Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court dismissing this case claiming that the Traverse Ridge Special Service District needed either to stop charging members The Cove at Little Valley Homeowners Association for services it had never provided or to start plowing snow from private roads in front of homes in the Cove, holding that the district court erred in part.The Service District filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim because the Draper City Code did not require it to service private roads and because the Homeowners Association needed to bring its challenge in a manner dictated by the Utah Tax Code. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Cove's first cause of action but reversed its dismissal of the second reversed in part, holding that the district court erred when it concluded that the assessment its members paid to the Service District was a tax as a matter of law. View "Cove at Little Valley Homeowners Ass'n v. Traverse Ridge Special Service District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Tax Commission determining that John and Brooke Buck were domiciled in Utah for the 2012 tax year and therefore owed nearly $400,000 in back taxes and interest, holding that the court erred interpreting Utah Code 59-10-136 to effectively preclude the Bucks from being able to overcome the rebuttal presumption of domicile.On appeal, the Bucks maintained that they were domiciled in Florida in 2012 and that the Commission's decision suffered several constitutional and interpretive deficiencies. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the Tax Commission erred as a matter of law in interpreting section 136, and the plain language of the domicile provision supported the Bucks; and (2) the stipulated facts decisively demonstrated that the Bucks were not domiciled in Utah in 2012 for income tax purposes. View "Buck v. Utah State Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing two of Plaintiffs' claims as unripe and the remainder of the claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding that none of Plaintiffs' claims presented a justiciable controversy.Plaintiffs, five Utah counties, filed suit against the State of Utah challenging several provisions of the Utah Tax Code as unconstitutional. The district court dismissed as unripe two of the Counties' claims because the allegations did not show that the Counties had been adversely affected by the pertinent tax code provision. The court dismissed the remaining claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because the Counties had not first filed with the Utah State Tax Commission an appeal of a tax assessment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) dismissal of the two claims on ripeness grounds was proper because the Counties' complaint was facially insufficient to show that the law at issue adversely affected them; and (2) the remaining claims were properly dismissed on the ground that the claims were merely requests for an advisory opinion because none of the claims was tied to the facts of a particular controversy. View "Salt Lake County v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the tax court allowing a second set of deductions sought by Robert and Wendy Steiner on their tax returns but disallowing the first set of deductions, holding that neither set of deductions was mandated by the United States Constitution or the Utah Tax Code.The Utah State Tax Commission disallowed the tax deductions claimed the Steiners on their tax returns. The Steiners challenged that determination in the tax court, asserting that the Dormant Commerce Clause and the Dormant Foreign Commerce Clause mandated the Utah allow their claimed deductions relating to income earned in the United States but outside of Utah and income earned in foreign countries. The Steiners cited Utah Code 59-10-115(2) in support of their latter claim. The tax court agreed in part with the Steiners. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the Steiners were not entitled to their claimed deductions. View "Steiner v. Utah State Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court finding that the language of Utah Code 59-7-113 was ambiguous and that section 113 did not permit the income allocation that the Utah State Tax Commission had imposed upon See’s Candies, holding that the district court properly employed the arm’s length transaction standard to determine that the Commission improperly allocated See’s income.The Commission in this case allocated certain royalty payments See’s had deducted from its taxable income back to See’s as taxable income. The district court decided that the allocation was inappropriate and allowed See’s to take the deductions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the language of section 113 is ambiguous; (2) the district court properly looked to the statute’s federal counterpart and its accompanying regulations for guidance; and (3) the district court correctly determined that the Commission improperly allocated See’s income. View "Utah State Tax Commission v. See’s Candies, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiffs’ complaint against Weber County claiming that the County had violated Utah Code 59-22-103 and 59-2-103.5, which establish the tax exemption for primary residential property.Plaintiffs paid taxes on their primary residence but later learned that the County had not given them the residential exemption. The district court entered a judgment on the pleadings dismissing Plaintiffs’ causes of action, concluding, inter alia, that the assessor acted within the scope of his authority in reclassifying Plaintiffs’ property as “non-primary residential.” In affirming, the Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs’ challenges to the taxes they paid must fall under Utah Code 59-2-1321, which requires taxpayers to point an “error or illegality that is readily apparent from county records.” Because Plaintiffs did not challenge this requirement or show that the alleged errors or illegalities were readily apparent, the district court did not err in its judgment. View "Hammons v. Weber County" on Justia Law

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Rent-A-Center West, Inc. leases and sells a variety of consumer goods. Customers may opt to participate in a liability waiver program for an extra fee. Rent-A-Center charges sales tax on rental payments but not on the liability waiver fee. In 2010, the Utah State Tax Commission issued a statutory notice to Rent-A-Center imposing taxes and interest on the amounts Rent-A-Center charged for the liability waiver fee. In a formal hearing, the Commission found the waiver fee taxable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the liability waiver fee is not subject to sales and use tax under the plain text of the Utah Tax Code. View "Rent-A-Center v. Tax Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Utah’s pay-TV sales tax scheme provides a sales tax credit for an amount equal to fifty percent of the franchise fees paid by pay-TV providers to local municipalities for use of their public rights-of-way. Satellite providers, however, use a different business model that does not trigger franchise fees. The satellite providers brought this lawsuit asserting that Utah’s tax scheme favors local economic interests at the expense of interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause and the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause. The State Tax Commission moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Utah’s pay-TV tax credit survives dormant commerce scrutiny; and (2) the tax credit survives rational basis scrutiny under the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause. View "DIRECTV v. Utah State Tax Comm’n" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Plaintiff was negotiating the sale of three limited liability companies of which he was the sole shareholder. The companies were S Corporations. Plaintiff retained an Accounting Firm to advise him on his tax liability from the contemplated sale. Altaview Concrete, one of the companies, was named as the client. Jeffrey Bickel, a partner at the Accounting Firm, advised Plaintiff that he could restructure the deal to reduce his tax liability to $663,000. The buyer agreed to the restructuring proposals, and the sale closed. Later Bickel and the Accounting Firm (collectively, Defendants) discovered they had greatly underestimated Plaintiff's tax liability. Plaintiff filed a professional negligence claim in district court. The district court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that Plaintiff's claim failed to satisfy the writing requirement of Utah Code 58-26-602, which provides that accountants are not liable to third parties unless the accountant identified in writing to the client that the professional services were intended to be relief upon by the third party. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendants were liable to Plaintiff as a third party under section 602 because Defendants identified in writing that the professional services were intended to be relied upon by Plaintiff. View "Reynolds v. Bickel" on Justia Law

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In 1990, Chin Lee established a defined-benefit plan, which he converted in 1996 into a profit-sharing plan, both of which were qualified plans. Chin's sole proprietorship contributed funds to the Plan from 1990 to 1995. These funds were invested entirely in U.S. government obligations, the interest on which was tax-exempt. In their 2005 and 2006 tax filings, Chin and Yvonne Lee reported Plan distributions and claimed deductions for federal obligation interest that the Plan earned in those and in earlier years. The Utah State Tax Commission disallowed these deductions, concluding that the Lees' distributions from the Plan were not exempt from state taxation even though the Plan assets were invested solely in U.S. government obligations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no portion of the Plan distributions was tax-exempt, as (1) the distributions from the Plan qualified for a tax exemption only if the Plan acted as a conduit, allowing the funds to retain their tax-exempt character after distribution; and (2) the Lees' qualified profit-sharing plan was a non-conduit entity, and thus, the funds did not retain their character as interest on U.S. obligations upon distribution to the Lees. Therefore, the distributions were fully taxable by Utah. View "Lee v. Utah State Tax Comm'n " on Justia Law