Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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A mining company appealed the borough assessor’s valuation of its mine to the borough board of equalization. At a hearing the company presented a detailed report arguing the borough had improperly included the value of “capitalized waste stripping”when calculating the tax-assessed value of the mine. The assessor maintained its position that waste stripping was taxable, but reduced its valuation of the mine to better reflect the remaining life of the mine. The board approved the assessor’s reduced valuation of the mine and the superior court affirmed the board’s decision. The mine owners argued that waste stripping fell within a statutory exemption from taxation. The Alaska Supreme Court construed municipal taxing power broadly, and read exceptions to that power narrowly. The Court found waste stripping was not a “natural resource,” but an improvement that made it easier for miners to access natural resources. The Court concluded that the value of this improvement, like that of other improvements at the mine site, was subject to tax by the borough. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the board’s valuation. View "Fairbanks Gold Mining, Inc. vs. Fairbanks North Star Borough Assessor" on Justia Law

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An oil producer challenged an Alaska Department of Revenue advisory bulletin interpreting the oil tax code, arguing that the bulletin violated the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and seeking a declaratory judgment that the interpretation was contrary to law. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the advisory bulletin could not be challenged under the APA because it was not a regulation, and that a declaratory judgment was not available because the tax dispute between the parties was not ripe. View "Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Alaska, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Two commercial fishing companies caught and processed fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Alaska coast, but outside Alaska’s territorial waters. Their vessels arrived at Alaska ports where they could transfer processed fish directly to foreign-bound cargo vessels or transfer processed fish to shore for storage and later loading on cargo vessels. Because the companies did not process fish in Alaska, they did not pay the taxes imposed on other processing vessels operating out of Alaskan ports, but their fisheries business activities were subject to a state “landing tax.” The fishing companies argued that this landing tax violated the Import-Export and Tonnage Clauses of the United States Constitution and 33 U.S.C. section 5(b). The Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the tax was imposed before the fish product entered the stream of export commerce; (2) the tax did not constitute an “impost or duty;” and (3) the tax therefore did not violate the Import-Export Clause. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the tax was not imposed against the companies’ vessels in violation of the Tonnage Clause or 33 U.S.C. (b). View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. North Pacific Fishing, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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The superior court affirmed a municipality’s tax valuation of a landowner’s property. The landowner argued on appeal the municipality’s valuation review board abused its discretion by excluding certain evidence of value on timeliness grounds. The landowner also argued the board applied fundamentally wrong principles of valuation by failing to consider, as definitive evidence of value, either his purchase price for the property or the price for which he sold a neighboring lot. The Alaska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion as to either of the issues the landowner raised: the assessor explained at the hearing why he considered certain evidence of value more persuasive and more consistent with the municipality’s usual methods of appraisal, and it was well within the board’s broad discretion to accept the assessor’s explanation. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the board’s valuation of the property. View "Kelley v. Municipality of Anchorage, Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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In 2013 and 2014 attorney Gerald Markham applied for a senior citizen tax exemption on his residential property in Kodiak, Alaska. The Borough assessor denied the applications due to Markham’s prolonged absences from Alaska. When given the opportunity to prove his absences were allowed under the applicable ordinance, Markham refused to provide corroborating documentation. He appealed the denials to the Borough Board of Equalization, which affirmed the denials. He appealed the Board’s decisions to the superior court. The superior court dismissed the 2013 appeal for failure to prosecute, denied the 2014 appeal on the merits, and awarded attorney’s fees to the Borough. Markham appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s 2013 dismissal and the Board’s 2014 denial on the merits, but vacated the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for further findings. View "Markham v. Kodiak Island Borough Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Oil producers (the Producers) challenged an administrative decision (the Decision) in which the Alaska Department of Revenue (DOR) decided to treat separate oil and gas fields operated by common working interest owners as a single entity when calculating the Producers’ oil production tax obligations. Relying on a statute that gave DOR the discretion to “aggregate two or more leases or properties (or portions of them), for purposes of determining [their effective tax rate], when economically interdependent oil or gas production operations are not confined to a single lease or property,” DOR concluded that operations on a number of smaller oil fields were economically interdependent with larger operations on the adjacent Prudhoe Bay oil field. The Producers argued that in interpreting the phrase “economically interdependent” in the Decision, DOR effectively promulgated a regulation without following the procedures established in the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and, as a result, DOR’s Decision was invalid. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that DOR’s Decision was not a regulation because it was a commonsense interpretation of the statute and, therefore, DOR was not required to comply with APA rulemaking requirements. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding DOR’s decision. View "Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Wasilla landowner, appellant Ray Pursche appealed the tax foreclosure against his property, arguing that the property was exempt from local property taxes because it was originally transferred to his predecessor by federal patent. He claimed that the federal patent made this property beyond state court jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed the tax foreclosure, finding that after a patent issues, property disputes must generally be resolved in state court. Land once owned by the federal government was subject to local property taxes after it was conveyed to a private party. View "Pursche v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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Tesoro Corporation challenged its income taxes assessed for 1994 through 1998. The state Department of Revenue (DOR) calculated Tesoro’s Alaska income by applying a three-factor apportionment formula to Tesoro’s worldwide income, including that of its non-Alaskan subsidiaries. An administrative law judge ruled Tesoro was a unitary business that could be subject to formula apportionment, and that DOR could permissibly assess penalties against Tesoro. Tesoro appealed to the superior court, which affirmed. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Tesoro argued that only the income of its Alaska-based subsidiaries should have been subject to taxation in Alaska because Alaska’s tax scheme violates the Due Process and Interstate Commerce Clauses of the United States Constitution. Because Tesoro’s business was unitary, the Supreme Court rejected Tesoro’s challenge to the constitutionality of taxing all of its income under formula apportionment. Because Tesoro lacked standing to challenge the formula’s constitutionality, the Court did not reach the internal consistency issue Tesoro raised. Furthermore, the Court concluded that DOR permissibly imposed penalties on Tesoro. Therefore the Court affirmed the superior court decision that affirmed the administrative law judge’s decision and order. View "Tesoro Corporation v. Alaska Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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A tour company claimed fraud and misconduct on the part of a borough in the course of a fraudulent conveyance trial concerning liability for property taxes. Specifically, the company argued that a police officer falsely testified at trial concerning a conversation he allegedly had with the company president regarding the company's obligation to pay borough taxes. The superior court denied relief under Rule 60(b)(3), finding that the company had failed to establish clear and convincing evidence of fraud. The company appealed, arguing that the superior court applied the incorrect legal standard and that the company presented clear and convincing evidence of fraud. The company also appealed various orders relating to discovery and the award of attorney's fees. Because the superior court applied the correct legal standard and did not abuse its discretion in finding that there was not clear and convincing evidence of fraud, the Supreme Court affirmed its denial of the Rule 60(b) motion. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the lower court's refusal to reopen discovery or awarding attorney's fees. View "Alaskan Adventure Tours, Inc. v. The City and Borough of Yakutat" on Justia Law

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When passing a 1997 ordinance, the Anchorage Municipal Assembly amended the boundaries of a proposed Downtown Improvement District to exclude some properties on K and L Streets. The building at 420 L Street, the property owned by appellant L Street Investments, was in the original proposal but was subsequently carved out by the Assembly. In 2000 the Assembly extended the life of the District for ten years. Beginning in 2009, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership canvassed businesses hoping to extend the term of the District and expand it to include businesses between I and L Street. After the majority of business owners in the proposed District approved the extension and expansion, the Assembly extended the term of the District and expanded it to include businesses between I and L Streets, including the building at 420 L Street. L Street Investments filed suit, arguing: (1) Section 9.02(a) of the Municipality of Anchorage's Charter did not authorize the Municipality to finance services within the District by an assessment; and (2) the District is a "service area," and AS 29.35.450(c) prohibits the expansion of a service area unless a majority of voters in the area to be added vote in favor of expanding the service area. The Anchorage Downtown Partnership intervened, and all parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The superior court granted summary judgment to the Municipality and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment. View "L Street Investments v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law