Justia Tax Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Abney v. State Dept. of Health Care Services
In the case before the Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Two, the appellant, Debra Abney, challenged the decision of the State Department of Health Care Services and the City and County of San Francisco to consider money garnished from her Social Security payments as income for the purposes of determining her eligibility for benefits under Medi-Cal.Abney's Social Security payments were being reduced by nearly $600 each month to satisfy a debt she owed to the IRS. The authorities considered this garnished money as income, which led to Abney being ineligible to receive Medi-Cal benefits without contributing a share of cost. Abney argued that the money being garnished was not income “actually available to meet her needs” under the regulations implementing the Medi-Cal program.The trial court rejected Abney's argument, and she appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision. The Court of Appeal held that the tax garnishment was "actually available" to meet Abney's needs because it benefitted her financially by helping to extinguish her debt to the IRS. Therefore, the garnished money was correctly considered as income for the purpose of calculating her eligibility for the Medi-Cal program. View "Abney v. State Dept. of Health Care Services" on Justia Law
Greenspan v. County of Los Angeles
In this case, the Greenspan family bought a home in Long Beach, California, for $900,000 in 2014. The land was valued at $540,000 and the improvements (the home itself) at $360,000. Two years later, the Greenspans demolished the original residence, except for the garage, and built a new home on the property. The County of Los Angeles then reappraised the property, reducing the value of the improvements to $40,000 and increasing the value of the land to $860,000. The County then added the appraised value of the new construction to the newly allocated land and improvement values. The Greenspans contested this reappraisal, arguing that the County's reallocation of their base-year land and improvement value was contrary to law. The trial court found in favor of the County, and the Greenspans appealed.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District reversed the trial court's decision. The court found that the County's automatic reallocation of the base-year value for the entire structure removed, leaving only a "credit" for the remaining garage, was contrary to Revenue and Taxation Code sections 51 and 75.10, which require that a property owner receive a reduction in previously assessed base values for portions of any property removed. The court held that the County's automatic reappraisal policy, based on the assumption that a property owner bought the property for the land value alone if substantial renovation occurred within two years, was inconsistent with Proposition 13 and statutory valuation standards. The court remanded the case to the trial court with directions to enter a new judgment vacating the decision of the Board and remanding the matter for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Greenspan v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law
One Technologies, LLC v. Franchise Tax Bd.
Proposition 39 established a program to promote the creation of clean energy jobs. Under Proposition 39, a multistate business must apportion its tax based on a single factor—in-state sales. The proposition further provided for cable companies spending $250 million or more in California on certain expenditures to exclude half of their in-state sales when apportioning, thus lowering their tax burden under the single factor tax regime. Paintiff One Technologies, LLC, a Texas-based provider of credit score and credit reporting services, paid tax to California calculated under the single-factor method. Plaintiff then filed a complaint for refund against Defendant Franchise Tax Board (the Board). Plaintiff alleged Proposition 39 was invalid under the single-subject rule for ballot initiatives. The trial court disagreed and sustained the Board’s demurrer. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court held that Proposition 39 did not violate the single-subject rule. The purpose of the proposition was to fund a clean energy job creation program by raising taxes on some multistate businesses. The provisions of the proposition were both reasonably germane and functionally related to that purpose because those provisions established a funding mechanism and the means of directing that funding to clean energy job creation. The special rules for cable companies reflect a determination by the proposition’s drafters that some businesses should bear the funding burden more than others, but that is still within the scope of the proposition’s purpose. View "One Technologies, LLC v. Franchise Tax Bd." on Justia Law
FlightSafety International v. L.A. County Assessment Appeals Bd.
Petitioner FlightSafety International, Inc. appeals from the judgment entered after the trial court denied its two consolidated petitions for writs of mandate. The trial court found that FlightSafety was not entitled to mandamus relief because it had an adequate remedy at law, which it had bypassed. FlightSafety contended in the trial court that it was entitled to a decision by the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board (AAB) on its assessment appeal applications within the two-year period specified in Revenue and Taxation Code section 1604, subdivision (c). FlightSafety argued the extensions had expired as a matter of law two years from the date of filing. It argued it therefore had not received timely hearings on its applications. FlightSafety asked the trial court to order the AAB to schedule hearings forthwith and, in the meantime, enter its own opinion of the value of its property on the tax assessment rolls. The trial court found writ relief was not available. Plaintiff contends the trial court erroneously found the extension agreements valid and mandamus relief unavailable. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that none of the four cases relied upon by Petitioner considered whether the applicant had an adequate remedy for the AAB’s refusal to place the applicant’s opinion of value on the assessment rolls. Thus, none of the cases stand for the proposition that a tax refund action is an inadequate remedy in all cases seeking relief for an AAB’s action (or inaction) under section 1604. View "FlightSafety International v. L.A. County Assessment Appeals Bd." on Justia Law
Boyd v. Central Coast Community Energy
Over the last five decades, California voters have adopted several initiatives limiting the authority of state and local governments to impose taxes without voter approval, including adding Article XIII C of the California Constitution, which requires local and regional governmental entities to secure voter approval for new or increased taxes and defines taxes broadly to include any charges imposed by those entities unless they fall into one of seven enumerated exceptions. The second exception covers charges for services or products that do not exceed reasonable costs. Boyd contends that the electricity rates charged by a regional governmental entity, 3CE, are invalid because they are taxes under Article XIII C that voters have not approved.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit; 3CE’s rates are taxes under Article XIII C’s general definition of taxes, but they fall within the second exception because 3CE proved that its rates do not exceed its reasonable costs. View "Boyd v. Central Coast Community Energy" on Justia Law
Paramount Pictures Corp. v. County of L.A.
Respondent Paramount Pictures Corporation (Paramount) sought a refund of taxes paid on its personal property for the 2011 tax year. Paramount first appealed to the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board (the Board). The property was assessed a final value of $137,397,278. Following a hearing, the Board agreed with the valuation proposed by the Assessor and found that Paramount failed to carry its burden of demonstrating additional obsolescence. Paramount appealed the Board’s decision to the trial court. The trial court found: (1) the Board committed a methodological error in excluding Paramount’s initial income approach valuation and (2) the Board issued inadequate findings regarding the significance of Paramount’s pre-lien and post-lien sales of personal property. In a separate ruling, the trial court awarded Paramount attorney fees under Revenue and Taxation Code Section 1611.6, which allows a taxpayer to recover fees for services necessary to obtain proper findings from a county board. The County timely appealed both orders. The Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s decision, concluding the Board committed neither methodological error nor issued findings that were less than adequate within the meaning of section 1611.5. First, Paramount did not challenge the validity of the cost approach relied upon by the Assessor and Board, and it did not otherwise identify any legal error in the Board’s rejection of its income approach valuation. Second, the hearing transcripts adequately disclose its rulings and findings on the pre-lien and post-sales data. The court remanded so the trial court may consider the question of whether substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that Paramount failed to establish additional obsolescence. View "Paramount Pictures Corp. v. County of L.A." on Justia Law
SHR St. Francis, LLC v. City and County of San Francisco
The Westin St. Francis, in Union Square, is San Francisco’s third largest hotel. In return for a base management fee and an incentive fee, the Company manages and maintains the hotel, handles personnel and employment matters, provides advertising and promotional services, and provides all computer services, including reservations. In addition to renting its rooms, the Westin receives income from guest cancellations, no-shows, and attrition. The hotel also profits from in-room movies and guest laundry services provided by third parties. In 2015, BRE purchased Strategic, the owner of the Westin St. Francis and other hotels, triggering a reassessment. The Assessor assessed the hotel’s value at approximately $785 million. Strategic sought a refund. The trial court upheld the Board’s determination.The court of appeal held that the method used by the city to exclude the value of nontaxable, intangible assets from the assessed value of the hotel—i.e., the deduction of fees or expenses associated with the asset from the hotel’s future income stream—is legally incorrect. As a result, the assessed value of the hotel improperly subsumed the value of the management agreement, in-room movies, and guest laundry services. However, the assessed value properly included the cancellation/no-show/attrition income because that asset is a taxable attribute of the property. The court remanded for a redetermination of the taxable value of the hotel. View "SHR St. Francis, LLC v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
Traiman v. Alameda Unified School District
School districts may levy “qualified special taxes,” Government Code section 50079, with the approval of two-thirds of district voters. A qualified special tax must “apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the school district” (with some statutory exemptions) and not be “imposed on a particular class of property or taxpayers.” Measure A, approved in 2020 by voters in the Alameda Unified School District, authorizes a tax on improved parcels at “the rate of $0.265 per building square foot not to exceed $7,999 per parcel.” In Traiman’s action challenging Measure A, the trial court ruled that the tax was not applied uniformly and invalidated the tax. The court awarded Traiman $374,960 in attorney fees (Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5).The court of appeal reversed. Measure A tax applies uniformly within the meaning of section 50079 because every nonexempt taxpayer and every improved parcel in the District is taxed using the same formula. Neither the language of the statute, case law, legislative history, nor public policy indicates that a school district cannot base a qualified special tax on building square footage with a maximum tax per parcel. View "Traiman v. Alameda Unified School District" on Justia Law
Grace v. The Walt Disney Company
In 2018, Anaheim voters approved a Living Wage Ordinance (LWO). The LWO applied to hospitality employers in the Anaheim or Disneyland Resort areas that benefited from a “City Subsidy.” In 2019, Kathleen Grace and other plaintiffs (“Employees”) filed a class action complaint against the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, U.S., Inc. (“Disney”) and Sodexo, Inc., and Sodexomagic, LLC (“Sodexo”) alleging a violation of the LWO (Sodexo operated restaurants in Disney’s theme parks). Disney moved for summary judgment and Sodexo joined. It was undisputed the Employees were not being paid the required minimum hourly wage under the LWO. However, Disney argued it was not covered under the LWO as a matter of law because it was not benefitting from a “City Subsidy.” The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal disagreed: “A ‘City Subsidy’ is any agreement with the city pursuant to which a person other than the city has a right to receive a rebate of transient occupancy tax, sales tax, entertainment tax, property tax or other taxes, presently or in the future, matured or unmatured.” The Court determined that through a "reimbursement agreement," Disney had the right to a rebate on transient occupancy taxes (paid by hotel guests), sales taxes (paid by consumers), and property taxes (paid by Disney), in any years when the City’s tax revenues were sufficient to meet certain bond obligations. Consequently, the Court found Disney received a “City Subsidy” within the meaning of the LWO and was therefore obligated to pay its employees the designated minimum wages. View "Grace v. The Walt Disney Company" on Justia Law
CSHV 1999 Harrison, LLC v. County of Alameda
CalSTRS is a “unit of the Government Operations Agency” authorized to invest the assets of the Teachers’ Retirement Fund (Ed. Code, 22001, 22203). In 2016, CalSTRS formed two LLCs for the purpose of acquiring two properties in Oakland. Both LLC agreements state “The purpose of the Company is to implement the essential governmental function of the Member ([CalSTRS]) … No other person or entity may become a member of the Company.” “For Federal and relevant State income and/or franchise tax purposes and for no other purposes whatsoever, the Company shall be disregarded as an entity separate from [CalSTRS].” The LLCs paid documentary transfer taxes of $3,371,250 to Oakland, and $247,225 to Alameda County for the acquisition of one property and $161,250 to Oakland, and $11,825 to Alameda County in connection with the other property. The LLCs unsuccessfully sought refunds.The superior court ruled “[t]he LLCs are not governmental entities even if a governmental entity is the sole member of the LLC” and the ordinances do not “provide a textual basis for an exemption for transactions in which a business entity takes ownership of real property based on that entity’s ownership” by an exempt state agency. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the competing interests at stake are a matter for the legislature. View "CSHV 1999 Harrison, LLC v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law