Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries
HGST, Inc. v. County of Santa Clara
HGST bought manufacturing fixtures, machinery, and equipment for $2.4 billion in 2002. The Santa Clara County Assessor annually imposed escape assessments (corrections to assessed value on the local property tax roll) on the property, 2003-2008. HGST challenged the assessor’s findings. The Assessment Appeals Board (AAB) issued findings in 2012 largely adopting the assessor’s findings. HGST filed an unsuccessful claim for a refund of $15 million with the Board of Supervisors. In 2014, HGST filed suit, seeking a refund. The court ruled in favor of the county. The court of appeal affirmed in part, rejecting arguments that the trial court: erred by reviewing the entire case in blanket fashion under a substantial evidence standard rather than examining each individual claim to determine which standard of review should apply; erroneously failed to review certain legal challenges to the valuation methodology applied by the AAB; and erred by upholding the AAB’s decision not to apply the “purchase price presumption” set forth in Revenue and Taxation Code section 110. The court reversed in part. The trial court erred by upholding the imposition of interest on the escape assessments under section 531.4; it made no findings on what portion of the property was reported accurately or to what extent the escape assessments were caused by HGST’s purported failure to report the property accurately. View "HGST, Inc. v. County of Santa Clara" on Justia Law
Fitch v. Wine Express Inc.
The Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) and the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi filed suit against Wine Express, Inc., Gold Medal Wine Club, and Bottle Deals, Inc., in Mississippi Chancery Court. In early 2017, the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Mississippi Department of Revenue and the Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office investigated the shipment of wine and other alcoholic beverages into the state. The investigation revealed that most Internet retailers made it “impossible” to place an order for alcoholic beverages once it was disclosed that the shipment would be to a location in Mississippi. This, however, was not so for the Defendants’ websites. In December 2017, the State sued the Defendants for injunctive relief to enforce the provisions of the “Local Option Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.” The State sought injunctive relief, disgorgement, monetary relief, attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages. Defendants moved for dismissal claiming that Mississippi courts lack personal jurisdiction over Defendants. After a hearing on the matter, the trial court granted Defendants’ motion. The State appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that the trial court erred by finding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the Defendants. View "Fitch v. Wine Express Inc." on Justia Law
Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The IRS allows affiliated corporations to file a consolidated federal return, 26 U.S.C. 1501, and issues any refund as a single payment to the group’s designated agent. If a dispute arises, federal courts normally turn to state law to resolve the question of distribution of the refund. Some courts follow the “Bob Richards Rule,” which initially provided that, absent an agreement, a refund belongs to the group member responsible for the losses that led to it. The Rule has evolved, in some jurisdictions, into a general rule that is always followed unless an agreement unambiguously specifies a different result. Soon after the bank suffered huge losses, its parent, Bancorp, was forced into bankruptcy. When the IRS issued a $4 million tax refund, the bank’s receiver, the FDIC, and Bancorp’s bankruptcy trustee each claimed it. The Tenth Circuit examined the parties’ allocation agreement, applied the more expansive version of Bob Richards, and ruled for the FDIC. The Supreme Court vacated. The Rule is not a legitimate exercise of federal common lawmaking. Federal judges may appropriately craft the rule of decision in only limited areas; claiming a new area is subject to strict conditions. Federal common lawmaking must be necessary to protect uniquely federal interests. The federal courts applying and extending Bob Richards have not pointed to any significant federal interest sufficient to support the rule, nor have these parties. State law is well-equipped to handle disputes involving corporate property rights, even in cases involving bankruptcy and a tax dispute. Whether this case might yield a different result without Bob Richards is a matter for the court of appeals on remand. View "Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." on Justia Law
Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow
The Town of Ludlow appealed a Property Valuation & Review Division (PVR) hearing officer’s decision lowering the fair market value of two quartertime-share condominium properties, Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House, located at the base of Okemo Ski Resort. On appeal, the Town argued that the time-share owners in Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House failed to overcome the presumption of validity of the Town’s appraisal. The Town also argued that hearing officer incorrectly interpreted 32 V.S.A. 3619(b) and failed to properly weigh the evidence and make factual findings. After review of the PVR hearing officer’s decision, the Vermont Supreme Court first held that the hearing officer correctly determined that the time-share owners met their initial burden of producing evidence to overcome the presumption of validity by presenting the testimony of their expert appraiser. Second, the Supreme Court conclude that the hearing officer correctly determined that section 3619 addressed who receives a tax bill when time-share owners were taxed but said nothing about how to value the common elements in condominiums. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the hearing officer made clear findings and, in general, provided a well-reasoned and detailed decision. Accordingly, the decision was affirmed. View "Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow" on Justia Law
Canada, Jr. v. United States (Internal Revenue Service)
After plaintiff successfully challenged in bankruptcy court a tax penalty assessed against him by the IRS that exceeded $40 million, plaintiff filed suit against the IRS and three IRS agents, in their individual capacities, pleading a claim for damages against the individual defendants under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), for allegedly violating his Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process. Plaintiff also sought attorney's fees he incurred litigating the penalty issue in his Chapter 11 bankruptcy case under 26 U.S.C. 7430 and the Equal Access to Justice Act. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion and dismissal of the action with prejudice. The court held that the district court properly concluded that this case was a new Bivens context and that special factors existed under Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017). The court also held that plaintiff was not entitled to recover attorney's fees because his request was untimely under 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B) and he was not a "prevailing party" under 26 U.S.C. 7430(c)(4)(A)(ii). View "Canada, Jr. v. United States (Internal Revenue Service)" on Justia Law
Eisele v. Town of Pine Bluffs
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court reversing the decision of the State Board of Equalization affirming the ruling of the County Board of Equalization against the Town of Pine Bluffs in its appeal from the Laramie County Assessor's denial of a request for exemption from taxation for a daycare facility operated by the Town, holding that the County Board's order was in accordance with law, was not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion, and was supported by substantial evidence in the record. In 201y, the Town filed requests for exemption from the assessment of its daycare facility. The County Assessor denied the requests, and the County Board and State Board affirmed. The district court ruled in favor of the Town and reversed the decision of the State Board. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the order of the County Board, holding that the County Board's decision did not constitute reversible error. View "Eisele v. Town of Pine Bluffs" on Justia Law
Mook v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs
The common issue from three property tax cases presented to the Colorado Supreme Court for review centered on what constituted "residential land" under 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). In Colorado, residential land was taxed as a lower rate than vacant land. The Mooks owned two parcels of land in Summit County, Colorado. One parcel contained the Mooks’ house, classified as residential land. The other parcel was undeveloped, and it was classified as vacant land (“the subject parcel”). The parties agreed that these two parcels didn't physically touch. The Homeowners’ Association (“HOA”) owned an approximately seventeen-foot-wide strip of land that completely separated the two properties (that strip provided other members of the HOA access to adjacent public land). The Mooks petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (“BCC”) to reclassify the subject parcel from vacant land to residential land. The BCC denied their petition, and the Mooks appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (“BAA”). The BAA upheld the BCC’s decision. Notably, the BAA determined that contiguous parcels are those that are “physically connected.” Here, the residential and subject parcels didn't physically touch, and the BAA “was not persuaded that the use of the subject lot in conjunction with the residential lot was sufficient to defeat the plain meaning of contiguity.” Thus, the BAA concluded that the two parcels aren’t contiguous, and it denied the Mooks’ appeal. Taking the three appeals together, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) only parcels of land that physically touch qualify as “contiguous parcels of land;” (2) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land and a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property; and (3) county records dictate whether parcels are held under “common ownership.” View "Mook v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs" on Justia Law
Ziegler v. Park Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs
This case asked the Colorado Supreme Court to construe the definition of residential land in section 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Stephen Ziegler (through the Stephen J. Ziegler Revocable Trust Dated July 17, 2008) owned four parcels of land in Park County, Colorado. One parcel was classified as “residential land” under section 39-1-102(14.4)(a) and taxed accordingly. However, the other three parcels remained “vacant land” and are thus taxed at a higher rate. Ziegler sought to reclassify those vacant parcels as residential land to receive a corresponding tax abatement. As it concluded in Mook v. Summit Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 2020 CO 12 (2020): (1) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land for that parcel to be “used as a unit;” and (2) a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property. The BAA here applied the same legal standards that the Court expressly disavowed in Mook. Thus, it reversed the BAA’s order and remanded for the BAA to apply the standards articulated in this case to determine whether the vacant parcels qualified as “residential land.” View "Ziegler v. Park Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs" on Justia Law
Jacobsen v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
Jacobsen’s former wife, Lemmens, embezzled $400,000 from her employer, income that was not reported on the couple’s jointly filed income taxes. After Lemmens was convicted, the IRS audited the couple’s joint tax returns for 2010 and 2011 and proposed total net adjustments attributable to omitted embezzlement income of over $300,000, with corresponding deficiencies and accuracy-related penalties of over $150,000. Jacobsen sought relief under the tax code’s “innocent spouse” provision, 26 U.S.C. 6015(b), and equitable relief provision, section 6015(f). The Tax Court granted Jacobsen innocent spouse relief for 2010 but denied all relief for 2011. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Jacobsen acknowledged that with the exception of his knowledge for 2011, the Tax Court correctly assessed the positive, negative, or neutral impact of each of the seven factors listed in Revenue Procedure 2013-34 and acknowledged that he had “reason to know” of the embezzlement income by the time he filed their 2011 tax return. He argued that the Tax Court erred when it concluded that he had actual knowledge of the unreported income for 2011. While the Tax Court could have easily decided that Jacobsen was entitled to equitable relief, nothing in the record indicates the Tax Court misapprehended the weight to be accorded Jacobsen’s knowledge or treated it as a decisive factor barring relief. View "Jacobsen v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law
Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg’l Transit Auth.
In 2015, the Washington legislature enacted RCW 81.104.160(1) (MVET statute) authorizing Sound Transit to use two separate depreciation schedules to calculate motor vehicle excise taxes (MVET). Under the statute, Sound Transit could pledge revenue from a 1996 depreciation schedule for MVETs to pay off bond contracts; Sound Transit could use a 2006 depreciation schedule for all other MVETs. Though each schedule is referenced, the MVET statute did not restate in full either schedule. Taylor Black and other taxpayers alleged the MVET statute violated article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution, stating "no act shall ever be revised or amended by mere reference to its title, but the act revised or the section amended shall be set forth at full length." The Washington Supreme Court held the MVET statute is constitutional because (1) the statute was a complete act because it was readily ascertainable from its text alone when which depreciation schedule would apply; (2) the statute properly adopted both schedules by reference; and (3) the statute did not render a straightforward determination of the scope of rights or duties established by other existing statutes erroneous because it did not require a reader to conduct research to find unreferenced laws that were impacted by the MVET statute. View "Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg'l Transit Auth." on Justia Law