Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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In 2002, Douglas Coe, Jacqueline Coe, and GFLIRB, LLC (collectively the “Coes”) were involved in the sale of a company in which they held a substantial interest. Their accountants, BDO Seidman, LLP (“BDO”), advised them of a proposed tax strategy in which the Coes could invest in distressed debt from a foreign company in order to offset their tax obligations. In connection with the proposed tax strategy, BDO advised the Coes to obtain a legal opinion from an independent law firm, Proskauer Rose LLP (“Proskauer”). The Coes followed BDO’s advice, obtained a legal opinion from Proskauer, and claimed losses on their tax returns as a result. But in 2005, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) initiated an audit, which ultimately led to a settlement in 2012. After settling with the IRS, the Coes filed suit against Proskauer in December 2015, asserting legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and other claims. After limited discovery on whether the statute of limitation barred the Coes’ claims, the trial court concluded that it did and granted summary judgment in favor of Proskauer, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the Coes failed, as a matter of law, to exercise reasonable diligence to discover Proskauer’s allegedly fraudulent acts. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Coe, et al. v. Proskauer Rose, LLP" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Guam taxpayers in their class action lawsuit against the territorial government. Guam had excessively withheld income taxes to support government spending. Some taxpayers got their refunds through an “expedited refund” process that devolved into arbitrariness and favoritism. The district court had certified a class of taxpayers who were entitled to but did not receive timely tax refunds.Duncan then filed a purported class action challenging the Virgin Islands' income tax collection practices. Duncan alleged that the Territory owed taxpayers at least $97,849,992.74 in refunds for the years 2007-2017, and that, for the years 2011-2017, the Territory failed to comply with the requirement in Virgin Islands Code title 33, section 1102(b), that the Territory set aside 10 percent of collected income taxes for paying refunds, leaving the required reserve underfunded by $150 million. The district court denied class certification, citing Duncan’s receipt of a refund check from the Territory during the pendency of her lawsuit; the check, while not the amount Duncan claims, called into question Duncan’s standing and made all of her claims atypical for the putative class. The Third Circuit vacated, rejecting the conclusion that the mid-litigation refund check deprived Duncan of standing and rendered all of her claims atypical. In evaluating whether Duncan was an adequate representative, the district court applied an incorrect legal standard. View "Duncan v. Governor of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Hardel Mutual Plywood Corporation owns property in Lewis County. Hardel challenged the value assessed by the Lewis County assessor, paid its taxes under protest, and brought this refund action in Thurston County Superior Court. Lewis County timely moved for a change of venue under RCW 84.68.050. The issue this case presented concerned two venue statutes that were in tension with each other. Under the more specific statute, property tax refund cases “shall be brought in the superior court of the county wherein the tax was collected.” RCW 84.68.050. Under the more general statute, “[a]ll actions against any county may be commenced in the superior court of such county, or in the superior court of either of the two nearest judicial districts.” RCW 36.01.050(1). The Washington Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended the specific statute to govern. Accordingly, it affirmed the trial court’s order transferring venue to the superior court of the county where the tax was collected. View "Hardel Mut. Plywood Corp. v. Lewis County" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Revenue audited a non-resident corporation doing business in Alaska. The Department issued a deficiency assessment based in part on an Alaska tax statute requiring an income tax return to include certain foreign corporations affiliated with the taxpaying corporation. The taxpayer exhausted its administrative remedies and then appealed to the superior court, arguing that the tax statute the Department applied was facially unconstitutional because: (1) it violated the dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against foreign commerce based on countries’ corporate income tax rates; (2) it violated the Due Process Clause by being arbitrary and irrational; and (3) it violated the Due Process Clause by failing to provide notice of what affiliates a tax return must include, and therefore is void for vagueness. The superior court rejected the first two arguments but ruled in the taxpayer’s favor on the third argument. The Department appealed, claiming the superior court erred by concluding that the statute was void for vagueness in violation of the Due Process Clause. The taxpayer cross-appealed, asserting that the court erred by concluding that the statute did not violate the Commerce Clause and was not arbitrary. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision that the statute was facially unconstitutional on due process grounds, and affirmed the court’s decision that it otherwise was facially constitutional. View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. Nabors International Finance, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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Affordable Bio Feedstock, Inc., and Affordable Bio Feedstock of Port Charlotte, LLC, (collectively “ABF”) appealed the District Court’s summary judgment denying their claim for reimbursement of “protest payments” made to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) after the IRS claw-backed an alternative fuel tax credit it had previously given ABF. In support of its position, ABF argued that federal courts may order the Government to pay plaintiffs money from the Federal Treasury based solely on equitable principles.  At issue on appeal is whether any court may order that fund be appropriated from the Federal Treasury based on equitable estoppel without specific authorization from Congress.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the Supreme Court foreclosed ABF’s arguments 32 years ago in Office of Personnel Management v. Richmond, 496 U.S. 414, 110 S. Ct. 2465 (1990), when it held that “payments of money from the Federal Treasury are limited to those authorized by statute.”  Here, ABF sought only to recover the money it already paid to the IRS. The only relevant fact is that this money is currently within the Federal Treasury, and so the IRS would have to withdraw money from the Federal Treasury to pay any adverse equitable judgments. Under Richmond, ABF has waived any argument that its activities qualified it for the alternative fuel tax credit under Section 6426 and points to no other statute(s) as a potential basis for recovery. View "Affordable Bio Feedstock, Inc., et al v. USA" on Justia Law

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To dispute a property tax assessment under Detroit ordinances and Michigan state law, taxpayers “make complaint on or before February 15th" before the Board of Assessors. Any person who has complained to the Board of Assessors may appeal to the Board of Review. For the Michigan Tax Tribunal to have jurisdiction over an assessment dispute, “the assessment must be protested before the board of review.” On February 14, 2017, Detroit mailed tax assessment notices to Detroit homeowners, including an “EXTENDED ASSESSORS REVIEW SCHEDULE” that would conclude on February 18, just four days later. At a City Council meeting on February 14, the city announced: “The Assessors Review process will end this year February the 28th.” News outlets reported the extension and that Detroit had waived the requirement of appearance before the Board of Assessors so residents could appeal directly to the Board of Review. Detroit did not distribute individualized mailings to so inform homeowners.Plaintiffs filed a class action, alleging violations of their due process rights; asserting that Michigan’s State Tax Commission assumed control of Detroit’s flawed property tax assessment process from 2014-2017 so that its officials were equally responsible for the violations; and claiming that Wayne County is “complicit” and has been unjustly enriched. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, citing the Tax Injunction Act and the principle of comity. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that a state remedy is uncertain. View "Howard v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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The Mobile County Board of Equalization ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court ("the trial court") to dismiss, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, an appeal filed by Atwood Drilling, Inc. ("Atwood"), challenging the Board's final assessment of ad valorem property taxes. This case concerns a dispute between Atwood and the Board as to the assessed value of personal property owned by Atwood ("the property"). Atwood timely filed a notice of appeal to the trial court, challenging the assessment as too high. the Board moved to dismiss Atwood's appeal, alleging: (1) taxes on the property had become delinquent because they had not been paid by January 1, 2021; and (2) by failing to pay the disputed amount before January 1, 2021, Atwood had not satisfied a jurisdictional requirement in § 40-3-25 -- specifically, the requirement that, when appealing a tax assessment, a taxpayer who has not executed a supersedeas bond must pay the assessed taxes before they become delinquent. In support of the motion to dismiss, the Board attached a receipt from the office of the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner ("the Commissioner") indicating that Atwood had not paid the assessed taxes as of January 19, 2021. Atwood alleged that it had sent the Commissioner via certified mail on December 10, 2020, and suggested that delivery had been likely delayed because of service disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Board argued that the "mailbox rule" in § 40-1-45 did not extend to undelivered tax payments. At some point following the Board's filing of the motion to dismiss, Atwood paid the tax bill, including penalties and interest, with a second check. After holding several hearings on the matter, the trial court, without stating the findings on which its decision was based, entered an order denying the Board's motion to dismiss on September 10, 2021. Because the appeal was not perfected, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and should have granted the Board's motion to dismiss. The petition was thus granted and the writ issued. View "Ex parte Mobile County Board of Equalization." on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Alabama Legislature and the citizens of Greene County voted to allow nonprofit organizations in that county to operate bingo games for fundraising purposes. Greenetrack, Inc. ("Greenetrack"), which was not a nonprofit organization, almost immediately began offering live and electronic bingo games at its gambling facility. From 2004 to 2008, Greenetrack reaped vast profits under the guise that its whole casino-style bingo operation was constantly being leased and operated by a revolving slate of local nonprofit organizations, whose nominal role earned them a tiny fraction of the bingo proceeds. Eventually, the Alabama Department of Revenue ("the Department") audited Greenetrack, found that its bingo activities were illegal, and concluded that it owed over $76 million in unpaid taxes and interest. Following a decade of litigation, the Alabama Tax Tribunal voided the assessed taxes on the threshold ground that Greenetrack's bingo business (regardless of its legality) was tax-immune under a statute governing Greenetrack's status as a licensed operator of dog races. The Department appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, rejecting the statutory analysis offered by the Tax Tribunal and circuit court. Judgment was rendered in favor of the Department. View "Alabama Department of Revenue v. Greenetrack, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2016, Nucor Steel Louisiana, LLC submitted a tax refund claim to St. James Parish School Board and the St. James Parish Tax Agency (collectively the “Collector”). The claim alleged an overpayment of sales and use tax paid pursuant to a full contract price that was rebated. In 2018, the Collector issued a written denial of Nucor’s refund claim. Following the redetermination hearing, the Collector sent Nucor another letter denying the refund claim. Then, on May 24, 2018, just over two years after the Collector received the refund claim, Nucor appealed the denial to the Board of Tax Appeal (“BTA”). The Collector responded by filing peremptory exceptions of prescription, peremption, and res judicata, asserting that Nucor failed to timely appeal under La. R.S. 47:337.81(A)(2). The BTA granted the Collector’s exceptions, finding Paragraph (A)(2) provides “two alternative prescriptive periods for a taxpayer to appeal refund denial.” Because the Collector failed to render a decision within one year of Nucor’s refund claim being filed, Nucor had 180 days, or until July 26, 2017, to appeal. Thus, the BTA found Nucor’s May 24, 2018 appeal untimely. Nucor appealed. The court of appeal reversed, finding that Nucor’s appeal within 90 days of that decision was timely. The court of appeal also found the Collector’s statement to Nucor that it had “ninety (90) calendar days” to appeal amounted to a representation that Nucor relied upon to its detriment. Using the standard set forth in Suire v. Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government, 04-1459 (La. 4/12/05), 907 So.2d 37, which only required a reasonable reliance on a representation, the court found the Collector estopped from arguing prescription. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the Collector’s writ application to determine the proper interpretation of the appeal periods in La. R.S. 47:337.81 and to determine the proper standard for evaluating the estoppel and detrimental reliance claims. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal and reinstated the trial court’s ruling on the exceptions. View "Nucor Steel Lousiana, LLC v. St. James Parish School Board et al." on Justia Law

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Sunoco sued the Internal Revenue Service  (“IRS”) in Texas federal court, seeking a partial refund of its income tax payments for 2010 and 2011. Sunoco’s claims rested on a theory of reduced tax liability that the company had argued unsuccessfully for prior tax years in the Court of Federal Claims. Because the issue was fully and actually litigated in the earlier case, the district court dismissed Sunoco’s new suit based on collateral estoppel, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.   The court held that the only question is the correctness of the issue preclusion ruling. Sunoco did not dispute that the three traditional elements of preclusion are satisfied. It argued, however, that the court should have considered a fourth factor: whether there are “special circumstances that would render preclusion inappropriate or unfair.”  The court found that because Sunoco and the IRS were both parties to Sunoco I, “an inquiry into special circumstances is unnecessary.” Sunoco is barred from relitigating the Federal Circuit’s conclusion that it cannot use the mixture credits to offset both excise-tax and income-tax liability. View "ETC Sunoco Holdings v. USA" on Justia Law