Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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The San Mateo County Assessment Appeals Board invalidated escape assessments imposed by the County Assessor based on the value of machinery and equipment (M&E) at Genentech’s San Mateo County facility. The fair market value of the M&E on which property tax is imposed is determined with reference to either the cost of equipment purchased in a finished state or, if the equipment is not purchased in a finished state, costs incurred to bring the equipment to a finished state. The Board determined that Genentech purchased all of the M&E in a finished state and that the assembly of the equipment into a production line did not render the equipment “self-constructed property” justifying the inclusion of the additional costs in determining fair market value. The trial court determined that none of the equipment was in a finished state until put to use in a functioning production line and that the additional costs capitalized for accounting purposes add to the value of the property for purposes of the property tax.The court of appeal reversed. The trial court adopted a standard for determining when equipment is in a finished state for which there is no justification, and erroneously rejected Board findings that are supported by substantial evidence. Fair market value and net book value are separate concepts with separate purposes; the assessor may not rely on Genentech’s capitalization of expenses for accounting purposes to establish that those expenses increase the value of the equipment and are subject to assessment. View "Church v. San Mateo County Assessment Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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In the November 2018 general election, 61percent of San Francisco voters voted for Proposition C, entitled “Additional Business Taxes to Fund Homeless Services.” San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition C has been validly enacted through the voters’ initiative power. The City’s complaint against “All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C” was answered by three defendants: the California Business Properties Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the California Business Roundtable (the Associations). The Associations allege that Proposition C is invalid because it imposes a special tax approved by less than two-thirds of the voting electorate as required by Propositions 13 and 218. (California Constitution Art. XIII A, section 4 & Art. XIII C, section 2(d).)The trial court granted the City judgment on the pleadings. The court of appeal affirmed, citing two California Supreme Court cases interpreting other language from Proposition 13 and Proposition 218. The supermajority vote requirements that those propositions added to the state constitution coexist with and do not displace the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote. Because a majority of San Francisco voters who cast ballots in November 2018 favored Proposition C, the initiative measure was validly enacted. View "City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in Proposition C" on Justia Law

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The Paula Trust, established for the sole benefit of Medeiros, a California resident, has two cotrustees—a California resident and a Maryland resident. Paula Trust held a limited partnership interest in Syufy, which in 2007 sold stock. Some of the capital gain income from the stock sale was allocated to Paula Trust. Paula Trust’s 2007 tax return reported $2,831,336 of capital gain including the stock sale. The trust paid California income tax of $223,425 and later filed an amended 2007 California fiduciary income tax return, requesting a refund, arguing that the capital gain was incorrectly reported as California-source income. The trustees declared they were “required to apportion the stock gain as California source and non-California-source income . . . according to the number of trustees resident in California” based on Rev. & Tax. Code 17743, which provides: “Where the taxability of income under this chapter depends on the residence of the fiduciary and there are two or more fiduciaries for the trust, the income taxable . . . shall be apportioned according to the number of fiduciaries resident in this state.”The court of appeal reversed a judgment ordering a refund in the amount of $150,655 of tax, plus interest of $68,955.70. The Revenue and Taxation Code imposes taxes on the entire amount of trust income derived from California sources, regardless of the residency of the trust’s fiduciaries. View "Steuer v. Franchise Tax Board" on Justia Law

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A toll increase for seven Bay Area bridges that was submitted to the voters as Regional Measure 3 in 2018, and approved by a 55 percent majority. Revenue from the toll increase is to be applied toward various designated highway and public transit improvement projects and programs. Opponents contend that most of the revenue will not be used for the benefit of those who use the bridges and pay the toll but rather for the benefit of those who use other means of transportation; they argue the toll increase is a tax for which the California Constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote, and therefore is invalid.The court of appeal affirmed judgment on the pleadings, upholding the fee increase. The Legislature, not the Bay Area Toll Authority, imposed the toll increase in Senate Bill 595, which required imposition of a toll increase of up to $3, subject to approval by the voters, and specified in great detail the uses to which the resulting revenue would be put. View "Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Bay Area Toll Authority" on Justia Law

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In 2009, 731 Market leased the ground floor of its commercial building to CVS for a term of 45 years. Once the lease was recorded with the City and County of San Francisco, a “Real Property Transfer Tax” was paid under the San Francisco Business and Tax Regulations Code, based on the value of the stream of rental payments due over the lease’s life. In 2015, 731 Market sold the building, which included the CVS lease. All terms of the original lease remained unchanged with a remaining term of more than 35 years. 731 Market paid a documentary transfer tax, then unsuccessfully sought a refund of the amount of tax it paid based on the value of the remaining stream of payments due over CVS’s lease.The trial court and court of appeal agreed with 731 Market that the 2015 transaction did not trigger the tax as to the leasehold interest because the transaction did not result in any “realty sold” under the ordinance. San Francisco impermissibly collected a “double tax” on the property. View "731 Market Street Owner, LLC v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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A taxpayer cannot avoid Article XIII, section 32 of the California Constitution's "pay first" rule by alleging, in a claim for declaratory relief invoking Government Code section 11350, that the tax regulation giving rise to his unpaid tax assessment is invalid.The Court of Appeal held that this is the result dictated by the canons of statutory construction; the purpose underlying section 11350 does not justify exempting declaratory relief otherwise subject to section 32's "pay first" rule from its auspices; and the California Supreme Court has already strongly suggested that section 11350 must not be read as an exemption from section 32's "pay first" rule. To the extent language in Pacific Motor Transport Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 230 can be read to suggest a contrary answer, the court respectfully disagreed with Pacific Motor. Accordingly, the court granted the writ petition challenging the trial court's order overruling the demurrer in this case, and directed the trial court to enter a new and different order sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend. View "California Department of Tax and Fee Administration v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Inmates in county jails in nine California counties challenged the exorbitant commissions paid by telecommunications companies to the nine counties under contracts giving the telecommunications companies the exclusive right to provide telephone service for the inmates. The inmates contend that the fees are unlawful taxes under Proposition 26.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision sustaining a demurrer by the counties without leave to amend, because the inmates do not have standing to contend the commissions are an unconstitutional tax. The court explained that no precedents support the inmates' claim that a consumer who pays charges to a third party vendor—including one that has inflated its prices to recover the cost of a tax it pays to a local government—has standing to seek a refund of those charges from the taxing authority. Finally, the court rejected the inmates' claims under Government Code section 11135 and the Bane Act. View "County Inmate Telephone Service Cases" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Oakland requested proposals for franchise contracts regarding garbage and residential recycling services. Following a lawsuit, a settlement provided that WMAC would receive garbage and mixed materials and organics contracts; CWS would receive the residential recycling contract. WMAC and CWS agreed to pay franchise fees to the city, which redesignated part of WMAC’s franchise fee as a fee to compensate the city for the cost of implementing the Alameda County Waste Management Plan, under Public Resource Code 41901. Plaintiffs challenged the fees as improperly imposed taxes under the California Constitution, article XIIIC.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of claims concerning the Redesignated Fee as not ripe for adjudication but reversed dismissal as to the franchise fees. A franchise fee, arguably subject to an article XIIIC, section 1(e) exemption, must still be reasonably related to the value of the franchise to be exempt from the “tax” definition. The court cited Proposition 26: To qualify as a nontax ‘fee’ under article XIII C, as amended, a charge must satisfy both the requirement that it be fixed in an amount that is ‘no more than necessary to cover the reasonable costs of the governmental activity,’ and the requirement that ‘the manner in which those costs are allocated to a payor bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens on, or benefits received from, the governmental activity. View "Zolly v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Assessor and others, seeking a refund of property taxes and special assessments, and for declaratory relief. The Court of Appeal found no support in statutory or case law for plaintiffs' claim that a nonprofit charter school should be treated as a public school district for purposes of applying the implied exemption, which plaintiffs contend exempts public schools from having to pay both taxes and special assessments.The court explained that the Legislature has specified precisely how, and to what extent, and under which statutory provisions charter schools are deemed to be part of the system of public schools, or deemed to be a school district. Notably absent is any suggestion that charters schools are to be treated like school districts for taxation purposes. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims to the contrary. View "Los Angeles Leadership Academy, Inc. v. Prang" on Justia Law

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HGST bought manufacturing fixtures, machinery, and equipment for $2.4 billion in 2002. The Santa Clara County Assessor annually imposed escape assessments (corrections to assessed value on the local property tax roll) on the property, 2003-2008. HGST challenged the assessor’s findings. The Assessment Appeals Board (AAB) issued findings in 2012 largely adopting the assessor’s findings. HGST filed an unsuccessful claim for a refund of $15 million with the Board of Supervisors. In 2014, HGST filed suit, seeking a refund. The court ruled in favor of the county.The court of appeal affirmed in part, rejecting arguments that the trial court: erred by reviewing the entire case in blanket fashion under a substantial evidence standard rather than examining each individual claim to determine which standard of review should apply; erroneously failed to review certain legal challenges to the valuation methodology applied by the AAB; and erred by upholding the AAB’s decision not to apply the “purchase price presumption” set forth in Revenue and Taxation Code section 110. The court reversed in part. The trial court erred by upholding the imposition of interest on the escape assessments under section 531.4; it made no findings on what portion of the property was reported accurately or to what extent the escape assessments were caused by HGST’s purported failure to report the property accurately. View "HGST, Inc. v. County of Santa Clara" on Justia Law