Articles Posted in Tax Law

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Charges that constitute compensation for the use of government property are not subject to Proposition 218’s voter approval requirements. To constitute compensation for a property interest, however, the amount of the charge must bear a reasonable relationship to the value of the property interest, and to the extent the charge exceeds any reasonable value of the interest, it is a tax and requires voter approval. Plaintiffs contended that a one percent charge that was separately stated on electricity bills issued by Southern California Edison (SCE) was not compensation for the privilege of using property owned by the City of Santa Barbara but was instead a tax imposed without voter approval, in violation of Proposition 218. The City argued that this separate charge was the fee paid by SCE to the City for the privilege of using City property in connection with the delivery of electricity. The Supreme Court held that the complaint and stipulated facts adequately alleged the basis for a claim that the surcharge bore no reasonable relationship to the value of the property interest and was therefore a tax requiring voter approval under Proposition 218. The court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Jacks v. City of Santa Barbara" on Justia Law

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The County of Los Angeles can impose a documentary transfer tax on a written instrument that transfers beneficial ownership of real property from one person to two others if the document reflects an actual transfer of legal beneficial ownership made for consideration. This action arose from a series of transactions among trusts maintained for the benefit of Averbook family members. At issue on appeal was the transfer of a particular building. In 2011, the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder demanded payment of the county’s documentary transfer tax, explaining that the transfer tax was due because the Building had undergone a change in ownership. Plaintiff filed this refund action, arguing that no tax was due. The trial court denied the claim. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Plaintiff’s refund claim was properly rejected because transfer of a beneficial interest in the Building was a sale, accompanied by consideration and effected by a document of transfer. View "926 North Ardmore Avenue, LLC v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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An individual’s standing to sue under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 526a does not require the payment of a property tax, as an allegation that the plaintiff has paid an assessed tax to the defendant locality is sufficient under section 526a. The trial court filed a stipulated order and judgment of dismissal dismissing for lack of standing Plaintiff’s complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the manner in which the City of San Rafael and County of Marin enforced Cal. Veh. Code 14602.6. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that an individual plaintiff must be liable to pay a property tax within the relevant locality, or have paid a property tax during the previous year, to have standing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeal erred when it held that payment of a property tax was required under section 526a. View "Weatherford v. City of San Rafael" on Justia Law

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When an assessment on nonexempt property is challenged on the ground that the taxpayer does not own the property involved, the taxpayer must seek an assessment reduction through the assessment appeal process before the county board of equalization or a county assessment appeals board or obtain a stipulation under Cal. Rev. & Tax Code 5142(b) that such proceedings are unnecessary in order to maintain a postpayment superior court action under Cal. Rev. & Tax Code 5140 that seeks reduction of the tax. The Supreme Court overruled Parr-Richmond Industrial Corp. v. Boyd 43 Cal.2d 157 (1954) to the extent that the decision provides otherwise. Because this holding operates only prospectively, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal in this action where Plaintiffs brought timely assessment appeal proceedings under Cal. Rev. & Tax Code 1603 (a). The court of appeal held that “where, as here, the taxpayer claims [an] assessment is void because the taxpayer does not own the [assessed] property, the taxpayer is not required to apply for an assessment reduction under section 1603, subdivision (a) to exhaust its administrative remedies.” View "Williams & Fickett v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law

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The City of San Diego adopted an ordinance imposing a tax on visitors for occupancy in hotels located within the City. The tax, known as the transient occupancy tax, is calculated as a percentage of the “rent charged by the operator” of the hotel. The City of San Diego issued transient occupancy tax assessments against online travel companies (OTCs) on the basis that the OTCs were liable as the “operator” of every hotel. The OTCs appealed. A hearing officer found that the OTCs owed tax on the amount retained by the OTCs above the amount remitted to the hotels as the agreed wholesale cost of the room rental. The superior court vacated the decision, concluding that OTCs are not operators of the hotels and that the markup the OTCs charge for their services is not part of the rent subject to the tax. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the ordinance, the operator of a hotel is liable for tax on the wholesale cost plus any additional amount for room rental the operator requires the OTC to charge the visitor under the “rate party” provisions of hotel-OTC contracts; but (2) OTCs are not operators within the meaning of the ordinance. View "In re Transient Occupancy Tax Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles challenging the validity of a certain tax and seeking a refund of taxes. In 2007, during discovery proceedings in the underlying litigation, the trial court determined that certain documents the City possessed were privileged under either the the attorney-client privilege or the privilege for attorney work product. In 2013, Plaintiff filed a request under the California Public Records Act seeking to obtain copies of documents relating to the tax at issue. The City’s administrative office, in response, inadvertently provided Plaintiff with some of the privileged documents. The City filed a motion for an order compelling the return of the privileged material. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the production of the documents under the Public Records Act had waived any privilege. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Cal. Gov’t Code 6254.5, which generally provides that “disclosure” of a public record waives any privilege, applies to an intentional, not an inadvertent, disclosure. Remanded. View "Ardon v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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In 1974, the state of California joined the Multistate Tax Compact, which contained an apportionment formula and permitted a taxpayer election between the Compact’s formula and any other formula provided by state law. In 1993, the Legislature adopted a different apportionment formula by amending the Revenue and Taxation Code to provide that, notwithstanding the Compact’s provisions, the new apportionment formula “shall” apply. Between 1993 and 2005, six multistate corporations (Taxpayers) paid income tax calculated under the new formula but then sought a refund, contending that they remained entitled to elect between the new statutory formula and that contained in the Compact. The trial court concluded that the Legislature could, consistent with the Compact, eliminate the election provision. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Legislature may properly preclude a taxpayer from relying on the Compact’s election provision. View "Gillette Co. v. Franchise Tax Bd." on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law

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In assessing the value of electric power plants for purposes of property taxation, assessors may not include the value of intangible assets and rights in the value of taxable property. An electric company purchased "emission reduction credits" (ERCs), which the company had to purchase to obtain authorization to construct an electric power plant and to operate it at certain air-pollutant emission levels. These ERCs constituted intangible rights for property taxation purposes. In assessing the value of the power plant using the replacement cost method, the State Board of Equalization (Board) estimated the cost of replacing the ERCs. In also using an income approach in assessing the plant, the Board failed to attribute a portion or the plant's income stream to the ERCs and to deduct that value from the plant's projected income stream prior to taxation. In analyzing the Board's valuation of the power plant, the Supreme Court held (1) the Board improperly taxed the power company's ERCs when it added their replacement cost to the power plant's taxable value; and (2) the Board was not required to deduct a value attributable to the ERCs under an income approach. Remanded.View "Elk Hills Power, LLC v. Bd. of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-consumers brought an action against Defendant-retailer under two consumer protection statutes, alleging that Defendant improperly charged them sales tax reimbursement on sales of hot coffee sold “to go,” when, according to Plaintiffs, the tax code rendered such sales exempt from sales tax. Plaintiffs sought a refund of the asserted unlawful charges, damages, and an injunction forbidding collection of sales tax reimbursement for such sales. The trial court sustained Defendant’s demurrer, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Revenue and Taxation Code provides the exclusive means by which Plaintiffs’ dispute over the taxability of a retail sale may be resolved, and Plaintiffs’ current lawsuit was inconsistent with tax code procedures; and (2) the consumer statutes under which Plaintiffs brought their action could not be employed to avoid the limitations and procedures set out in the tax code. View "Loeffler v. Target Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law, Tax Law

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The County Assessor reassessed two mobile home parks owned by resident-controlled nonprofit corporations after some residents sold both their mobile homes and their interests in the corporation. The mobile homes, classified as personal property, were assessed separately. The Assessor appraised the real property interest subject to reassessment by the extraction method of appraisal. The Appeal Board rejected the appraisals submitted by the Assessor and instead used those submitted by the corporations to calculate the value of the interests subject to reassessment. The Assessor filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate. The trial court denied the petition, and the court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the Assessor’s method for the taxation of changes in the mobile home ownership was not the method set out in Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code 62.1(b). The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 62.1(b) simply describes a unit of real property that is subject to reassessment and does not mandate any particular formula for appraising this unit; and (2) because the Appeal Board’s decisions were premised on an erroneously interpretation of section 62.1(b), the Appeal Board abused its discretion, and the Assessor’s petition for a writ of mandate should have been granted. View "Holland v. Assessment Appeals Bd." on Justia Law