Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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A mining company appealed the borough assessor’s valuation of its mine to the borough board of equalization. At a hearing the company presented a detailed report arguing the borough had improperly included the value of “capitalized waste stripping”when calculating the tax-assessed value of the mine. The assessor maintained its position that waste stripping was taxable, but reduced its valuation of the mine to better reflect the remaining life of the mine. The board approved the assessor’s reduced valuation of the mine and the superior court affirmed the board’s decision. The mine owners argued that waste stripping fell within a statutory exemption from taxation. The Alaska Supreme Court construed municipal taxing power broadly, and read exceptions to that power narrowly. The Court found waste stripping was not a “natural resource,” but an improvement that made it easier for miners to access natural resources. The Court concluded that the value of this improvement, like that of other improvements at the mine site, was subject to tax by the borough. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the board’s valuation. View "Fairbanks Gold Mining, Inc. vs. Fairbanks North Star Borough Assessor" on Justia Law

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An oil producer challenged an Alaska Department of Revenue advisory bulletin interpreting the oil tax code, arguing that the bulletin violated the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and seeking a declaratory judgment that the interpretation was contrary to law. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the advisory bulletin could not be challenged under the APA because it was not a regulation, and that a declaratory judgment was not available because the tax dispute between the parties was not ripe. View "Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Alaska, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Two commercial fishing companies caught and processed fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Alaska coast, but outside Alaska’s territorial waters. Their vessels arrived at Alaska ports where they could transfer processed fish directly to foreign-bound cargo vessels or transfer processed fish to shore for storage and later loading on cargo vessels. Because the companies did not process fish in Alaska, they did not pay the taxes imposed on other processing vessels operating out of Alaskan ports, but their fisheries business activities were subject to a state “landing tax.” The fishing companies argued that this landing tax violated the Import-Export and Tonnage Clauses of the United States Constitution and 33 U.S.C. section 5(b). The Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the tax was imposed before the fish product entered the stream of export commerce; (2) the tax did not constitute an “impost or duty;” and (3) the tax therefore did not violate the Import-Export Clause. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the tax was not imposed against the companies’ vessels in violation of the Tonnage Clause or 33 U.S.C. (b). View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. North Pacific Fishing, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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The superior court affirmed a municipality’s tax valuation of a landowner’s property. The landowner argued on appeal the municipality’s valuation review board abused its discretion by excluding certain evidence of value on timeliness grounds. The landowner also argued the board applied fundamentally wrong principles of valuation by failing to consider, as definitive evidence of value, either his purchase price for the property or the price for which he sold a neighboring lot. The Alaska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion as to either of the issues the landowner raised: the assessor explained at the hearing why he considered certain evidence of value more persuasive and more consistent with the municipality’s usual methods of appraisal, and it was well within the board’s broad discretion to accept the assessor’s explanation. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the board’s valuation of the property. View "Kelley v. Municipality of Anchorage, Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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In 2013 and 2014 attorney Gerald Markham applied for a senior citizen tax exemption on his residential property in Kodiak, Alaska. The Borough assessor denied the applications due to Markham’s prolonged absences from Alaska. When given the opportunity to prove his absences were allowed under the applicable ordinance, Markham refused to provide corroborating documentation. He appealed the denials to the Borough Board of Equalization, which affirmed the denials. He appealed the Board’s decisions to the superior court. The superior court dismissed the 2013 appeal for failure to prosecute, denied the 2014 appeal on the merits, and awarded attorney’s fees to the Borough. Markham appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s 2013 dismissal and the Board’s 2014 denial on the merits, but vacated the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for further findings. View "Markham v. Kodiak Island Borough Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Oil producers (the Producers) challenged an administrative decision (the Decision) in which the Alaska Department of Revenue (DOR) decided to treat separate oil and gas fields operated by common working interest owners as a single entity when calculating the Producers’ oil production tax obligations. Relying on a statute that gave DOR the discretion to “aggregate two or more leases or properties (or portions of them), for purposes of determining [their effective tax rate], when economically interdependent oil or gas production operations are not confined to a single lease or property,” DOR concluded that operations on a number of smaller oil fields were economically interdependent with larger operations on the adjacent Prudhoe Bay oil field. The Producers argued that in interpreting the phrase “economically interdependent” in the Decision, DOR effectively promulgated a regulation without following the procedures established in the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and, as a result, DOR’s Decision was invalid. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that DOR’s Decision was not a regulation because it was a commonsense interpretation of the statute and, therefore, DOR was not required to comply with APA rulemaking requirements. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding DOR’s decision. View "Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Wasilla landowner, appellant Ray Pursche appealed the tax foreclosure against his property, arguing that the property was exempt from local property taxes because it was originally transferred to his predecessor by federal patent. He claimed that the federal patent made this property beyond state court jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed the tax foreclosure, finding that after a patent issues, property disputes must generally be resolved in state court. Land once owned by the federal government was subject to local property taxes after it was conveyed to a private party. View "Pursche v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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Pro se appellant Ray DeVilbiss owned property within a road service area, but did not make use of the roads built and maintained with the road service taxes levied on that property. He argued Alaska law required that his property therefore be excluded from the service area, and that the tax was invalid absent a special benefit to his property. The superior court rejected these claims, and granted the borough that oversaw the service area summary judgment. Appellant appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court affirmed. Alaska law neither required boroughs and municipalities to exclude properties that do not make use of roads financed by road service taxes nor tied the validity of a tax to each taxpayer’s receipt of a special benefit. View "DeVilbiss v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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At the center of this an appeal was the superior court's de novo valuation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) for tax assessment years 2007, 2008, and 2009. In February 2014 the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision affirming the superior court's de novo valuation of TAPS for the 2006 assessment year.1 The parties introduced considerably more evidence during trial for the 2007, 2008, and 2009 years, but the operative facts remained substantially the same and the superior court applied similar standards and methods for valuation. Many of the issues raised on appeal were similar or identical to issues raised in the 2006 appeal and thus are partially or wholly resolved by the Court's prior opinion. Because the superior court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion with regard to any of its findings or its methodology, and because it committed no legal error in its conclusions, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc." on Justia Law

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The State Department of Revenue sought to hold the sole shareholder, director, and employee of a closely held Washington corporation personally liable for the corporation’s unpaid tax debts. The superior court pierced the corporation’s corporate veil, ruled that the shareholder’s successor corporation was liable for the tax debt, voided two contract transfers as fraudulent conveyances, and ruled that the shareholder had breached fiduciary duties to the corporation and the State as the corporation’s creditor. The shareholder and corporation appealed the superior court’s decision to pierce the corporate veil, arguing that the superior court erred by not barring the State’s suit under the principle of res judicata, by applying Alaska rather than Washington veil-piercing law, and by making clear factual errors. The shareholder and corporation also appealed the superior court’s finding that two contracts were fraudulently conveyed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that res judicata did not bar the State from seeking to pierce the corporation's corporate veil to collect tax debt established in an earlier case. Furthermore, the Court held that the corporation's veil was properly pierced under both Alaska and Washington state law. Though the superior court's fraudulent conveyance determination contained errors of fact, the Supreme Court concluded that those errors were harmless. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pister v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law