Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this case was how Colorado’s Department of State (“the Department”) charged for some of its services to fund its general operations, which included overseeing elections. It was this funding scheme that the National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”) argued was unconstitutional under the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). Section 24-21-104(3)(b), C.R.S. (2019), directed the Department to “adjust its fees so that the revenue generated from the fees approximates [the Department’s] direct and indirect costs.” This fluctuating scheme for self-funding had been in place for nearly thirty years, predating TABOR by nearly a decade. There had been adjustments to charges since TABOR’s enactment; NFIB contended these adjustments violated TABOR: (1) by actually being taxes, because there was no reasonable relationship between the Department’s charges and the government functions funded by the charges; and (2) any increase in the charges after TABOR’s enactment in 1992 constituted either a new tax, an increase in a tax rate, or a tax policy change - all requiring voter approval, which never occurred. Because the Supreme Court disagreed with NFIB’s second contention, it did not address its first. Based on the stipulated facts, the Supreme Court concluded there was no evidence to establish that any post-TABOR adjustments resulted in a new tax, tax rate increase, or tax policy change directly causing a net revenue gain. Thus, the trial court properly granted summary judgment. View "Griswold v. Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus." on Justia Law

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Oracle was a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, and it is the parent of a worldwide group of affiliated corporations. OJH was a Delaware corporation and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oracle, existing solely as a holding company. During the period at issue in this matter, OJH held stock in Oracle Japan, and it sold 8.7 million shares of that stock on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, realizing capital gains of approximately $6.4 billion. The tax treatment of these gains was at the center of this dispute. Specifically, the issues this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the Colorado Department of Revenue could require Oracle Corporation (“Oracle”) to include its holding company, Oracle Japan Holding, Inc. (“OJH”), in its Colorado combined income tax return for the tax year ending May 31, 2000; and (2) if no, then whether the Department could nevertheless allocate OJH’s gain from the sale of shares that it held in Oracle Corporation Japan (“Oracle Japan”) to Oracle in order to avoid abuse and to clearly reflect income. For the reasons set forth in Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies, Inc., 2019 CO __, __ P.3d __, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the pertinent statutory provisions and regulations did not permit the Department either to require Oracle to include OJH in its combined tax return for the tax year at issue or to allocate OJH’s capital gains income to Oracle. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the district court properly granted summary judgment in Oracle's favor. View "Department of Revenue v. Oracle" on Justia Law

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Agilent Technologies, Inc. was a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, and was the parent company of a worldwide family of affiliated corporations. Agilent maintains research and development and manufacturing sites in Colorado and is thus subject to Colorado corporate income tax. World Trade, Inc. is a Delaware corporation and a wholly owned subsidiary of Agilent, and existed solely as a holding company. World Trade earned substantial dividends on its shares in its noted subsidiaries, the tax treatment of dividends gave rise to the dispute before the Colorado Supreme Court. Specifically, the issues reduced to: (1) whether the Colorado Department of Revenue and Michael Hartman, in his official capacity as the Executive Director of the Department, could require Agilent to include its holding company, Agilent Technologies World Trade in its Colorado combined income tax returns for the tax years 2000–07; if not, then whether the Department could nevertheless allocate World Trade’s gross income to Agilent in order to avoid abuse and to clearly reflect income. The Colorado Court determined sections 39-22-303(11)–(12), C.R.S. (2018), did not authorize the Department to require Agilent to include World Trade in its combined tax returns for the tax years at issue because World Trade was not an includable C corporation within the meaning of those provisions. As to the second question, the Court likewise concluded the Department could not allocate World Trade’s income to Agilent under section 39-22-303(6) because: (1) that section has been superseded by section 39-22-303(11) as a vehicle for requiring combined reporting for affiliated C corporations; and (2) even if section 39-22-303(6) could apply, on the undisputed facts presented here, no allocation would be necessary to avoid abuse or clearly reflect income. View "Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies" on Justia Law

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The Colorado School of Mines contracted with Sodexo America, LLC, to fulfill its obligations to provide meals and food options for its students. During the time at issue, Mines loaded each meal-plan student’s student identification card, with an individual meal plan choice. To use their meal plans, students swiped their “BlasterCards” at a dining facility. Sodexo had nothing to do with loading the students’ BlasterCards with their meal plans; Sodexo also had no way of knowing if a student had fully paid for his or her meal plan, and Sodexo had no way of enforcing collections against a student who hadn’t fully paid. Neither Mines nor Sodexo collected any sales tax on these meal-plan meals. When the City of Golden’s Finance Department audited Sodexo and discovered that sales tax for these meal plans had not been collected, it issued a sales and use tax assessment. Sodexo protested and lost, so Sodexo appealed to the district court. The court granted summary judgment for Golden, finding that Sodexo had engaged in taxable retail sales directly to Mines’ students, rather than tax-exempt wholesale sales to Mines. Sodexo appealed again. This time, a unanimous division of the court of appeals reversed the judgment of the district court, concluding that there were two sales transactions at issue: one between Mines and Sodexo, and the other between Mines and its students. The division further concluded that Mines and Sodexo were engaged in tax-exempt wholesale transactions. Accordingly, the division remanded for entry of judgment in Sodexo’s favor. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the City of Golden’s request to review the appellate court’s decision. After review, the Court agreed that two transactions took place. Like the division below, the Court concluded Sodexo sold the meal-plan meals to Mines at wholesale, and, accordingly, these transactions were exempt from taxation under the Code. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "City of Golden v. Sodexo America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Respondents were four Ranch owners who, with notice of the Lake Fork Hunting and Fishing Club’s (the Club) restrictive covenants and bylaws, purchased deeds conferring record title to their respective Ranches. In 2015, the Hinsdale County Assessor conducted valuations of the Respondents’ Ranches and assessed property taxes to their parcels. Respondents protested these valuations and assessments to the Hinsdale County Board of Equalization (the BOE), which denied their petitions. Respondents then appealed the BOE’s determination to the Board of Assessment Appeals (the BAA), arguing that because of the Club’s restrictive covenants and bylaws, the Club was the true owner of those parcels and should have been held responsible for real property taxes. The BAA denied the Respondents’ appeal and affirmed the Assessor’s valuation of the Ranch parcels. The Ranch owners then appealed the BAA’s decision to the court of appeals, which reversed the BAA’s order. Given the extent of the Club’s control over the property, the court of appeals concluded that the Club was the true owner of the parcels for purposes of property taxation and viewed the Ranch owners’ interests as akin to mere licenses to conduct certain activities on the Club’s property. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding Colorado’s property tax scheme reflected the legislative intent to assess property taxes to the record fee owners of real property. “Because Respondents voluntarily agreed to the restrictive covenants and bylaws that facilitate the collective use of their property for recreational purposes, we hold that they cannot rely on these same restrictive covenants and bylaws to avoid property tax liability that flows from their record title ownership.” Accordingly, the court of appeals erred in relying on the Club’s restrictive covenants and bylaws to conclude that the Club is the “owner” of the Ranch parcels and that the Ranch owners hold mere licenses to use Club grounds. The court further erred in holding that the Assessor therefore improperly valued the Respondents’ parcels. View "Hinsdale County v. HDH Partnership" on Justia Law

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Whites Corporation donated a conservation easement (CE), and transferred a portion of the resulting CE tax credit to John and Debra Medved. In 2006, the Medveds filed a return claiming the credit. In 2007, Whites Corporation claimed the credit. In 2011, the Colorado Department of Revenue (the Department) disallowed the credit in its entirety. The Medveds claimed the Department acted too late because their 2006 filing triggered the four-year limitations period within which the Department could invalidate a CE tax credit. The Department disagreed, claiming that Whites Corporation’s 2007 filing triggered the limitations period, and therefore the disallowance stood. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that the plain language of the applicable regulation meant the statute of limitations period began when the CE donor claimed the CE tax credit. This accrual applied to and bound any transferees of the credit. So, the limitations period here began when Whites Corporation filed its tax return in 2007, and the Department’s disallowance occurred before the period expired. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Medved" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the City of Aspen adopted an ordinance which imposed a regulatory scheme designed to meet the city council’s “duty to protect the natural environment and the health of its citizens and visitors.” Under the ordinance, grocery stores within Aspen’s city limits were prohibited from providing disposable plastic bags to customers, though they could still provide paper bags to customers, but each bag is subject to a $0.20 “waste reduction fee,” unless the customer was a participant in a “Colorado Food Assistance Program.” This case presented the question of whether Aspen’s $0.20 paper bag charge was a tax subject to voter approval under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). The trial court held that this charge was not subject to TABOR because it was not a tax, but a fee. The court of appeals concurred with this holding. The Colorado Supreme Court also agreed, finding the bag charge was not a tax subject to TABOR. View "Colorado Union of Taxpayers Found. v City of Aspen" on Justia Law

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The Regional Transportation District and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District were funded by a broad sales tax with a few exemptions. Over time, Colorado lawmakers added and removed exemptions. As the exemptions for the State and the Districts gradually diverged, tax collection became increasingly complicated for both vendors and the revenue department. To make it easier for everyone, the General Assembly passed House Bill 13-1272, adding and removing exemptions on the Districts’ taxes to realign them with the State’s, which yielded a projected net increase in the Districts’ annual tax revenue. When the Districts began collecting the altered sales tax without holding a vote, the TABOR Foundation sued, arguing the Bill created a “new tax” or effected a “tax policy change” and therefore required voter approval under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The trial court granted the Districts summary judgment on stipulated facts, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed. Through this opinion, the Colorado Supreme Court clarified that legislation causing only an incidental and de minimis tax-revenue increase does not amount to a “new tax” or a “tax policy change.” The Court held H.B. 13-1272 was such a bill: serving to simplify tax collection and ease administrative burdens. The Bill “only incidentally increases the Districts’ tax revenues by a de minimis amount.” Accordingly, the Court concluded H.B. 13-1272 did not violate the Colorado Constitution, and affirmed the court of appeals. View "TABOR Foundation v. Regional Transportation District" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Marin Metropolitan District (the “District”) was a special district created as a vehicle to finance the infrastructure of a proposed residential community. In late 2007, the organizers of the District held an election and approved the creation of the District. At the same time, pursuant to Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”), the organizers voted to approve the issuance of bonds and to impose property taxes to pay the bonds on landowners within the District. A group of condominium owners subsequently learned that their properties had been included in the District under what they believed to be suspicious circumstances and that they had been assessed property taxes to pay the bonds. Acting through their homeowners’ association, respondent Landmark Towers Association, Inc., (“Landmark”) the owners brought two lawsuits: one to invalidate the creation of the District and the other (this case) to invalidate the approval of the bonds and taxes and to recover taxes that they had paid to the District, among other things. The district court ultimately ordered a partial refund of the taxes paid by the condominium owners and enjoined the District from assessing future taxes on the owners in order to pay its obligations under the bonds. Both sides appealed, and the court of appeals concluded, in pertinent part, that Landmark’s challenge to the bond and tax election was timely and that the election violated TABOR and applicable statutes. At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether Landmark’s challenge to the bond and tax election was timely and the election was validly conducted. The Supreme Court reversed, finding Section 1-11-213(4), C.R.S. (2017), required a party seeking to contest an election like that present here to file a written statement of intent to contest the election within ten days after the official survey of returns has been filed with the designated election official. Without that statement, no could had jurisdiction over the contest. Landmark’s challenge to the bond and tax election at issue was time barred, and thus, the Court reversed the judgment below and remanded for further proceedings. View "UMB Bank, N.A. v. Landmark Towers Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011, OXY USA Inc. (“Oxy”), made a mistake that caused it to overpay its property taxes on oil and gas produced from leaseholds. Oxy failed to deduct certain costs it was entitled to deduct. By the time it realized the mistake, the protest period had expired. The company nonetheless contended it was entitled to abatement and refund of the overpayment pursuant to section 39-10-114(1)(a)(I)(A), C.R.S. (2017). The county board of commissioners maintained that the abatement-and-refund provision did not apply because Oxy was the sole source of the error. Relying on Colorado Supreme Court precedent, the court of appeals held that Oxy couldn't receive abatement and refund for overpayment due to its own mistake. The Supreme Court held section 39-10-114(1)(a)(I)(A) gave taxpayers the right to seek abatement and refund for erroneously or illegally levied taxes resulting from overvaluation caused solely by taxpayer mistake. Therefore, Oxy was entitled to abatement and refund for its overpayment of taxes in the tax year at issue in this appeal. View "OXY USA Inc. v. Mesa County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law