, front wheels, front tires, front brakes, brake system, and trailer connections; 912 were “powered glider kits” and included a remanufactured engine. The transmission, driveline, rear axle, rear suspension, and rear-wheel hubs—and sometimes the fuel tank, fifth wheel, and rear brakes, were generally reused.The IRS concluded that only six tractors qualified for the safe harbor. Schneider paid $9,387,403.73 plus interest, thensought a refund, which the IRS denied. The Seventh Circuit reversed. That Schneider elected to refurbish its tractors using powered glider kits does not disqualify those tractors from the safe harbor, which does not contemplate any measurement apart from this 75% test. The court remanded for a determination of whether the cost of Schneider’s refurbishments exceeded 75% of the “retail price of a comparable new article.” View "Schneider National Leasing Inc v. United States" on Justia Law