Articles Posted in Tax Law

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Delta Logistics, Inc. was a "for-hire carrier" licensed by the federal government to transport goods interstate. Delta did not own any trucks; rather, it leased trucks from owner-operators, who operated, furnished, and maintained the trucks. The Oregon Employment Department assessed Delta unemployment insurance taxes on the funds that Delta paid the owner-operators, on grounds the owner-operators did not come within the exemption in ORS 657.047(1)(b) because the leases that the owner-operators entered into with Delta were not "leases" within the meaning of the statute: to come within the exemption, the owner must be the only person operating the truck. An administrative law judge (ALJ) agreed and issued a final order upholding the assessment. Delta appealed. The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by the Department's arguments and overturned the ALJ's decision, finding ORS 657.047(2) made clear that the exemption included owners who hire employees to help operate their trucks. Considering the text, context, and legislative history of ORS 657.047(1)(b), the Oregon Supreme Court did not agree with the department that Delta owed unemployment taxes on owner-operators who hired employees to help them operate the motor-vehicles they leased to Delta. The Court of Appeals was affirmed that the final of the ALJ was reversed. View "Delta Logistics, Inc. v. Employment Dept. Tax Section" on Justia Law

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This case involved ad valorem property taxes: the land at issue had been exempted from some property taxes because it was specially assessed as nonexclusive farm use zone farmland. When that special assessment ends, the property ordinarily has an additional tax levied against it. The question here was whether an exception created by ORS 308A.709(5) applied to excuse the payment of that additional tax. The Tax Court agreed with the Department of Revenue and concluded that the exception was not available. The Port of Morrow appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the statutory text on which this case turned, “the date the disqualification [from special assessment] is taken into account on the assessment and tax roll,” meant the date the disqualification became effective on the assessment and tax roll. As a result of that holding, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Boardman Acquisition LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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Four consolidated property tax appeals returned to the Oregon Supreme Court following remand to the Oregon Tax Court. In "Village I," the Supreme Court addressed whether the Tax Court had erred by denying defendant-intervenor Clackamas County Assessor's (assessor) motion for leave to file amended answers on the ground that the answers contained impermissible counterclaims challenging the value of taxpayers' land. The Supreme Court determined that the assessor should have been allowed to challenge the land valuations, and it reversed and remanded the cases to the Tax Court. Before the assessor filed amended answers, taxpayers served notices of voluntary dismissal of their cases pursuant to Tax Court Rule (TCR) 54 A(1). The Tax Court then entered a judgment of dismissal, over the assessor's objection. The court denied the subsequent motions for relief from the judgment by defendant Department of Revenue (department) and the assessor. On appeal, the Supreme Court addressed whether, as defendants argued, the Tax Court erred by giving effect to taxpayers' notices of voluntary dismissal rather than to the decision in "Village I" concerning the assessor's counterclaims pending in the motions for leave to file amended answers. The Court concluded that the Tax Court erred in dismissing the appeals given the decision and remand in Village I. Accordingly, it vacated the Tax Court's order denying defendants relief from the judgment, reversed the general judgment of dismissal, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Village at Main Street Phase II, LLC II v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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Habitat for Humanity of the Mid-Willamette Valley was a nonprofit corporation. Part of Habitat's mission (as reflected in its articles of incorporation) is that it acquires vacant lots and builds affordable housing on those lots. In this direct appeal from the Regular Division of the Tax Court (Tax Court), the issue was whether Habitat was entitled to an exemption from property taxes assessed on a vacant lot that it owned. During the relevant time, Habitat intended to build a home on the lot but had not yet started construction. The Marion County Assessor (the county) denied Habitat’s application for a tax exemption under ORS 307.130(2)(a), which provided nonprofit institutions with a tax exemption on “such real or personal property, or proportion thereof, as is actually and exclusively occupied or used in the literary, benevolent, charitable or scientific work carried on by such institutions.” The Tax Court affirmed, holding that Habitat was not using the vacant lot to carry out its charitable work at the time of the assessment. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that it was "apparent" that the real property at issue was actually and exclusively "used in the literary, benevolent, charitable or scientific work carried on" by Habitat. As a result, at the time of the assessment, Habitat was entitled to receive the exemption that the county denied. View "Habitat for Humanity v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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Washington resident Stuart Etter was an aircraft dispatcher for Horizon Air Industries, Inc. who worked almost entirely in Portland. To work as a dispatcher, however, he had to spend five hours each year riding along in the cockpit for each aircraft group that he dispatched. Taxpayer argued that, pursuant to 49 USC § 40116(f), that flight time exempted him from paying Oregon income tax in the tax year 2000. The Oregon Tax Court concluded that taxpayer did not meet the requirements of the federal statute and denied his exemption. On appeal, taxpayer renewed his arguments. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed. View "Etter v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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The Oregon Tax Court set aside a determination by the Department of Revenue (the department) that taxpayer DIRECTV’s property in Oregon was subject to central assessment under ORS 308.505 to 308.665. The department argued that, contrary to the Tax Court’s opinion, DIRECTV was a “communications” business whose property is subject to central assessment under ORS 308.515(1). The Supreme Court agreed and, therefore, reversed and remanded. View "DIRECTV, Inc. v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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Oakmont LLC owned an apartment complex built in 1996. Oakmont appealed the assessed value for the 2009-10 tax year for that complex on the ground that structural damages resulting from construction defects had substantially reduced the property’s value. In 2011, the county assessor and Oakmont agreed to reduce the assessed value of the complex from over $21 million to $8.5 million for the 2009-10 tax year. Because the time for appealing the valuation for the 2008-09 tax year had passed, the taxpayer asked the Department of Revenue to exercise its supervisory jurisdiction to correct a “likely error” in the 2008-09 assessment. The department concluded that it had no jurisdiction to consider Oakmont’s request, and the Tax Court reversed. Both the county and the department appealed. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court found the Tax Court correctly held that the department had supervisory jurisdiction over Oakmont’s petition to reduce the assessed value of the property for the 2008-09 tax year. Oakmont had no remaining statutory right of appeal, and the parties to the petition agreed to facts indicating a likely error on the tax rolls. It follows that the department had supervisory jurisdiction to consider whether there was in fact an error on the tax rolls and whether, if there was, the department should exercise its discretion to correct any error. The department did not reach those issues, and the Supreme Court agreed with the Tax Court that the case should have been remanded to the department to consider those issues in the first instance. View "Oakmont, LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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The taxpayer who owned the convention center in Bend also owned a hotel across the street. The convention center and the hotel were held in different property tax accounts. For the 2008-09 tax year, Taxpayer’s appraisal valued the convention center at $4,130,000, after applying two different approaches to valuation, the cost approach and the income approach. The appraiser for the Deschutes County Assessor (assessor) and the Department of Revenue (department) appraised the convention center at $16,700,000, after applying only the cost approach to valuation. The Regular Division of the Tax Court rejected the department’s appraisal for two independent reasons: (1) Measure 50 (codified as Article XI, section 11, of the Oregon Constitution) and its enabling statutes required the property in each tax account to be valued separately; and (2) the department’s appraisal was unpersuasive because the appraiser lacked good reason for not having used the income approach. The Tax Court awarded taxpayer its attorney fees, concluding that the department’s position was not objectively reasonable and that the department should be deterred from making similar arguments in the future. The department and the assessor appealed, raising a narrow range of issues. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Court’s decision to reject the department’s appraisal on the ground that it was unpersuasive. Because that independent reason supported the Tax Court’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed its judgment, and did not reach the issue of whether Measure 50 required valuing the property in each property tax account separately. Because it was based in part on the Tax Court’s Measure 50 analysis, the Supreme Court vacated the award of attorney fees and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Rev. v. River's Edge Investments, LLC" on Justia Law

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The City of Eugene sued to collect from Comcast of Oregon II, Inc. (Comcast) a license fee that the city, acting under a municipal ordinance, imposes on companies providing “telecommunications services” over the city’s rights of way. Comcast did not dispute that it used the city’s rights of way to operate a cable system. However it objected to the city’s collection effort and argued that the license fee was either a tax barred by the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), or a franchise fee barred by the Cable Communications and Policy Act of 1984 (Cable Act). The city read those federal laws more narrowly and disputed Comcast’s interpretation. The trial court rejected Comcast’s arguments and granted summary judgment in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Eugene v. Comcast of Oregon II, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Rockwood Water People’s Utility District (Rockwood PUD), Northwest Natural Gas Company (NW Natural) and Portland General Electric Company (PGE) sought review of a Court of Appeals decision to uphold the validity of municipal enactments by respondent City of Gresham (the city) that increased the licensing fee that each utility was required to pay from five percent to seven percent of the utility’s gross revenues earned within the City. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the enactments were void and unenforceable because they conflicted with the provisions of ORS 221.450. Alternatively, Rockwood PUD argued that it could not be taxed more than five percent by a city without explicit statutory authority. Trial court agreed with plaintiffs that the enactments violated ORS 221.450, and did not reach Rockwood PUD’s alternative argument. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the fee increase was not preempted by ORS 221.450 because the utilities were not operating “without a franchise” and that a city’s home-rule authority to impose taxes or fees on a utility is not affected by a utility’s municipal corporation status. The Supreme Court held that the license fee imposed by the City was a “privilege tax” and that the affected utilities were operating “without a franchise” within the meaning of ORS 221.450. The Court also held that the City was not preempted by ORS 221.450 from imposing the seven percent privilege tax on NW Natural and PGE, but that the City did not have express statutory authority to impose a tax in excess of five percent on Rockwood PUD under ORS 221.450. View "Northwest Natural Gas Co. v. City of Gresham" on Justia Law