Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Taxpayer Gabriel Martinez appealed a Property Valuation and Review Division (PVR) hearing officer's decision setting the fair market value of his property for purposes of the 2017 Town of Hartford grand list. Taxpayer argued the hearing officer erred in estimating fair market value based on sales of comparable properties because the value was conclusively established by the price taxpayer paid for the property in a contemporaneous arms-length transaction. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that, although the recent arms-length sale price constituted strong presumptive evidence of the fair market value of the property, the hearing officer did not commit legal error in considering other evidence of fair market value. In addition, the Court concluded the appraisal was rationally derived from the findings and evidence. View "Martinez v. Town of Hartford" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the tax status of a 9.9-acre parcel of land containing an 11,500-square-foot garage that was owned and used by Zlotoff Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization, for the purpose of storing and maintaining a collection of classic automobiles that it displayed at its nearby museum. The trial court ruled that the garage and the land were tax-exempt because they were used for a public purpose. However, it denied the Foundation’s request for a refund of property taxes paid to the Town of South Hero from 2016 to 2018 because the Foundation did not obtain a certificate of authority allowing it to transact business in Vermont until 2019. The Foundation and the Town both appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Zlotoff Foundation, Inc. v. Town of South Hero" on Justia Law

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The Town of Ludlow appealed a Property Valuation & Review Division (PVR) hearing officer’s decision lowering the fair market value of two quartertime-share condominium properties, Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House, located at the base of Okemo Ski Resort. On appeal, the Town argued that the time-share owners in Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House failed to overcome the presumption of validity of the Town’s appraisal. The Town also argued that hearing officer incorrectly interpreted 32 V.S.A. 3619(b) and failed to properly weigh the evidence and make factual findings. After review of the PVR hearing officer’s decision, the Vermont Supreme Court first held that the hearing officer correctly determined that the time-share owners met their initial burden of producing evidence to overcome the presumption of validity by presenting the testimony of their expert appraiser. Second, the Supreme Court conclude that the hearing officer correctly determined that section 3619 addressed who receives a tax bill when time-share owners were taxed but said nothing about how to value the common elements in condominiums. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the hearing officer made clear findings and, in general, provided a well-reasoned and detailed decision. Accordingly, the decision was affirmed. View "Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff H. Brooke Paige, a taxpayer and resident of Washington, Vermont, appealed the civil division’s dismissal of his complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the State of Vermont and the Washington Town School Board. In his complaint, he asserted that Act 46, a 2015 state law related to education funding, spending, and governance, impermissibly coerced town residents into voting to merge school districts. He further alleged that Act 46 deprived town residents of local control of education and would result in unequal educational opportunities in violation of the Education and Common Benefits Clauses of the Vermont Constitution. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff lacked standing to bring this action and therefore affirmed the trial court judgment dismissing this case. View "Paige v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The Vermont Department of Taxes appeals from trial court orders in favor of defendants in consolidated tax-collection cases. Defendants Thomas Tatro, Kenneth Montani, and Tyre Duvernay failed to file personal income tax returns for various years and the Department sent a First Notice of Audit Assessment to each that provided the amount of taxes due along with interest and penalties. These notices were issued more than three years after the date that the tax returns should have been filed. Defendants did not appeal the assessments to the Commissioner pursuant to 32 V.S.A. 5883. The issue before the superior court in each case arose in the context of a collection action brought by the Department. Defendants did not appear or participate in the collection cases or in these appeals. The Department moved for default judgment. The superior court sua sponte raised a statute-of-limitations challenge to the underlying tax assessments. The court concluded that the underlying tax debts were invalid because the Department issued its notices of deficiencies or assessments of penalty or interest to defendants more than three years after defendants’ tax returns were originally due. The Department argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the validity of the underlying debts in these collection actions, and that, in any event, it erred in concluding that a three-year limitation period applied. The Supreme Court agreed with the Department on both points. The Court therefore reversed and remanded for entry of judgment in the Department’s favor for the years covered in these cases. View "Vermont Department of Taxes v. Montani et al." on Justia Law

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Taxpayer TransCanada Hydro appealed a superior court decision that valued flow easements that taxpayer owned over land in the Town of Newbury at $1,532,211 for property tax purposes. Taxpayer owned and operated the Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River in Hartford, Vermont, downstream from Newbury, and the flow easements gave taxpayer the right to flood land abutting the river in Newbury. Taxpayer argued the valuation was unsupported by the admissible evidence and the court’s reasoning. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s valuation, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "TransCanada Hydro Northeast, Inc. v. Town of Newbury" on Justia Law

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The City of Rutland appealed a superior court decision that two buildings owned by the Rutland County Parent Child Center (RCPCC) were exempt from property taxation. The City argued neither property met the requirements of the public use tax exemption in 32 V.S.A. 3802(4). RCPCC is one of fifteen parent-child centers in Vermont. Under the statutory definition, a parent-child center is a “community-based organization established for the purpose of providing prevention and early intervention services." The superior court determined on summary judgment that RCPCC’s properties did not qualify for the public school tax exemption but, after a bench trial, decided that RCPCC’s use of the properties in question met the three-prong public use exemption test from American Museum of Fly Fishing, Inc. v. Town of Manchester, 110, 557 A.2d 900 (1989), and that, accordingly, both properties were exempt from property tax assessment. The Vermont Supreme Court found that RCPCC's use of the buildings met all elements of the American Museum of Fly Fishing's test, and affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Rutland County Parent Child Center, Inc. v. City of Rutland" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the taxable status of Schulmaier Hall, a building owned by the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), two-thirds of which VCFA rented to agencies of the State of Vermont (State) during the 2013 and 2014 tax years. The City Assessor of the City of Montpelier (City) found the property nonexempt for those tax years. In response, VCFA brought a motion for declaratory judgment in the trial court, and both parties moved for summary judgment. Granting summary judgment for the City, the court found: (1) that VCFA had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before moving for declaratory judgment but also (2) that the property was not exempt on the merits. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont College of Fine Arts v. City of Montpelier" on Justia Law

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C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., a wholesale grocery distributor, disputed sales tax assessed by the Vermont Department of Taxes on the purchase of reusable fiberglass freezer tubs used in the transport of perishable items, as well as the Department’s refusal to refund sales tax paid on diesel fuel used to power refrigeration systems mounted on taxpayer’s tractor trailers. C&S also contended the penalty assessed by the Commissioner of the Department of Taxes, arguing that it is unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Department of Taxes. View "C & S Wholesale Grocers, Inc. v. Dept. of Taxes" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a timber harvest by landowner Plum Creek Maine Timberlands, LLC in forestland enrolled in the current-use, tax-incentive program. The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) issued an adverse inspection report, concluding that Plum Creek violated its forest-management plan and failed to comply with minimum acceptable standards during the harvest. Consequently, the Department of Taxes removed the land from the current-use program and levied a tax assessment. Plum Creek appealed, and the superior court reversed those administrative decisions. FPR then appealed, arguing that the superior court failed to give appropriate deference to FPR’s determination of the proper methodology for measuring compliance with the forest-management plan. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the court’s decision, reinstating the adverse-inspection report as upheld by the FPR Commissioner. The case was remanded back to the superior court to consider the questions raised in Plum Creek’s appeal of the PVR Director’s decision removing land from the UVA program and leveling a tax assessment. View "Plum Creek Maine Timberlands, LLC v. Vermont Dept. of Forests, Parks & Rec." on Justia Law