Justia Tax Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications – NNE v. Town of Acworth
This appeal arose from a consolidated cases filed by plaintiff Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications-NNE (FairPoint), against several New Hampshire towns and cities, asserting claims of ultra vires taxation and disproportionate taxation. As “representative municipalities” in the “test cases” established for this litigation, defendants, the Town of Durham and the Town of Hanover (Towns), appealed two superior court orders challenging: (1) the grant of summary judgment on the ultra vires ruling because they contended the agreements authorizing such use or occupation did not satisfy the requirements of RSA 72:23, I(b) (2012) (amended 2017, 2018, 2020); and (2) the superior court’s decision after trial, arguing that the court committed several errors in concluding that FairPoint was entitled to abatements of its tax assessments from the Town of Durham and the Town of Hanover for tax years 2013 and 2011 respectively. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Towns that the superior court erred with respect to the tax on the value of FairPoint's use or occupation of municipal rights-of-way was ultra vires. FairPoint’s use or occupation of municipal rights-of-way was not pursuant to a perpetual lease that gave rise to an independently taxable property interest; FairPoint met its burden to prove it was taxed disproportionately by the Towns. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part and consequently abating the two tax assessments at issue. View "Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications - NNE v. Town of Acworth" on Justia Law
Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust et al.
Eighteen petitioners appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision to dismiss their respective appeals of denials of applications for abatements of real estate taxes issued by respondent Town of Bartlett. he BTLA dismissed the appeals because the petitioners’ abatement applications failed to comply with the signature and certification requirement of New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Tax 203.02, and because the BTLA found that the petitioners did not demonstrate that these failures were “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” There was no dispute in this case that petitioners did not personally sign or certify their abatement applications. Instead, petitioners contested the BTLA’s ruling that they did not demonstrate that the lack of signatures and certifications was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. "Although the question of whether reasonable cause or willful neglect exists in a particular case is one of fact for the BTLA, the questions of what elements constitute reasonable cause or willful neglect under Tax 203.02 are ones of law." Because the BTLA did not have the benefit of the construction of Tax 203.02(d) that the New Hampshire announced in its opinion of this case, BTLA's decisions were vacated, and each matter remanded for further consideration. View "Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust et al." on Justia Law
Ventas Realty Limited Partnership v. City of Dover
Plaintiff Ventas Realty Limited Partnership (Ventas), appealed a superior court order denying its request for an abatement of the real estate taxes it paid defendant City of Dover (City), for the 2014 tax year. The subject real estate consists of a 5.15-acre site containing a skilled nursing facility serving both short-term and long-term patients, two garages, and a parking lot. At issue was the City’s April 1, 2014 assessment of the real estate at a value of $4,308,500. Ventas alleged that it timely applied to the City for an abatement of its 2014 taxes. The City presumably denied or failed to act upon the request, and Ventas, thereafter, petitioned the superior court for an abatement pursuant to RSA 76:17 (Supp. 2018), alleging that the City had unlawfully taxed the property in excess of its fair market value. Expert witnesses for both sides opined the property’s highest and best use was as a skilled nursing facility. The experts also agreed that the most reliable method for determining the property’s fair market value was the income capitalization method, although the City’s expert also completed analyses under the sales comparison and cost approaches. Both experts examined the same comparable properties and they also used similar definitions of “fair market value.” The main difference between the approaches of the two experts is that the City's expert used both market projections and the property’s actual income and expenses from 2012, 2013, and 2014 to forecast the property’s future net income, while Ventas' expert did not. Ventas' expert used the property’s actual income and expenses for the 11 months before the April 1, 2014 valuation date, without any market-based adjustments. Despite their different approaches, the experts gave similar estimates of the property’s projected gross income for tax year 2014. The experts differed greatly in their estimates of the property’s projected gross operating expenses for tax year 2014. All of Ventas’ arguments faulted the trial court for finding the City's expert's valuations more credible than its own expert's valuations. The New Hampshire found the trial court made numerous, specific findings which were supported by the record as to why it rejected Ventas' expert's appraisal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s determination that Ventas' expert's appraisal failed to meet Ventas’ burden of proof. View "Ventas Realty Limited Partnership v. City of Dover" on Justia Law
Appeal of Town of Belmont
The Town of Belmont appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision that, pursuant to RSA 72:36-a (2012) respondent Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for a homestead in Belmont. RSA 72:36-a provided that a person who met certain qualifications set forth in the statute, and “who owns a specially adapted homestead which has been acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration,” qualified for a property tax exemption. Louis Nordle served during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1969. In 1998, Louis and his wife, Robin Nordle, purchased a summer camp in Belmont. In 2007, the Nordles demolished the original home and built a new home. The house was later transferred to the Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust, in which Louis had a life estate in the trust and Robin was the trustee. In 2015, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs determined that Louis was totally and permanently disabled due to his service-connected disabilities. In 2016, Louis received a “Specially Adapted Housing Grant” from the Veterans Administration (VA), and used the funds to modify his home to accommodate his disability. The town originally denied Nordle's application for tax-exempt status, determining that the “home was not ‘acquired’ or ‘purchased’ by or with the assistance of a VA loan.” In making its determination, the town relied upon advice from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue that, in order to be entitled to the property tax exemption, the VA “had to help ‘purchase’ the home not adapt it.” The BTLA reasoned that “the word ‘acquired’ in the statute had a plain meaning broader than simply ‘purchased,’” and that because Louis “obtained, and is now in possession of, a specially adapted homestead . . . only because of the financial assistance he received from the VA,” the taxpayer was entitled to the tax exemption set forth in RSA 72:36-a. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that once the remodeling was completed, the taxpayer owned a specially adapted homestead which was “acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration.” and affirmed the BTLA’s determination that the taxpayer was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for the homestead in Belmont. View "Appeal of Town of Belmont" on Justia Law
New Hampshire v. Priceline.com, Inc.
The State of New Hampshire appealed a superior court order following a ten-day bench trial granting judgment to the defendants, the direct or indirect subsidiaries of Priceline.com, Inc., Orbitz, LLC, Expedia, Inc., and Travelocity.com, LLP, alleging that: (1) they violated the New Hampshire Meals and Rooms Tax Law by failing to remit meals and rooms taxes on transactions with hotel consumers and by bundling money collected from consumers as taxes with other amounts; and (2) the bundling of taxes with other fees also violated the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Online travel companies (OTCs) use either the “agency” or the “merchant” model to conduct business. Under the agency model, the consumer pays the hotel directly for the room; the hotel then pays the OTC a commission for the booking and remits to the State the meals and rooms tax on the full amount received from the consumer. Under the merchant model, the consumer pays the OTC for the room; the OTC collects payment from the consumer using the consumer’s credit card. The OTC, therefore, is the merchant of record. The hotel then has a certain number of days in which to send an invoice to the OTC for the net rate of the hotel room and the meals and rooms tax on that rate. The parties disputed whether the OTCs were subject to the meals and rooms tax law. The trial court ruled that OTCs were not subject to the law because they are not “operators” of hotels. The State challenged the trial court's conclusion that OTCs were not subject to the law as "operators." The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the State failed to show the trial court erred in its ruling as to the CPA. View "New Hampshire v. Priceline.com, Inc." on Justia Law
The Marist Brothers of New Hampshire v. Town of Effingham
Plaintiff The Marist Brothers of New Hampshire (MBNH) appealed several superior court orders: (1) a decision upholding the denial by defendant Town of Effingham (Town), of MBNH’s request for a charitable tax exemption, for tax year 2015, for real property; and (2) an order granting the Town’s motion in limine to exclude evidence of the tax treatment of New Hampshire youth camps other than the camp run by MBNH. When Camp Marist was not in session, MBNH rented the Property subject to this appeal: no restrictions were placed on who is eligible to rent, or how renters use, the Property. Rental proceeds were allocated to either the “regular Camp fund, the running of the Camp, or . . . to some of [MBNH’s] scholarships.” MBNH argues that the trial court erred in determining that it met none of the "ElderTrust" factors. After careful consideration, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded MBNH did satisfy all ElderTrust factors, reversing the trial court. View "The Marist Brothers of New Hampshire v. Town of Effingham" on Justia Law
Polonsky v. Town of Bedford
Plaintiff Richard Polonsky appealed, and defendant Town of Bedford (Town) cross-appealed a superior court order on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment as to plaintiff’s petition for injunctive and declaratory relief and to quiet title to residential property that the Town acquired by tax deed in 2011. In 2008, plaintiff inherited residential property in Bedford New Hampshire that, at that time, was assessed at approximately $300,000. Because plaintiff failed to pay his real estate taxes in 2008, 2009, and 2010, tax liens were imposed on his property for each of those years. The Town notified plaintiff before each lien was imposed. In April 2011, the Town notified plaintiff that a tax deed was to be issued. In May 2011, a tax deed for the property was issued to the Town. Plaintiff continued to reside on the property without paying taxes. In 2013, plaintiff offered to pay back taxes, but requested the Town forgive additional charges. In July 2013, the Town rejected plaintiff’s request and decided to sell the property. In December 2013, the Town notified plaintiff of its decision to sell the property and of his right to repurchase it. Plaintiff received that notice, but did not act on it. In April 2015, the Town again notified plaintiff of its intent to sell the property and of his right to repurchase. Plaintiff proposed he purchase the property for only the amount he owed in taxes and that the Town waive the remaining amounts. The Town rejected the plaintiff’s proposal. The Town then asserted that plaintiff’s right to repurchase the property had terminated because more than three years had passed since the tax deed had been recorded. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff brought this lawsuit. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred in ruling that the Town’s failure to provide timely statutory notice to him of its July 2013 “offering for sale,” as required by RSA 80:89, I (2012), did not invalidate the tax deed. Plaintiff also argued the trial court erred by failing to find that the penalty the Town may recover pursuant to RSA 80:90, I(f) (2012) (amended 2016) constituted “double taxation” in violation of the State Constitution. In its cross-appeal, the Town argued the trial court misinterpreted the three-year period set forth in RSA 80:89, VII (2012) when it determined that, although the tax deed was recorded more than three years ago, plaintiff could bring a claim for any amount the Town recovered from the property’s eventual sale in excess of the outstanding taxes, interest, costs, and statutory penalty owed (“excess proceeds”). The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling rejecting the plaintiff’s claim that the tax deed was invalid, reversed its ruling construing the statutes as permitting plaintiff to recover excess proceeds from any future sale of the property, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Polonsky v. Town of Bedford" on Justia Law
Public Service Company of New Hampshire v. Town of Bow
The Town of Bow (town) appealed a superior court order granting plaintiff Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) an abatement of taxes on its property in the town for tax years 2012 and 2013. PSNH owns certain special-purpose utility property in the town, including Merrimack Station, two combustion turbines, and a high-voltage regional electric transmission and distribution network. Merrimack Station consists of two coal-fired units that produce steam to rotate turbines and generators to produce electricity. The combustion turbines cannot be remotely turned on and, instead, must be physically turned on in a control room at the Merrimack Station site. At trial, the sole issue was the determination of the proper value of this special-purpose utility property for the tax years in question. Following a six-day bench trial, the trial court found PSNH's expert “testimony [to be] more credible than” the town's and, therefore, ruled that PSNH had met its burden of demonstrating that it was entitled to an abatement for tax years 2012 and 2013 with respect to the disputed property. The town moved for reconsideration, which the court denied, and this appeal followed. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Public Service Company of New Hampshire v. Town of Bow" on Justia Law
Segtel, Inc. v. City of Nashua
Plaintiff segTEL, Inc. was a telecommunications company that owned and/or operated a fiber optic cable network throughout New Hampshire, including within the City of Nashua. It did not own any poles or conduits within the City, and did not have its own license from the City authorizing its occupation of the City’s rights of way. Instead, pursuant to pole attachment agreements with the utility providers, the plaintiff remitted a fee to the utility providers in exchange for the right to place its fiber optic cables on their poles and conduits. These pole attachment agreements did not require the plaintiff to pay property taxes assessed by the City. Having become aware of plaintiff’s use of the utility providers’ poles and conduits, the City in 2014 assessed plaintiff property taxes of $1,507.94 for its use of the City’s rights of way. Plaintiff applied for an abatement, which the City denied. Thereafter, plaintiff brought this action in superior court, seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment that the City was not entitled to impose the tax; and (2) to strike the City’s 2014 tax assessment. The trial court granted summary judgment to plaintiff, ruling that “[b]ecause [the plaintiff] has not entered into an agreement in which it consented to be taxed,” the City could not lawfully tax the plaintiff for its use and occupation of the City’s rights of way. The City appealed, and finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Segtel, Inc. v. City of Nashua" on Justia Law
Appeal of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Inc.
New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Inc. (NHEC) filed tax abatement appeals to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) for 23 municipal assessments of its property that occurred in 2011 and 2012. The BTLA held a consolidated hearing over nine days between January and February 2015 regarding NHEC’s tax abatement appeals. During the hearing, NHEC presented expert witness testimony and an appraisal of NHEC’s property from George Lagassa, a certified general real estate appraiser and the owner of Mainstream Appraisal Associates, LLC. In his appraisals, Lagassa estimated the market value of NHEC’s property by reconciling the results of four valuation approaches: a sales comparison approach; an income approach, which estimated the value of NHEC’s property by capitalizing the company’s net operating income; a cost approach, which estimated the net book value (NBV) of NHEC’s property by calculating the original cost less book depreciation (OCLBD) of NHEC’s property; and a second cost approach, which estimated the value of NHEC’s property by calculating the reproduction cost new less depreciation (RCNLD) of NHEC’s property. NHEC appeals the BTLA order denying 16 of NHEC’s 23 individual tax abatement appeals regarding its property. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error in the BTLA’s order and affirmed it. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law