Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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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

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Taxpayer TransCanada Hydro Northeast, Inc. appealed a superior court order setting the value of its Bellows Falls hydroelectric facility at $130,000,000, with $108,495,400 taxable by the Town of Rockingham TransCanada argued that the superior court erred when it relied on testimony of the Town’s expert witness. After review, the Supreme Court corrected the trial court’s valuation to read $127,412,212, and affirmed. View "TransCanada Hydro Northeast Inc. v. Town of Rockingham" on Justia Law

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Taxpayer C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc. 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. Taxpayer also contested the penalty assessed by the Commissioner of the Department of Taxes, arguing that it was 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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Plaintiffs Citibank (South Dakota), N.A. (lender) and Sears, Roebuck and Co. (retailer) appealed a superior court decision affirming the determination of the Vermont Department of Taxes (Department) that the parties, who had partnered to operate a private label credit card program through retailers’ stores, were not entitled to sales tax refunds related to bad debts. The Department denied lender’s refund requests because it was not a registered vendor under Vermont law that remitted the sales tax it sought to recover, and denied retailer’s deductions because it did not incur the bad debt at issue. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that because they acted in combination to facilitate the sales giving rise to the bad debts, they were not barred from obtaining relief. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Citibank (South Dakota), N.A. v. Dept. of Taxes" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a struggle Vermont towns have had with taxing parcels of land that lie in more than one tax district. Taxpayer owned three units in a condominium community that was in both the Town of Sudbury and its neighbor, Hubbardton. Taxpayer objected to Sudbury’s tax assessment of the portion within its boundaries, arguing that the trial court erred in upholding: (1) the state law through which Sudbury made its tax assessment; (2) Sudbury’s valuation of the portion within its boundaries; and (3) Sudbury’s method of apportioning the tax burden among the owners of the condominium community. Finding no error to any of these issues, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Adams v. Town of Sudbury" on Justia Law

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Taxpayer owned real property in the Town of Fair Haven. In 2014, the town listers assessed the value of the parcel at $585,800. Taxpayer appealed to the Board of Civil Authority (BCA). Taxpayer would not allow the BCA members to inspect the main house, however, and the BCA therefore considered the appeal withdrawn. At the hearing, taxpayer argued that that the BCA erred in considering his appeal withdrawn. He stated that he had appealed only a portion of the listers’ valuation to the BCA (the value of the improvements concerning two rental properties and not the main house on a separate lot) and therefore he was not obligated to allow the BCA to inspect the main house. The town responded that because the properties were contiguous and in common ownership, by statute, all of the property was treated as one parcel for purposes of assessment and the grand list. In a written order, the hearing officer concluded that the BCA had correctly dismissed taxpayer’s appeal, and that there was no avenue for further appeal to the hearing officer. Taxpayer acting pro se, appealed the Town's assessment of his property for the 2014 grand list. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rasmussen v. Town of Fair Haven" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether Mount Mansfield Company, Inc. (MMC) had unitary operations with AIG Insurance Management Services, Inc. (AIG) such that AIG was required to include MMC as part of the AIG unitary group on its Vermont corporate income tax return. It also raised the question of whether, and under what circumstances, an amended tax return restarted the statute of limitations period for collecting a deficiency. The trial court reversed the decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Taxes that there were unitary operations, and concluded that MMC was a discrete business enterprise distinct from AIG’s insurance and financial business. The Department appealed, arguing that the evidence supported the Commissioner’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "AIG Insurance Management Services, Inc. v. Vermont Department of Taxes" on Justia Law

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Taxpayer Brownington Center Church of Brownington, Vermont (now known as New Hope Bible Church and Ministries, Inc.) (the Church)), appealed a Superior Court determination that certain land and buildings owned by the Church were not exempt from real estate taxes for the tax year commencing April 1, 2009 under 32 V.S.A. 3832(2). The parties did not dispute that the property was dedicated for pious use and that it is owned and operated by the Church as a nonprofit organization. The issue was whether the property was excluded from the pious-use exemption of section 3802(4) by the language in section 3832(2). The Church argued that the property qualified for exemption, primarily because everything that occurred on the property facilitated its religious ministry and that “worship and service of the Believer in Christ” takes place everywhere on the premises. Under this belief, the Church maintains that the steel equipment building, the cabins, kitchen and the tent, are all church edifices. It defines “church edifice” to be a “structure or facility that is used exclusively or primarily to propagate a religious message to persons who receive that message for a worshipful purpose.” It contended that an overnight summer camp for religious purposes transformed the entire property into a place of worship and education. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Brownington Center Church v. Town of Irasburg" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court centered on the question of how non-rental residential properties subject to housing-subsidy covenants should be valued for property-tax purposes. Taxpayers in two cases consolidated for the purposes of this opinion contended that the governing statute mandates an automatic reduction in valuation for properties subject to these covenants or, (what is effectively) equivalent, a mandatory tax exemption on a portion of the property's value. The towns in which these properties are located contended instead that the applicable statute requires that municipal listers give individualized consideration to the effect these covenants may have on the fair market value of a given property when they determine the appropriate assessed value for the allocation of property taxes. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the Vermont Assessors and Listers Association joined the towns as amici curiae. The Supreme Court agreed with the towns that the existence of a housing-subsidy covenant was but one of many factors listers and assessors must take under advisement in ascertaining a property's fair market value. View "Franks v. Town of Essex" on Justia Law

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Taxpayers are owners and operators of Travia's Inc., a small bar and grill. The company is organized as a S-corporation. They appealed the Department of Taxes' (DOT) assessment of meals tax and alcoholic beverage tax for the audit years 2006, 2007, and 2008, and corporate income and personal income tax for the audit years 2005, 2006, and 2007.  Following a hearing, the Commissioner of Taxes affirmed the Department's assessments. Taxpayers appealed the Commissioner's determination to the civil division, which affirmed. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that taxpayers did not meet their burden of demonstrating the assessments were incorrect, and therefore upheld the Commissioner's determination. View "Travia's Inc., and Mellion" on Justia Law