Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
by
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

by
Humboldt County Ballot Measure S proposed a tax on commercial cultivators of marijuana and was approved by the voters. The tax became operative on January 1, 2017. Measure S allows the Board of Supervisors to amend the law or approve enforcement regulations promulgated by the administrative officer if the action “does not result in an increase in the amount of the tax or broaden the scope of the tax.” The Supervisors amended Measure S in June 2017, and again in April 2018, making the tax applicable to all persons with a cultivation permit, as opposed to just those engaged in cultivation; redefining “cultivation area”; and changing the time when the taxes start to accrue.Silva owns property in Humboldt County. No one cultivated cannabis on the property in 2017. The County sent her an invoice of $40,000 in commercial cannabis cultivation taxes under Measure S for the year 2017–2018. Silva paid the invoice. The County sent an invoice of $54,025 for the year 2018–2019. Silva again paid the invoice.A 2018 petition argued that the amendments impermissibly broadened Measure S. The court of appeal affirmed a ruling in Silva's favor. The trial court was not procedurally barred from considering the challenge to the Board’s amendments. The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply and the amendments expanded, rather than just clarifying, Measure S. View "Silva v. Humboldt County" on Justia Law

by
In 2014 the Tax Court held that Roberts had deducted expenses from his horse‐racing enterprise on his federal income tax returns for 2005 and 2006 erroneously because the enterprise was a hobby rather than a business, 26 U.S.C. 183(a), (b)(2)..The court assessed tax deficiencies of $89,710 for 2005 and $116,475 for 2006, but ruled that his business had ceased to be a hobby, and had become a bona fide business, in 2007. The IRS has not challenged Roberts’ deductions since then and Roberts continues to operate his horse‐racing business. The Seventh Circuit reversed the Tax Court’s judgment upholding the deficiencies assessed for 2005 and 2006. A business is not transformed into a hobby “merely because the owner finds it pleasurable; suffering has never been made a prerequisite to deductibility.” The court noted instances demonstrating Roberts’ intent to make a profit. View "Roberts v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

by
In 2014 the Tax Court held that Roberts had deducted expenses from his horse‐racing enterprise on his federal income tax returns for 2005 and 2006 erroneously because the enterprise was a hobby rather than a business, 26 U.S.C. 183(a), (b)(2)..The court assessed tax deficiencies of $89,710 for 2005 and $116,475 for 2006, but ruled that his business had ceased to be a hobby, and had become a bona fide business, in 2007. The IRS has not challenged Roberts’ deductions since then and Roberts continues to operate his horse‐racing business. The Seventh Circuit reversed the Tax Court’s judgment upholding the deficiencies assessed for 2005 and 2006. A business is not transformed into a hobby “merely because the owner finds it pleasurable; suffering has never been made a prerequisite to deductibility.” The court noted instances demonstrating Roberts’ intent to make a profit. View "Roberts v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

by
Wilma Stuller and her late husband bred Tennessee Walking Horses. They incorporated the operation and claimed its substantial losses as deductions on their tax returns. The IRS determined that the horse-breeding was not an activity engaged in for profit, assessed taxes and penalties, and penalized them for failing to timely file their 2003 return. After paying, the Stullers and LSA, sued the government for a refund. The district court excluded the Stullers’ proposed expert. It determined that his expertise did not extend to the financial or business aspects of horse-breeding and he lacked a reliable methodology to opine on the Stullers’ intent. The court found that the corporation was not run as a for-profit business under 26 U.S.C. 183, and determined that the Stullers lacked reasonable cause for failing to timely file their 2003 tax return. The court also denied a request to amend the judgment and effectively refund taxes paid by the Stullers on rental income received from the corporation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court followed Daubert in excluding the expert and applied each factor of the regulations to the facts. Only the expectation of asset appreciation weighed in the Stullers’ favor; almost every other consideration pointed to horse-breeding as a hobby or personal pleasure. View "Estate of Stuller v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Phillip Morris sought review of the USDA's decision regarding the implementation of the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act (FETRA), 7 U.S.C. 518 et seq. Phillip Morris challenged the USDA's decision to use 2003 tax rates instead of current tax rates in calculating how these assessments were to be allocated across manufacturers of different tobacco products. The court concluded that USDA's decision was a permissible interpretation of FETRA; there was no clear indication in the text of the statute, or in Congress's prior or subsequent action, that Congress intended for USDA to take a different course; and there was similarly no basis for concluding that USDA filled that gap with an unreasonable interpretation. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of USDA's motion for summary judgment. View "Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Vilsack" on Justia Law

by
During the 1970s and 1980s, American Agri‐Corp organized several limited partnerships, for which the company served as general partner. American solicited high‐income individuals to serve as limited partners, investing in supposed agricultural ventures. According to the IRS, the actual purpose was to shelter the income of limited partners from taxation. Plaintiffs were each limited partners (or spouses) in at least one partnership that was audited by the IRS during the mid‐1980s. Several years later, the IRS concluded that the partnerships were, essentially, tax‐avoidance schemes .In 1990 and 1991, the IRS issued Final Partnership Administrative Adjusts for the partnerships and disallowed several listed farming expenses and other deductions for the 1984 or 1985 tax years. The Tax Court consolidated cases, held that the IRS action was not time‐barred, and determined that the partnerships had engaged in “transactions which lacked economic substance” that resulted in a substantial distortion of income and expense. The district court held that it lacked subject‐matter jurisdiction over the taxpayers’ claims that the assessments were untimely and improperly included penalty interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The determinations at issue are attributable to partnership items over which courts lack subject‐matter jurisdiction. View "Acute Care Specialists II v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 1990 Plummer, a recognized expert in horse-breeding and the tax consequences of related investments, created the Mare Lease Program to enable investors to participate in his horse-breeding business and take advantage of tax code provision classification of horse-breeding investments as farming expenses, with a five-year net operating loss carryback period instead of the typical two years, 26 U.S.C. 172(b)(1)(G). Plummer’s investors would lease a mare, which would be paired with a stallion, and investors could sell resulting foals, deducting the amount of the initial investment while realizing the gain from owning a thoroughbred foal. If they kept foals for at least two years, the sale qualified for the long-term capital gains tax rate, 26 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3)(A). Between 2001 and 2005, the Program generated more than $600 million. Law and accounting firms hired by defendants purportedly vetted the Program. Plummer and other defendants began funneling Program funds into an oil-and-gas lease scheme. It was later discovered that the Program’s assets were substantially overvalued or nonexistent. Investors sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c), also alleging fraud and breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment and awarded $49.4 million with prejudgment interest of $15.6 million. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that there was no genuine dispute over any material facts. View "West Hills Farms, LLC v. ClassicStar Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Taxpayer, related corporations that operated a vertically-integrated poultry production business, sought an exemption from ad valorem taxes on five industrial personal property tax returns it filed with the State Tax Department, claiming it was exempt from such taxation under either the "subsistence of livestock" or the "farm" exemption under W. Va. Code 11-3-9-(a)(21), (28). The State Tax Commissioner concluded that Taxpayer was not entitled to either exemption. The trial court (1) ruled that Taxpayer was entitled to claim the "subsistence of livestock" exemption in connection with its hatchery operation but not with regard to personal property used at its live haul center and feed mill operation; and (2) concluded that none of Taxpayer's operation qualified for the "farm" exemption. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in ruling that Taxpayer was not entitled to any exemptions from personal property taxation in connection with its commercial poultry operation other than the exemption afforded to its hatchery operation. View "Pilgrim's Pride v. Morris" on Justia Law

by
A family partnership purchased 749-acres for use as a farm. The entire farm enjoyed current-agricultural-use-valuation (CAUV) status until a seventy-acre parcel was transferred to Maralgate, LLC, after which the county auditor denied the CAUV application. Maralgate filed a complaint with the County Board of Revision, which also denied the application. The Board of Tax Appeals reversed and granted CAUV status. At issue on appeal was whether the parcel was under common ownership with the rest of the farm for purposes of Ohio Rev. Code 5713.30(A)(1) because almost sixty percent of the parcel had trees that were not grown for commercial purposes. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the parcel was under common ownership with the rest of the farm because the family partnership owned Maralgate; (2) the statute does not require that the trees in question be grown as a crop; and (3) a land survey showing how much of the parcel is devoted to different uses is required only if there is a commercial use of part of a parcel that is not an agricultural use, and, in this instance, those portions of the parcel not actively cultivated were not used for any commercial purpose. View "Maralgate, L.L.C. v. Greene County Bd. of Revision " on Justia Law