Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Tax Law
Alabama Department of Revenue v. Panama City Wholesale, Inc.
Alabama imposed a license or privilege tax on tobacco products stored or received for distribution within the State ("the tobacco tax"). Under Alabama law, the Department of Revenue could confiscate tobacco products on which the tobacco tax had not been paid. Panama City Wholesale, Inc. ("PCW") was a wholesale tobacco-products distributor located in Panama City, Florida, and owned by Ehad Ahmed. One of PCW's customers, Yafa Wholesale, LLC ("Yafa"), was an Alabama tobacco distributor owned by Sayeneddin Thiab ("Thiab"). On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael destroyed the roof on PCW's warehouse. Department surveillance agents observed observed one of Thiab's vehicles being unloaded at two of the recently rented storage units. The day after that, agents observed one of Thiab's delivery vehicles being loaded with tobacco products from a recently rented unit following the storm. On October 23, 2018, the Department confiscated 1,431,819 cigars from four storage units leased by persons connected to Yafa and Thiab. It is undisputed that the tobacco tax had not been paid on the cigars. Ahmed filed an action against Vernon Barnett, as Commissioner of the Department, seeking a judgment declaring that the cigars were Ahmed's and that they were not subject to confiscation. The case was transferred to the Jefferson Circuit Court, PCW was substituted for Ahmed, and the parties were realigned to make the Commissioner of the Department the plaintiff and PCW the defendant in a civil forfeiture action. On PCW's motion, the circuit court entered a summary judgment in PCW's favor, ruling that the Commissioner failed to present substantial evidence that the cigars were in the possession of a retailer or semijobber, as the court believed was required by the confiscation statute. The Commissioner appealed. A divided Alabama Supreme Court reversed, concluding the circuit court erred in interpreting the confiscation statute to apply only to untaxed tobacco products in the possession of retailers and semijobbers, and because the Commissioner presented substantial evidence that the cigars were subject to confiscation under a correct interpretation of the statute, the Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alabama Department of Revenue v. Panama City Wholesale, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Russell County Community Hospital, LLC, d/b/a Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital.
Between 2012 and 2014, Medhost of Tennessee, Inc. ("Medhost"), sold Russell County Community Hospital, LLC, d/b/a Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital ("the taxpayer"), computer software and accompanying equipment, which Medhost contracted to install in a hospital operated by the taxpayer. The software and equipment assists the taxpayer in operating various aspects of its hospital. Medhost collected a little less than $18,000 in sales tax in connection with the transactions, which it remitted to the Alabama Department of Revenue ("the Department"). Later, the taxpayer petitioned the Department for a refund of the sales tax it had paid on the transactions with Medhost. The Department denied that request, and the taxpayer appealed to the Alabama Tax Tribunal, which reversed the Department's decision and directed the Department to grant the taxpayer's request for a refund. The Department then filed an action in the trial court requesting de novo review of the tax tribunal's decision. After a hearing, during which testimony was presented ore tenus, the trial court overturned the tax tribunal's decision and affirmed the Department's denial of the taxpayer's refund petition. The taxpayer appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court granted the taxpayer's petition for a writ of certiorari. Under the ore tenus rule, which the taxpayer has conceded was applicable here, "a judgment based on [ore tenus] evidence is presumed to be correct and will not be disturbed on appeal unless a consideration of the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom reveals that the judgment is plainly and palpably erroneous or manifestly unjust." Under that standard, the Court found the evidence sufficient to support the trial court's judgment. Accordingly, the Court of Civil Appeals correctly affirmed that judgment, and the Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Ex parte Russell County Community Hospital, LLC, d/b/a Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital." on Justia Law
Burnett v. Chilton County Health Care Authority and Chilton County
On January 21, 2014, House Bill 331 (H.B. 331) was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives "to authorize the [Chilton] county commission to levy an additional one cent sales tax which shall be used exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a hospital in Chilton County; to provide for an expiration date for the tax; and to provide for a referendum and subsequent referendums." H.B. 331 was approved by both the Alabama House and Senate. The Governor signed the bill into law, designated as Act 2014-162. Notices had been placed in a county newspaper containing the full text of a second bill, introduced as Senate Bill 462 (S.B. 462), "to levy additional sales and use taxes to be used for the construction, maintenance, and operation of hospital facilities in Chilton County; to provide for certain matters relating to the administration, collection, and enforcement of such taxes; to provide for the effective date and termination of such taxes; to provide for an advisory referendum regarding the levy of the taxes; to provide that such taxes may not be abated pursuant to Chapter 9B, Title 40, Code of Alabama 1975, or otherwise; and to authorize the pledge of such taxes by Chilton County or a public corporation acting as its agent to secure indebtedness issued for the purposes for which the taxes are authorized." S.B. 462 was approved by both the House and Senate, and again forwarded to the Governor, who declined to sign it so that it be amended so that it repealed the earlier bill as a duplicative Act. The Legislature approved an amended version of S.B. 462, and the amended bill was signed into law as Act 2014-422. No notice of 2014-422 was ever published to Chilton County. An advisory referendum was held in Chilton County pursuant to Act No. 2014-422, and voters approved the tax. Roy Burnett filed a complaint on behalf of himself and others who paid the tax pursuant to 2014-422, arguing the act was unconstitutional because the bill was designed to raise revenue and did not originate in the House,and was not published after it was amended and signed into law. The Alabama Supreme Court determined 2014-422 was not unconstitutional because it was designed to "raise revenue" as that phrase was contemplated by section 70 of the Alabama Constitution. However, the Court found the Act violated section 107 of the Constitution because no published notice of the Act informed the people of Chilton County it was repealing Act 2014-162. Judgment was reversed that the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Chilton County Health Care Authority and Chilton County" on Justia Law
Bennett v. Jefferson County
Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Commission (collectively "the County parties") appealed a circuit court judgment denying a petition for validation of the warrants filed by the County parties, pursuant to section 6-6-750 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, and opposed by the taxpayers and citizens of Jefferson County. Andrew Bennett, Mary Moore, John Rogers, and William Muhammad cross-appealed the portion of the trial court's judgment declining to address alternative arguments they raised. In 2004 and 2005, Jefferson County issued warrants to raise funds to make certain grants to local boards of education to construct school buildings and to retire other debt. All the revenue from Jefferson County's existing 1% education sales and use taxes levied under section 40-12-4, Ala. Code 1975, was pledged and required to pay the debt service on the outstanding warrants and certain related costs. Jefferson County experienced severe financial difficulties in recent years that eventually resulted in the County's filing a petition in bankruptcy. In 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court held that Jefferson County's occupational tax, imposed since 1987, was unconstitutional. In 2015, Jefferson County and its legislative delegation proposed local legislation in an effort to bolster the County's finances without an occupational tax. Jefferson County proposed a new 1% sales tax and a 1% use tax to replace its existing 1% education sales and use taxes, the purpose of which was to fund new warrants at lower interest rate and a lower required debt service that would allow the County to retire its existing warrants. In 2015, Bennett, Moore, Rogers, and Muhammad ("the class plaintiffs") filed a class action against Jefferson County challenging the constitutionality of Act No. 2015-226 which enacted the new Jefferson County sales and use taxes. The circuit court declared Act 2015-226 unconstitutional, and the County parties appealed. Finding that the circuit court erred in finding the Act unconstitutional, and finding no merit in the alternative grounds on which the taxpayers argued the Act was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court reversed (Case No. 1150326) and dismissed (Case No. 1150327). View "Bennett v. Jefferson County" on Justia Law
Howard v. Cullman County
Michael Howard appealed the grant of summary judgment entered against him in the action he commenced on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated taxpayers in Cullman County against Cullman County and its Revenue Commissioner Barry Willingham, in his official capacity. Howard sought a refund of property taxes he and other taxpayers paid in 2013. Howard sought a judgment declaring that, pursuant to former section 40-7-42, the Commission's levy of property taxes for October 1, 2012, through September 30, 2013, was invalid because it was done in May 2013 rather than at the Commission's first regular meeting in February 2013. He also sought the return of property taxes collected in 2013. The Supreme Court found that the trial court correctly concluded that the Commission's failure to follow the timing provision of former 40-7-42 did not invalidate its subsequent levy in 2013 of property taxes upon Howard and other property owners in Cullman County. Therefore, the Court affirmed summary judgment on all of Howard's claims in favor of Cullman County and the revenue commissioner. View "Howard v. Cullman County" on Justia Law
Bonedaddy’s of Lee Branch, LLC v. City of Birmingham
The City of Birmingham sued "Bonedaddy's of Lee Branch" for failing to pay its business-license taxes, occupational taxes, interest, penalties and fees for multiple years since the business' formation in 2007. The City alleged that the defendants had failed and refused to submit business records and tax returns for the periods that were the subject of the complaint; that the defendants were currently engaged in business in the City of Birmingham in violation of the City's business-license code; and that notice of the final tax assessments had been mailed but that no payments had been forthcoming. The City asked the trial court to enter a preliminary injunction directing the defendants to refrain from further conducting business within the City and causing the sheriff to padlock the defendants' place of business in the City. The trial court ultimately granted the City's request, and Bonedaddy's was prohibited from further business until its back-taxes were paid. Cowan and Bonedaddy's argued on appeal that the trial court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to enter a final judgment against defendant John Cowan in this case because, they say, the City did not comply with certain provisions of the Alabama Taxpayers' Bill of Rights and Uniform Revenue Procedures Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the City had issued a final sales-tax assessment against Bonedaddy's. The notice of final assessment, however, did not name Cowan individually as the taxpayer nor was the notice mailed to Cowan. Additionally, the City did not present any evidence at trial to indicate that it had ever issued a final sales-tax assessment against Cowan per se. Based on the evidence presented at trial, it did not appear that the City complied with the requirements of the TBOR with regard to Cowan. The Court reversed the trial court with respect to Cowan's responsibility to pay Bonedaddy's outstanding sale taxes, but affirmed with regard to the tax assessments against Bonedaddy's itself. View "Bonedaddy's of Lee Branch, LLC v. City of Birmingham" on Justia Law
Lumpkin, Jr. v. Alabama
Edwin B. Lumpkin, Jr. appealed several Circuit Court orders dismissing three cases he had initiated challenging property-tax assessments made by the Jefferson County Board of Equalization and Adjustments. Lumpkin owned and operated Metro Mini Storage, a chain of self-storage facilities with locations throughout the Birmingham metropolitan area. In 2012, Lumpkin received notice from Jefferson County regarding the assessed value of three of his properties located in that county. Believing the assessed values of these properties to be too high, Lumpkin elected to protest their valuation, and the Board heard his arguments. Acting pro se, Lumpkin filed three appeals in the Jefferson Circuit Court (one for each of the three locations), arguing that the Board's decisions did not reflect the true market value of the properties and that a reduction in assessed value was warranted based on the evidence he had presented. Because Lumpkin's appeals are governed by section 40-3-25 and because he failed to comply with all the requirements of section 40-3-25 for perfecting his appeals, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly dismissed the cases. View "Lumpkin, Jr. v. Alabama" on Justia Law
First United Security Bank v. McCollum
First United Security Bank and its wholly owned subsidiary, Paty Holdings, LLC (collectively, "the bank"), brought suit to recover excess funds received by Tuscaloosa County from the tax sale of real estate owned by Wayne Allen Russell, Jr., and on which First United had a mortgage. The bank foreclosed on its mortgage after the tax sale but before the demand for excess proceeds was made. The issue presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether a purchaser at a foreclosure sale is an "owner" entitled under 40-10-28, Ala. Code 1975, to receive the excess proceeds from a tax sale of the real property foreclosed upon. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the bank was entitled to the excess tax-sale proceeds. The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "First United Security Bank v. McCollum" on Justia Law
Central Shelby LTD. v. Shelby County Board of Equalization
The Shelby County Board of Equalization petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, or, in the alternative, a writ of prohibition, to direct the Shelby Circuit Court to dismiss as untimely an appeal filed by Central Shelby LTD. challenging a final ad valorem tax assessment issued by the Board. In response to Central Shelby's objection to the Board's 2013 assessed value of real property owned by Central Shelby, the Board entered a final ad valorem assessment. The clerk of the Shelby Circuit Court mailed a copy of the notice of appeal to the Board, which received the notice on July 8, 2013. Thereafter, the Board moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that Central Shelby had not filed with the secretary of the Board its notice of appeal within 30 days of the final assessment as, the Board contended, section 40-3-25 requires. The trial court, without stating the findings on which its decision was based, denied the Board's motion. In response, the Board filed this petition alleging that, as a result of the alleged untimely notice to it of Central Shelby's appeal, the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the underlying appeal. Central Shelby faulted the circuit clerk for her alleged untimely mailing of the notice of appeal to the secretary of the Board. The Supreme Court concluded the appealing taxpayer is charged with the responsibility of filing the notice of appeal with the secretary of the Board. As a result of Central Shelby's failure to comply with the provisions of 40-3-25, its appeal was not perfected and the trial court's jurisdiction was never invoked. The Supreme Court therefore granted the Board's petition and directed the trial court to vacate its order denying the Board's motion to dismiss and to dismiss Central Shelby's appeal as untimely. View "Central Shelby LTD. v. Shelby County Board of Equalization" on Justia Law
Robertson v. MERSCORP, Inc.
Two petitions for a writ of mandamus came before the Supreme Court. Both sought review of orders that found plaintiffs lacked of standing and, in turn, found the trial courts lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. In case no. 1111567, U.S. Bank National Association ("U.S. Bank"), sought a writ to require the Walker Circuit Court to dismiss an action filed by Walker County. In case no. 1111370, MERSCORP, Inc. ("MERSCORP"), and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") sought a writ to require the Barbour Circuit Court to dismiss an action filed by Barbour Probate Judge Nancy Robertson. Upon careful consideration of the underlying trial court cases, the Supreme Court concluded that these cases did not fall within the subject-matter-jurisdiction exception to the general rule that the Supreme Court would not engage in mandamus review of a trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss. The Court therefore denied the request for mandamus relief in both of the cases. View "Robertson v. MERSCORP, Inc." on Justia Law