Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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Barry Ackerley died in 2011. In 2008 and 2010, Ackerley made substantial gifts of money. On these inter vivos gifts, Ackerley paid the required federal gift taxes, which amounted to over $5.5 million. Upon his death, Ackerley was required under the federal estate tax code to include the value of the gift taxes paid in his federal taxable estate because he died within three years of making the gifts. Ackerley's estate thus included the gift taxes in its federal estate tax return. But when Ackerley's estate filed his Washington estate tax return, it did not include the $5.5 million in federal gift taxes paid as part of the Washington taxable estate. The Department of Revenue issued a notice of assessment, notifying Ackerley's estate that it owed additional Washington estate taxes on the amount of federal gift taxes paid. The Estate and Transfer Tax Act, chapter 83.100 RCW, made clear that calculating a Washington taxable estate begins with the federal taxable estate and that the Washington definition of "transfer" is the same as the federal definition. Under federal estate tax law, the gift tax paid is included in the taxable estate under the "gross-up rule" and, as such, is transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Following the legislature's clear mandate, the Washington Supreme Court must also find that the gift tax paid is part of the Washington taxable estate and transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Thus, the DOR properly included the gift tax paid in its assessment of Ackerley's estate. View "Estate of Ackerley v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a certain governmental charge imposed on Indian tribes was a tax. After the legislature amended a statute to expand the types of tribal property that were eligible for a property tax: exemption, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe applied for and received an exemption on its Salish Lodge property pursuant to the amendment. As required by statute, the tribe negotiated and paid an amount to the county in lieu of taxes. The issue before the Washington Supreme Court centered on the constitutionality of this payment in lieu of tax (PILT). The Court found that the PILT was not a tax at all but, rather, a charge that tribes pay to compensate municipalities for public services provided to the exempt property. View "City of Snoqualmie v. King County Exec. Constantine" on Justia Law

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Avnet Inc. was a New York corporation, headquartered in Arizona, and a major distributor of electronic components and computer technology worldwide. Avnet sold products through its headquarters in Arizona and through its many regional sales offices, including one in Redmond, Washington. Following an audit, the Washington State Department of Revenue (Department) determined that from 2003 to 2005, Avnet underreported its business and operations (B&O) tax liabilities by failing to include its national and drop-shipped sales in its tax filings. At issue in this appeal was whether national and drop-shipped sales were subject to Washington's B&O tax under the dormant commerce clause and the Department former "Rule 193." The Washington Supreme Court concluded that neither the dormant commerce clause nor Rule 193 barred the imposition of a B&O tax to Avnet's national and drop-shipped sales delivered in Washington. View "Avnet, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Historically, sovereigns were not subject to statutes of limitations without their explicit consent. Washington State consented to some statutes of limitations but not to others. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review in this case was whether Washington consented to a statute of limitations that would bar this antitrust suit filed by the Washington State attorney general on behalf of the State against more than 20 foreign electronics manufacturing companies. The State alleged that between at least March 1, 1995, through at least November 25, 2007, the defendants violated RCW 19.86.030, which prohibited any "contract, combination ... or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce," by agreeing to raise prices and agreeing on production levels in the market for CRTs (cathode ray tubes) used in televisions and computer monitors before the advent of LCD (liquid crystal display) panels and plasma display technologies. Due to this unlawful conspiracy, the State alleges, Washington consumers and the State of Washington itself paid supracompetitive prices for CRT products. Ten of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the claims were time barred because Washington's Consumer Protection Act (CPA) must be brought within four years. The State responded that RCW 19.86.120's statute of limitations did not apply to its claims under RCW 19.86.080. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the State's action for injunctive relief and restitution was exempt from the statute of limitations in RCW 19.86.120 and from the general statutes of limitations in chapter 4.16 RCW. View "Washington v. LG Elecs., Inc." on Justia Law

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New Cingular Wireless PCS LLC, an affiliate of AT&T Mobility LLC, provides both wireless voice telephone services and data services to customers in the city of Clyde Hill. Clyde Hill imposes a local utility tax on wireless telephone services, which applies to both voice and data services. New Cingular had for years collected utility taxes from Clyde Hill's residents on all charges for wireless and telephone voice and data services, and paid the tax to the city. In this case, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the cellular service provider could challenge a city fine through an action for declaratory judgment in superior court. The trial court dismissed, holding that a declaratory judgment action was improper and judicial review should have been sought by way of a statutory writ of review under RCW 7 .16.040. The Court of Appeals reversed, reinstating the declaratory action and remanding for a decision on the merits. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Appeals' judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. City of Clyde Hill" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the legislature's amendment to a business and occupation (B&O) tax exemption, applied retroactively, violated a taxpayer's rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, collateral estoppel, or separation of powers principles. Taxpayer Dot Foods contended that it should have remained eligible for a B&O tax exemption pursuant to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in "Dot Foods, Inc. v. Department of Revenue," (215 P.3d 185 (2009) (Dot Foods I)), despite an intervening, contrary amendment to the applicable law. Because Dot Foods I did not encompass the tax periods at issue in this case, the Supreme Court held that retroactive application of the legislative amendment to Dot Foods did not violate due process, collateral estoppel, or separation of powers principles. View "Dot Foods, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Klein Honda was a Honda dealership. From time to time, Honda (the manufacturer) offered a "dealer cash" incentive program for its dealerships whereby dealerships can earn a specific amount of extra money if they sold specific Honda models during specific times and comply with other terms and conditions. At issue in this case was whether Klein Honda's dealer cash earnings were taxable. "Klein Honda received additional, separate income beyond its ordinary retail sales. That constitutes an additional taxable business activity under the [B&O] catchall provision. Although dealer cash would not be taxable under one of the Washington State Department of Revenue's regulations if it represented a 'bona fide discount' on Klein Honda's wholesale purchase of vehicles, dealer cash is not a bona fide discount because Klein Honda does not purchase vehicles from Honda subject to a dealer cash discount. Dealer cash payments are not necessarily quantified or even knowable at the time that Klein Honda purchases vehicles from Honda. Thus, Klein Honda's dealer cash is taxable." View "Steven Klein, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Several Indian tribes successfully challenged the imposition of state fuel taxes on tribal retailers. Since then, the State and various tribes signed agreements under which the tribes agreed to buy taxed fuel, and the State agreed to refund a portion of the fuel tax receipts to the tribes. An industry group unsuccessfully challenged the lawfulness of these agreements. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review reduced to whether those agreements violated article II, section 40 of the State Constitution. "Without passing judgment on whether the legislature successfully moved the legal incidence of the tax away from tribal retailers," the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the industry group's challenge. View "Auto. United Trades Org. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the legislature amended the Estate and Transfer Tax Act in response to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in "In re Estate of Bracken," 290 P.3d 99 (2012), in which the Court narrowly construed the term "transfer." The amendment allowed the Department of Revenue (DOR) to tax qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) as part of a surviving spouse's estate. A QTIP trust is created by a deceased spouse and gives the surviving spouse a life interest in the income or use of trust property. In consolidated cases, the estates of Hambleton and Macbride challenged the amendment on a variety of grounds. The Supreme Court rejected the Estates' challenges, reversed summary judgment in In re Estate of Hambleton, and affirmed the summary judgment in In re Estate of Macbride. View "In re Estate of Hambleton" on Justia Law

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This case centered on the interpretation of a state tax deduction statute. Former RCW 82.04.4292 (1980) provided that in computing their business and occupation (B&O) tax, banks and financial institutions could deduct from their income "amounts derived from interest received on investments or loans primarily secured by first mortgages or trust deeds on nontransient residential properties." Between 2004 and 2007, petitioner Cashmere Valley Bank invested in mortgage-backed securities known as real estate mortgage investment conduits (REMICs) and collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs). Cashmere claimed that interest earned on these investments was deductible under RCW 82.04.4292. Upon further review, the Supreme Court concluded Cashmere could not claim the deduction because its investments in REMICs and CMOs were not "primarily secured" by first mortgages or trust deeds. The ultimate source of cash flow was mortgage payments. However, Cashmere's investments were not backed by any encumbrance on property nor did Cashmere have any legal recourse to the underlying trust assets in the event of default. Thus, Cashmere's investments were not "primarily secured" by mortgages or trust deeds. View "Cashmere Valley Bank v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law