Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court held that the Indian Reorganization Act did not expressly preempt Mohave County's ad valorem property tax on a power plant owned by non-Indian lessees of land purportedly acquired by the federal government under the Act and held in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe.Plaintiff initiated these consolidated lawsuits seeking a refund of payments for property taxes imposed from 2010 to 2018 to the extent they were based on valuations of the power plant at issue, arguing that section 5 of the Act, 25 U.S.C. 5108, expressly preempts states from imposing property taxes on any real property improvements located on land held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of Indian tribes or individuals. The tax court granted summary judgment for the County, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment in part, holding that section 5 of the Act expressly preempts taxing permanent improvements constructed on tribal lands acquired under that section when those improvements are owned by non-Indians. View "South Point Energy Center LLC v. Arizona Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the tax court dismissing Counts I through III of the Attorney General's complaint and granting summary judgment on Count IV, holding that the tax court erred in part.At issue was the scope of three statutes the Attorney General (AG) invoked to challenge an agreement between the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) and a private company for the company to construct and operate a hotel and conference center on property owned by ABOR. The Supreme Court held (1) to initiate an action under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 42-1004(E) there must be an applicable tax law to enforce; (2) the AG may bring a quo warranto action pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-2041 to challenge the unlawful usurpation or exercise of a public franchise; and (3) the AG's public-monies claim was subject to the five-year statute of limitations set forth in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 35-212(E). View "State v. Arizona Board of Regents" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Pinal County Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and the Penal County Board of Supervisors (Board) acted unlawfully when they adopted a two-tiered retail transaction privilege tax (TPT) on tangible personal property as part of a transportation excise tax.At issue was (1) Pinal County's adoption of Proposition 416, a regional transportation plan, and Proposition 417, a transportation excise tax; and (2) a two-tiered TPT structure whereby the first $10,000 of any single item was taxed at one rate and any amount in excess was taxed at a rate of zero percent adopted as part of a transportation excise tax in Pinal County. The Supreme Court held (1) Pinal County complied with state law in adopting the transportation excise tax; but (2) the County's two-tiered retail transaction privilege tax was invalid. View "Vangilder v. Arizona Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the direct funding provision of Proposition 208 did not fall within the constitutional definition of grants in Ariz. Const. art. IX, 21 (the Education Expenditure Clause) and was therefore unconstitutional to the extent it mandated expanding tax revenues in violation of the Education Expenditure Clause.Proposition 208 was a citizens' initiative passed in 2020 imposing an income tax purchase on high-income Arizona taxpayers to provide direct funding to schools. Petitioners brought this action challenging the constitutionality of the tax and the initiative's characterization of the direct funding as "grants" exempt from the Education Expenditure Clause and seeking to enjoin the collection of that tax pending the resolution of their challenge. The Supreme Court held (1) because Ariz. Rev. Stat. 15-1285 incorrectly characterizes the allocated monies in order to exempt Proposition 208 from the Education Expenditure Clause, it is facially unconstitutional; (2) the remaining non-revenue related provisions of Proposition 208 are not severable; (3) this Court declines to enjoin the imposition of the tax pending further proceedings; and (4) Proposition 208 does not violate the Tax Enactment Clause of the Arizona Constitution, and therefore, the bicameralism, presentment, and supermajority requirements found therein are inapplicable. View "Fann v. State" on Justia Law

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In considering whether online travel companies (OTCs) are subject to municipal privilege taxes under Model City Tax Code (the Code) 444 and 447 the Supreme Court held that the OTCs in this case were subject to taxation under section 444 but not under section 447.In 2013, the City of Phoenix and other cities (the Cities) issued privilege tax assessments against the OTCs based on the Cities' belief that the OTCs owed unpaid privilege taxes under sections 444 and 447 for engaging in the business of operating hotels or, alternatively, for acting as brokers for hotels. The tax court concluded that the OTCs were liable for the taxes. The court of appeals concluded that the OTCS were subject to taxation under section 444 but not under section 447 and that the Cities could assess the taxes, penalties, and interest under section 444 retroactively. The Supreme Court vacated in part the court of appeals' decision, holding (1) the OTCs are subject to taxation under section 444 because they are brokers engaging in the business of operating a hotel; and (2) the OTCs are not subject to taxation under section 447 because they are not hotels. View "City of Phoenix v. Orbitz Worldwide Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals in this class action, holding that the surcharge imposed by Maricopa County on car rental agencies to fund a stadium and other sports and tourism-related ventures violated neither the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution nor the anti-diversion provision of the Arizona Constitution.Plaintiff, which rented vehicles in Maricopa County and paid the car rental surcharges, sued the Arizona Department of Revenue seeking refunds and injunctive relief for all similarly situated car rental companies. The tax court certified the class and granted summary judgment for Plaintiff, concluding that the surcharge did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause but did violate the anti-diversion provision. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the surcharge did not violate the anti-diversion provision. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the Arizona Constitution’s anti-diversion clause, which requires that revenues derived from taxes relating to the operation of motor vehicles must be allocated for public highways, does not apply to a tax relating to the operation of motor vehicles. View "Saban Rent-a-Car LLC v. Arizona Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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At issue was the meaning of the term “day” as used in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 28-8336, which establishes a license tax for “a nonresident whose aircraft is based in this state for more than ninety days but less than two hundred ten days in a calendar year.”The court of appeals determined that “day” means “any calendar day during which the aircraft was on the ground in Arizona for any period of time.” The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the tax court of further proceedings, holding (1) the meaning of “day” can ultimately be construed only in the context of the days an aircraft is “based in” the state; and (2) because the parties did not fully address, nor did the tax court decide, the meaning of the term “based in,” the issue cannot be fully resolved on the current record. View "BSI Holdings LLC v. Arizona Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Arizona Department of Revenue (ADOR) is not authorized to value solar panels owned by SolarCity Corporation and Sunrun, Inc. (collectively, Taxpayers) and leased to residential and commercial property owners.For tax year 2015, ADOR notified Taxpayers that their panels had been assigned full cash values and that taxes would be assessed. Taxpayers sought a declaratory judgment that the panels were considered to have no value under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 42-11054(C)(2) and were not subject to valuation. The tax court ruled that the panels were “general property” that must be valued by county assessors pursuant to section 42-13051(A) and that the county assessors cannot assign a zero value because applying section 42-11054(c)(2)’s zero value provision to the panels would violate the Exemptions Clause and the Uniformity Clause of the Arizona Constitution. The Supreme Court affirmed the tax court’s judgment to the extent it concluded that ADOR lacked statutory authority to value Taxpayers’ leased solar panels but reversed the remainder of the judgment and remanded for a determination as to whether section 42-13054 authorizes county assessors to value the solar panels and, if so, whether section 42-11054(C)(2) requires a zero valuation. If section 42-11054(C)(2) applies, the tax could should determine whether that provision violates the Exemptions Clause or Uniformity Clause. View "SolarCity Corp. v. Arizona Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased state trust land and owned all structures and improvements on the land. Under the terms of the lease, the improvements that existed on the land would become the state's property upon lease termination. After the leases were entered into, the legislature created a property tax classification ("Class Nine") in which property was taxed at a lower rate than that applicable to commercial property. For certain years, Maricopa County classified the improvements under the classification applicable to general commercial property and taxed Plaintiffs accordingly. The State Board of Equalization denied Plaintiffs' request for Class Nine classification. Plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action in the tax court. The tax court granted summary judgment for the County based on Plaintiffs' failure to meet the requirements of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 42-12009(A)(1)(a), which provides that improvements on land leased from the state qualify for a reduced ad valorem tax rate if they become the property of the state on termination of the leasehold interest in the property. The Supreme Court remanded, holding that section 42-12009(A)(1)(a) applies when, at the time of taxation, improvements exist on the land that, under the terms of the lease, would become the state's property upon lease termination. View "CNL Hotels & Resorts, Inc. v. Maricopa County" on Justia Law