Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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After approximately ten years of litigation, the Georgia Supreme Court granted a second petition for certiorari in a dispute over the refund of millions of dollars in Georgia sales and use taxes that allegedly violated a federal statute. In 2010, New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC and three other AT&T Mobility subsidiaries (collectively, “AT&T”) filed refund claims with the Georgia Department of Revenue seeking the return of the sales and use taxes that AT&T had collected from its customers and turned over to the Department. In 2015, the Department denied the claims, and AT&T filed a complaint in DeKalb County Superior Court to compel the refunds. In 2016, the trial court dismissed the complaint on grounds: (1) a Georgia regulation required “dealers” like AT&T to return the sums collected from their customers before applying to the Department for a refund of the illegal taxes; (2) AT&T lacked standing to seek refunds of taxes for periods prior to May 5, 2009, the effective date of the General Assembly’s amendment to the refund statutes to allow dealers to seek refunds on behalf of their customers; and (3) AT&T’s claims amounted to a class action barred by the refund statutes. In its first certiorari review, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed that ruling, holding that the regulation, as properly construed, did not require dealers to return the sums collected before applying for a refund. On remand, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that AT&T lacked standing to seek refunds for periods prior to the effective date of the 2009 amendments to the refund statutes allowing dealers to seek refunds on behalf of their customers. The issue presented in the second petition for certiorari review was whether plaintiffs lacked standing to file the refund claims. The Supreme Court determined AT&T was statutorily granted representational standing to recover wrongfully paid sums on behalf of and for the benefit of its customers. To the extent, therefore, that the Court of Appeals held that AT&T lacked standing to file a claim on behalf of its customers for any taxes for periods before May 5, 2009, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was erroneous and had to be reversed. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In its second appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court, the dispute between appellee Lowndes County Board of Tax Assessors (“the Board”) and eight partnerships which built and operated affordable housing apartment complexes (“Section 42 properties”) in Lowndes County (collectively, “Appellants”), with the help of federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits (“LIHTCs” or “Section 42 Tax Credits”), in connection with which they executed Land Use Restrictive Covenants. The dispute this time turned on the valuation of those tax credits when calculating ad valorem real property taxes. The Supreme Court determined the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to decide this case, and that LIHTCs did not constitute “actual income” for purposes of OCGA 48-5-2 (3) (B) (vii) (II). Moreover, OCGA 48-5-2 (3) (B) (vii) (I) and (II) did not run afoul of the Georgia Constitution’s taxation uniformity provision. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the trial court. View "Heron Lake II Apartments, LP v. Lowndes County Board of Tax" on Justia Law

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In this case’s previous appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court, the primary issue involved taxation of alcoholic beverages at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Clayton County appealed the trial court’s partial grant of summary judgment to the City of College Park on claims the City was not receiving its statutorily mandated share of taxes collected on alcoholic beverages. When the parties could not resolve their dispute, the City filed a complaint naming as defendants the County and two businesses that operated within the Airport, Mack II, Inc. and General Wholesale Company (the “taxpayer defendants”). The complaint sought an interlocutory and permanent injunction against the County (as well as the taxpayer defendants), and a declaratory judgment as to the City’s and County’s division and collection of alcoholic beverage taxes, as well as the taxpayer defendants’ payment of those taxes. The complaint also asserted claims against the County for an accounting, unjust enrichment, attorney fees, and damages. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the County’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that sovereign immunity does not apply to the City’s claims or the taxpayer defendants’ cross-claims for indemnity and contribution. The court granted the City’s motion for partial summary judgment on the declaratory judgment counts, finding that the Alcoholic Beverage Code, OCGA 3-3-1 et seq., permitted the City to impose alcoholic beverage tax only within its municipal limits and the County to impose such a tax only in the unincorporated areas of the County, that neither could impose and collect alcoholic beverage taxes within the other’s taxing jurisdiction, and that the taxpayer defendants had to submit tax monies only to the entity authorized to collect the funds. Ultimately, the Supreme Court vacated this judgment and remanded the case for consideration of the “threshold question of whether sovereign immunity applies at all in suits between political subdivisions of the same sovereign (like the City and the County).” The Supreme Court disagreed sovereign immunity did not apply to multiple issues raised by this case. The case was remanded for reconsideration. View "City of College Park v. Clayton County et al." on Justia Law

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Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, Georgia, sued telephone companies for their failure to collect and remit to the Counties a charge imposed on subscribers to offset the cost of 911 services. The telephone companies raised various defenses to the Counties’ suits, including that the 911 charge was a tax that the Counties were not allowed to collect by a lawsuit like this one. The trial court rejected that argument and allowed the cases to proceed, but the Court of Appeals vacated that aspect of the trial court’s ruling and remanded because further development of the record was needed to determine whether the charge was a tax. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the charge was indeed a tax regardless of more factual development, and the Counties lacked legal authority to collect that tax in this lawsuit. View "BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Cobb County et al." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme COurt's review centered on whether the contract involved in this case between the City of Atlanta and a private business for the lease of retail concession space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport created a taxable interest subject to ad valorem taxation by Clayton County. The City of Atlanta owned the Airport, which was partially in Clayton County outside the City’s boundaries. Appellee Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture entered into the written agreement with the City to lease space on two different concourses at the Airport for the non-exclusive rights to operate two duty free retail stores. Appellant Clayton County Board of Tax Assessors (“County”) issued real property tax assessments to Aldeasa for the 2011 and 2012 tax years on Aldeasa’s purported leasehold improvements on the two parcels involved in the Concessions Agreement and also on Aldeasa’s purported possessory interest in the two parcels. Aldeasa appealed the assessments and paid the tax pending the outcome of the appeal. The trial court found the Concessions Agreement created a usufruct interest in the property, and not an estate in real property; it rejected the County’s assertion that it was legally authorized to impose a property tax on usufructs located at the Airport; and it also rejected the County’s assertion that the Concessions Agreement created a taxable franchise. Accordingly, the trial court granted Aldeasa’s motion for summary judgement and denied the motion filed by the County. The County appealed, asserting four different taxable interests were created by the Concessions Agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed with the State's assertions and affirmed the trial court. View "Clayton County Bd. of Assessors v. Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Department of Revenue denied New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC; Chattanooga MSA LP; Georgia RSA No. 3, LP; and Northeastern Georgia RSA Limited Partnership (collectively “AT&T”) a tax refund. The appellants alleged that from November 1, 2005 until September 7, 2010, they sold wireless Internet access services to Georgia customers, which were exempt from state sales tax under OCGA 48-8-2. In November 2010, the appellants filed refund claims with the Department for sales tax that they claimed was, until September 2010, erroneously charged to Georgia customers on the purchase of wireless Internet access service. The Department officially refused to pay the requested refund claims. On April 17, 2015, the appellants filed their complaint to challenge this denial. The Department answered and moved to dismiss for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and the failure to state a claim, because: (1) appellants did not reimburse the alleged illegally collected sales tax to customers before seeking a refund from the Department, in violation of Department Regulation 560-12-1-.25; (2) the appellants lacked standing to file sales-tax-refund claims on behalf of customers for periods prior to May 5, 2009; and (3) the action was barred by Georgia class-action law. Following a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the trial court granted it on all three grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. R. 560-12-1-.25 (2) properly required a dealer seeking a sales tax refund reimburse its customer before applying for a refund from the Department of Revenue. The Supreme Court determined this was not a requirement, and that the Court of Appeals’ opinion had to be vacated in part and reversed in part, and that the case remanded with direction. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Appellee-taxpayers Westrec Properties, Inc. (Sunrise Cove & Snug Harbor Marinas), PS Recreational Properties, I. (Holiday Marina), Chattahoochee Parks, Inc. (Aqualand Marina), March First, Inc. (Gainesville Marina), and AMP III – Lazy Days, LLC (Lazy Days Marina) operated marinas on Lake Lanier in Hall County. The marinas were located on shoreline property leased from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. For the 2015 tax year, the Board revised its real property tax assessments to include the assessed value of docks and other improvements as part of the leasehold interest instead of personalty, as in previous years. This increased the assessed value substantially: according to the taxpayers, between 345 and 3200 percent. The taxpayers appealed to the Board of Equalization. After hearings to determine the fair market value of the taxpayers’ property, the Board of Equalization upheld the assessments. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee taxpayers based upon the Board’s failure to schedule a timely settlement conference as required by the 2015 amendment to OCGA 48-5-311 (g) (2), 2015 Ga. Laws p. 1219 et seq. (“the Act”), and the Board appealed. Because the plain language of the statute, as amended by the Act, required the Board to schedule and notice a settlement conference with the taxpayer within 45 days of receipt of a taxpayer’s notice of appeal, and provided that the appeal would terminate in the event the Board elected not to do so, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hall County Board of Tax Assessors v. Westrec Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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In May 2007, the Medical Center Hospital Authority (“Hospital Authority”) filed an action against the Columbus Board of Tax Assessors and related parties (together, “the Tax Board”) in which it sought a declaration that its leasehold interest in a building located on real property owned by a private entity constituted public property exempt from ad valorem taxation under OCGA 48-5-41 (a) (1). The superior court granted summary judgment to the Hospital Authority, finding that the Hospital Authority’s leasehold interest qualified as “public property,” and was thus exempt from ad valorem property taxation. The Tax Board appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that two prior bond validation orders conclusively determined, for purposes of OCGA 48-5-41 (a) (1) (A), that the property at issue was “public property” exempt from ad valorem taxation. The Court held that these orders did not conclusively establish that the Hospital Authority’s leasehold interest was “public property” exempt from ad valorem taxes and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Columbus Board of Tax Assessors v. Medical Center Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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Clayton County appealed the trial court’s order denying its motion for judgment on the pleadings and granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City ofCollege Park. This dispute arose over the taxation of alcoholic beverages at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Of the many businesses located within the Airport, some are located in the unincorporated sections of the County while other businesses are located in the County within the incorporated limits of the City of College Park (the “City”). In its complaint, the City contended that since the 1983 enactment of OCGA section 3-8-1 (regulation and taxation of alcoholic beverages at public airports), it has not been receiving the proper amount of alcoholic beverage taxes to which it was entitled, and that the County improperly infringed on its authority to tax by instructing vendors to remit to the County 50% of the taxes due from the sale of alcohol in those portions of the Airport located within the City limits. The City and County disagree on the interpretation of OCGA 3-8-1(e). In seeking a judgment on the pleadings, Clayton County asserted, among other things, that the City of College Park’s claims were barred by sovereign immunity. The matter of sovereign immunity was not briefed by the parties, and the trial court did not consider it. To permit a more thorough consideration of this question, the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to address it, with the benefit of full briefing. View "Clayton County v. City of College Park" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose out of a complaint filed by four Georgia taxpayers in which they challenged the constitutionality of Georgia’s Qualified Education Tax Credit, Ga. L. 2008, p. 1108, as amended (“HB 1133” or the “Bill”). HB 1133 set up a tax credit program that allows individuals and businesses to receive a Georgia income tax credit for donations made to approved not-for-profit student scholarship organizations (“SSOs”). The Bill created a new tax credit statute for that purpose. Generally speaking, the SSO is required to distribute the donated funds as scholarships or tuition grants for the benefit of students who meet certain eligibility requirements, and the parent or guardian of each recipient must endorse the award to the accredited private school of the parents’ choice for deposit into the school’s account. Plaintiffs alleged: (1) the Program was educational assistance program, and the scheme of the Program violated the Constitution; (2) the Program provided unconstitutional gratuities to students who receive scholarship funds under the Program by allowing tax revenue to be directed to private school students without recompense, and also that the tax credits authorized by HB 1133 resulted in unauthorized state expenditures for gratuities; (3) the Program took money from the state treasury in the form of dollar-for-dollar tax credits that would otherwise be paid to the State in taxes, and since a significant portion of the scholarships awarded by the SSOs goes to religious-based schools, the Program takes funds from the State treasury to aid religious schools in violation of the Establishment Clause; and (4) the Department of Revenue violated the statute that authorized tax credits for contributions to SSOs by granting tax credits to taxpayers who have designated that their contribution is to be awarded to the benefit of a particular individual, and by failing to revoke the status of SSOs that have represented to taxpayers that their contribution will fund a scholarship that may be directed to a particular individual. Plaintiffs sought mandamus relief to compel the Commissioner of Revenue to revoke the status of SSOs, and injunctive relief against the defendants to require them to comply with the constitutional provisions and statutory laws set forth in the complaint. In addition to mandamus relief and injunctive relief, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the Program was unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s finding plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their constitutional claims, or their prayer for declaratory relief with respect to those claims, either by virtue of their status as taxpayers or by operation of OCGA 9-6-24. Consequently plaintiffs failed to allege any clear legal right to mandamus relief. View "Gaddy v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law