Articles Posted in Tax Law

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Plaintiff 1901 First Street Owner, LLC (First Street), appealed a judgment which interpreted the meaning and application of Government Code section 65995 (b)(1), in a manner favorable to defendant Tustin Unified School District (the District). First Street developed an apartment complex. The underlying dispute arose after the City of Santa Ana (the City) had calculated the square footage of the development for purposes of assessing a school impact fee. The District disputed the City’s method of calculating the assessable space and filed an administrative appeal. Before that appeal was resolved, the City revised its calculation in the District’s favor, prompting First Street to file an administrative appeal. First Street prevailed in its administrative appeal and subsequently filed the present lawsuit against the District, alleging various tort causes of action and seeking declaratory relief and a writ of mandate ordering the District to refund the excess school fees. The court dismissed the tort claims pursuant to an anti-SLAPP motion, which the Court of Appeal affirmed in a separate appeal. The case proceeded on the declaratory relief claim and writ petition, as well as a cross-complaint by the District for an administrative writ of mandate. The court found in favor of the District, and First Street appealed. At issue was whether the square footage of interior space outside the individual apartment units should have been included in the calculation of school impact fees. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of the District. View "1901 First Street Owner v. Tustin Unified School District" on Justia Law

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GMRI, Inc. a restaurant operator, appealed a judgment entered in favor of the State Board of Equalization (the Board) after the trial court granted the Board’s summary judgment motion. Between 2002 and 2004 (period in dispute), GMRI operated Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants in California. Customers of these restaurants were notified on their menus that an “optional” gratuity of either 15 or 18 percent (depending on which restaurant and time period within the period in dispute) “will be added to parties of 8 or more.” When it was added, a manager was required to swipe his or her manager’s card through the restaurant’s point- of-sale (POS) system and then manually add the gratuity to the bill. The bill generated and presented to the customer would then contain the total cost of the meal, the applicable tax, the amount of the large party gratuity added by the manager, and the sum of these amounts as the total amount to be paid. In line with the word “optional,” the Company’s policy was that its restaurant managers would always remove a large party gratuity if asked by the customer to do so. However, unless such a request was made, the large party gratuity would remain on the bill as a portion of the total amount. And where that customer paid with a credit card, the credit card slip would contain the amount of the meal plus tax, the amount of the large party gratuity, the total amount, and then a blank line designated, “Add’l Tip,” followed by another blank line designated, “Final Total.” The trial court concluded a 15 or 18 percent gratuity restaurant managers automatically added to parties of eight or more without first conferring with the customer amounted to a “mandatory payment designated as a tip, gratuity, or service charge” under California Code of Regulations, title 18, section 1603 (g), and therefore part of the Company’s taxable gross receipts, in one circumstance: where the large party gratuity was added and neither removed nor modified by the customer. Finding no error in affirming the Board's decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "GMRI, Inc. v. CA Dept. of Tax & Fee Admin." on Justia Law

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GMRI, Inc. a restaurant operator, appealed a judgment entered in favor of the State Board of Equalization (the Board) after the trial court granted the Board’s summary judgment motion. Between 2002 and 2004 (period in dispute), GMRI operated Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants in California. Customers of these restaurants were notified on their menus that an “optional” gratuity of either 15 or 18 percent (depending on which restaurant and time period within the period in dispute) “will be added to parties of 8 or more.” When it was added, a manager was required to swipe his or her manager’s card through the restaurant’s point- of-sale (POS) system and then manually add the gratuity to the bill. The bill generated and presented to the customer would then contain the total cost of the meal, the applicable tax, the amount of the large party gratuity added by the manager, and the sum of these amounts as the total amount to be paid. In line with the word “optional,” the Company’s policy was that its restaurant managers would always remove a large party gratuity if asked by the customer to do so. However, unless such a request was made, the large party gratuity would remain on the bill as a portion of the total amount. And where that customer paid with a credit card, the credit card slip would contain the amount of the meal plus tax, the amount of the large party gratuity, the total amount, and then a blank line designated, “Add’l Tip,” followed by another blank line designated, “Final Total.” The trial court concluded a 15 or 18 percent gratuity restaurant managers automatically added to parties of eight or more without first conferring with the customer amounted to a “mandatory payment designated as a tip, gratuity, or service charge” under California Code of Regulations, title 18, section 1603 (g), and therefore part of the Company’s taxable gross receipts, in one circumstance: where the large party gratuity was added and neither removed nor modified by the customer. Finding no error in affirming the Board's decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "GMRI, Inc. v. CA Dept. of Tax & Fee Admin." on Justia Law

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CDLA filed suit against the DMV, alleging that the DMV conducts administrative hearings to determine whether automatic suspension of a driver's license was warranted after the driver has been arrested for driving under the influence. CDLA claimed that at these hearings, the hearing officers simultaneously act as advocates for DMV and as triers of fact. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of DMV's motion for summary judgment, holding that taxpayer standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a was appropriate under the circumstances of this case, in which a group of taxpayers has alleged that a government entity was engaging in "waste" by implementing and maintaining a hearing system that violated drivers' procedural due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "California DUI Lawyers Assoc. v. California Department of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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CDLA filed suit against the DMV, alleging that the DMV conducts administrative hearings to determine whether automatic suspension of a driver's license was warranted after the driver has been arrested for driving under the influence. CDLA claimed that at these hearings, the hearing officers simultaneously act as advocates for DMV and as triers of fact. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of DMV's motion for summary judgment, holding that taxpayer standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a was appropriate under the circumstances of this case, in which a group of taxpayers has alleged that a government entity was engaging in "waste" by implementing and maintaining a hearing system that violated drivers' procedural due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "California DUI Lawyers Assoc. v. California Department of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Legislature enacted Water Code section 1525, which required the holders of permits and licenses to appropriate water to pay an annual fee according to a fee schedule established by the Board. At the same time, the Legislature enacted sections 1540 and 1560, which allowed the Board to allocate the annual fee imposed on a permit or license holder who refuses to pay the fee on sovereign immunity grounds to persons or entities who contracted for the delivery of water from that permit or license holder. Plaintiffs Northern California Water Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, and individual fee payors claimed that the annual fee imposed in fiscal year 2003-2004 constituted an unlawful tax, as opposed to a valid regulatory fee because it required fee payors to pay more than a de minimis amount for regulatory activities that benefited nonfee-paying right holders. Plaintiffs also claimed that the fees allocated to the water supply contractors violated the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution because they exceeded the contractors’ beneficial interests in the USBR’s water rights. The California Supreme Court previously ruled sections 1525, 1540, and 1560 were constitutional on their face. The Supreme Court found that the record was unclear as to: (1) “whether the fees were reasonably apportioned in terms of the regulatory activity’s costs and the fees assessed;” and (2) “the extent and value of the [contractors’ beneficial] interests.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to remand the matter to the trial court to make findings on those issues. Following a 10-day bench trial, the trial court issued a statement of decision that determined inter alia that the statutory scheme as applied through its implementing regulations imposed a tax, as opposed to a valid regulatory fee, by allocating the entire cost of the Division’s regulatory activities to permit and license holders, while nonpaying-water-right holders who benefit from and place burdens on the Division’s activities pay nothing. The trial court likewise found that the fees passed through to the water supply contractors in fiscal year 2003-2004 pursuant to regulation 1073 ran afoul of the supremacy clause “because the allocation of fees [was] not limited to the contractors’ beneficial or possessory use of the [USBR’s] water rights.” In addition, the trial court found that the fee regulations were invalid because they operated in an arbitrary manner as to a single payor, Imperial Irrigation District. Accordingly, the trial court invalidated regulations 1066 and 1073, “as adopted by Resolution 2003-0077 in 2003-2004.” The Board appealed, contending the trial court erred in invalidating the fee regulations. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court’s central premise was wholly incorrect because it failed to recognize the role that general fund money played in fiscal year 2003-2004: the fees assessed on permit and license holders were proportionate to the benefits derived by them or the burdens they placed on the Division. The trial court erred in determining that the fee regulations were invalid based on their application to a single payor. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment invalidating the fee regulations. View "No. CA Water Assn. v. St. Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Legislature enacted Water Code section 1525, which required the holders of permits and licenses to appropriate water to pay an annual fee according to a fee schedule established by the Board. At the same time, the Legislature enacted sections 1540 and 1560, which allowed the Board to allocate the annual fee imposed on a permit or license holder who refuses to pay the fee on sovereign immunity grounds to persons or entities who contracted for the delivery of water from that permit or license holder. Plaintiffs Northern California Water Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, and individual fee payors claimed that the annual fee imposed in fiscal year 2003-2004 constituted an unlawful tax, as opposed to a valid regulatory fee because it required fee payors to pay more than a de minimis amount for regulatory activities that benefited nonfee-paying right holders. Plaintiffs also claimed that the fees allocated to the water supply contractors violated the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution because they exceeded the contractors’ beneficial interests in the USBR’s water rights. The California Supreme Court previously ruled sections 1525, 1540, and 1560 were constitutional on their face. The Supreme Court found that the record was unclear as to: (1) “whether the fees were reasonably apportioned in terms of the regulatory activity’s costs and the fees assessed;” and (2) “the extent and value of the [contractors’ beneficial] interests.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to remand the matter to the trial court to make findings on those issues. Following a 10-day bench trial, the trial court issued a statement of decision that determined inter alia that the statutory scheme as applied through its implementing regulations imposed a tax, as opposed to a valid regulatory fee, by allocating the entire cost of the Division’s regulatory activities to permit and license holders, while nonpaying-water-right holders who benefit from and place burdens on the Division’s activities pay nothing. The trial court likewise found that the fees passed through to the water supply contractors in fiscal year 2003-2004 pursuant to regulation 1073 ran afoul of the supremacy clause “because the allocation of fees [was] not limited to the contractors’ beneficial or possessory use of the [USBR’s] water rights.” In addition, the trial court found that the fee regulations were invalid because they operated in an arbitrary manner as to a single payor, Imperial Irrigation District. Accordingly, the trial court invalidated regulations 1066 and 1073, “as adopted by Resolution 2003-0077 in 2003-2004.” The Board appealed, contending the trial court erred in invalidating the fee regulations. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court’s central premise was wholly incorrect because it failed to recognize the role that general fund money played in fiscal year 2003-2004: the fees assessed on permit and license holders were proportionate to the benefits derived by them or the burdens they placed on the Division. The trial court erred in determining that the fee regulations were invalid based on their application to a single payor. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment invalidating the fee regulations. View "No. CA Water Assn. v. St. Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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While a 2007 ordinance, which deleted the reference to Internal Revenue Code section 4251 from the Norwalk Municipal Code, made a technical change to the Code, it did not impose, extend or increase the telephone tax. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the 2007 Ordinance violated Propositions 62 and 218, which prohibit local governments from imposing, extending, or increasing taxes without voter approval. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, holding, as a matter of law, that the 2007 ordinance did not violate Propositions 62 or 218. View "Gonzalez v. City of Norwalk" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law

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If a municipality imposes a sales tax, the State Board of Equalization (BOE) has the statutory authority to collect and then remit the tax back to the municipality, to determine where sales of personal property occur, and to designate the municipality that will receive any local sales tax that is being collected. Following an internal reorganization of an existing seller, the BOE decided that local sales tax which had been remitted to Fontana and Lathrop would be “reallocated” to Ontario. The trial court set aside the decision. The court of appeal reversed. There is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the BOE decision; the manner in which the BOE determined where the taxable event occurred was well within its administrative expertise and its discretionary authority to make such a determination. View "City of Fontana v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration" on Justia Law

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Defendant Darren Rose, a member of the Alturas Indian Rancheria, ran two smoke shops located in Indian country but far from any lands governed by the Alturas Indian Rancheria. In those smoke shops, Rose sold illegal cigarettes and failed to collect state taxes. California brought an enforcement action to stop illegal sales and collect civil penalties. Rose appealed, arguing: (1) California and its courts did not have jurisdiction to enforce California’s civil/regulatory laws for his actions in Indian country; and (2) the amount of civil penalties imposed was inequitable and erroneous. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) federal law and tribal sovereignty did not preempt California’s regulation and enforcement of its laws concerning sales of cigarettes; and (2) the superior court’s imposition of civil penalties was proper. View "California v. Rose" on Justia Law