February 20, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Online Travel Companies Not Required to Remit Accommodation Tax to Town of Breckenridge

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Town of Breckenridge v. Egencia, LLC on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Taxation—Municipalities—Accommodation Tax—Lessors—Renters—Online Travel Companies—Jurisdiction—Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies—Class Certification.

The Town of Breckenridge sought to collect accommodation and sales taxes from 16 online travel companies (OTCs). The OTCs maintain websites through which travelers can book hotel accommodations and travel-related services. As relevant here, under the “merchant model” the OTCs contract with a hotel to allow customers logging into the OTC’s website to book reservations for the hotel. These contracts offer rooms to OTCs at a discounted rate. OTCs coordinate information between travelers and hotels; OTCs neither purchase nor reserve rooms in advance.

Breckenridge brought this action to recover unpaid accommodation and sales taxes from the OTCs, asserting five causes of action. The district court partially granted the OTCs’ motion to dismiss but refused to dismiss the accommodation tax claim. Breckenridge then unsuccessfully sought class certification for 55 home rule cities that also levy a lodger’s or accommodation tax. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which were resolved in favor of the OTCs.

On appeal, Breckenridge contended that the district court erred in concluding that OTCs are neither “lessors” nor “renters” of hotel rooms because they sell the legal right to use hotel rooms in exchange for consideration. Breckenridge asserted that the OTCs are capable of leasing or renting even without physical possession of hotel rooms. Because the hotels maintain possession of the rooms and are the sole grantors of the right of occupancy, hotels are lessors or renters and OTCs are essentially brokers. The accommodation tax statute indicates that the accommodation tax applies only to those who have a possessory interest in the accommodation being taxed. The OTCs had no possessory interest and were not engaged in the business of owning, operating, or leasing, and could not independently grant customers access to rooms, so they are not subject to Breckenridge’s accommodation tax.

Breckenridge also contended that the court erred in granting summary judgment because issues of fact exist. Breckenridge failed to meet its burden of producing sufficient evidence to establish that a genuine issue of fact exists as to whether OTCs acquire inventory, whether the OTCs provide customer service, and the extent of the hotels’ involvement in merchant model transactions. The court properly granted the OTCs’ summary judgment motion.

Breckenridge also contended that the district court erred in concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over its sales tax claim because Breckenridge failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Breckenridge argued that it was not required to exhaust its own administrative remedies because doing so would be futile and whether OTCs are subject to sales tax was a question of law not subject to exhaustion requirements. It is evident from the Breckenridge Town Code that a party’s first step in seeking relief for unpaid sales taxes is to petition for administrative review from the finance director. Breckenridge failed to take this step. Therefore, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to address Breckenridge’s unpaid sales tax claim.

Finally, Breckenridge contended that the district court abused its discretion by denying Breckenridge’s request for class certification. Breckenridge was not entitled to class certification under C.R.C.P. 23(b)(2) because Breckenridge was seeking primarily monetary damages, and it failed to meet the C.R.C.P. 23(b)(3) requirements because there was no predominance of common questions nor was class action the superior remedy.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Defendant Sentenced to Significant Jail Time After Evasion of Personal Taxes

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in United States v. Stegman on Friday, October 20, 2017.

Defendant Stegman owned and operated Midwest Medical Aesthetics Center (Midwest), which provided a wide range of medical aesthetic services. Clients were permitted to pay with a credit card, cash, or check made out to Stegman personally, who encouraged cash or checks. Stegman would personally collect the cash and checks at the end of each business day.

Stegman then established several limited liability companies (LLCs), which were effectively used to launder Midwest client payments. Stegman would use the LLCs to purchase money orders that she then used to purchase items for personal use. Stegman reported zero cash income on her federal income tax returns in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Stegman employed two separate tax preparers for her corporate and personal tax returns. Stegman provided Jones, the corporate tax preparer, with Midwest bank account information, but did not provide Jones with bank records for the other accounts into which she deposited Midwest income. Similarly, Stegman did not provide Lake, the personal tax preparer, with accurate records of the Midwest client payments that she used to purchase personal property.

When Stegman was audited for the 2007 and 2008 tax returns, Stegman said Midwest never accepted cash payments, stated that the source of her money came from relatives or savings, and gave conflicting information for the purpose of one of her LLCs. The case was then referred to the IRS’s criminal investigation division. The investigation that followed revealed that Stegman used her LLCs to create false business expenses, that Stegman altered Midwest’s ledgers and directed other employees to destroy business records, and that Stegman encouraged a former Midwest client, Clark, to tell the IRS that she, Clark, didn’t remember anything about her dealings with Midwest. Stegman raises five issues on appeal.

1. The Amendment of the Indictment During Trial

Stegman argued that the district court erred by granting the government’s motion to amend the indictment during trial. The indictment in this case alleged that Stegman was the owner and operator of “Midwest Medical Aesthetics Center” and not “Midwest Medical Aesthetics Center, Inc.” The Tenth Circuit distinguished between a district court’s amending an indictment as to form, which is permissible, and as to substance, which is impermissible. An amendment as to form is a change that does not mislead the defendant in any sense, does not subject the defendant to any added burdens, and does not otherwise prejudice the defendant.

Stegman argued that the amendment, which substituted the name of one business entity for another, was substantive. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. Contrary to Stegman’s assertion, and consistent with what the district court concluded, the amendment was merely a matter of form, and dropping the “Inc.” accurately reflected the change that Stegman made to the structure of her business. Because the amendment was one of form only, the district court did not err in granting the government’s motion to amend the indictment.

Stegman further argued that the jury was never told there was an amendment or that she was entitled to rely on the indictment and, as a result, the jury may have been left with the impression that she misled them. The Tenth Circuit disagreed for several reasons. First, Stegman’s counsel conceded that Stegman never asked for such an instruction. Second, she failed to properly alert the district court to her constitutional challenge. Third, the argument lacked merit given the conclusion that the amendment was one of form only. Finally, the evidence of Stegman’s guilt was overwhelming and thus the district court’s decision did not deprive her of the right to a fair trial.

2. The Purported Braswell Violation

Stegman next contended that the government violated the Supreme Court’s decision in Braswell v. United States, 487 U.S. 99 (1988), by using corporate records against her as an individual. The company ledgers were obtained by compulsory summons issued to her. The Court in Braswell noted that it had long recognized that, for purposes of the Fifth Amendment, corporations and other collective entities are treated differently from individuals.

Prior to trial, Stegman moved to exclude from evidence handwritten ledgers of Midwest that were produced to the IRS pursuant to a Corporate Summons. Stegman argued, in pertinent part, that under Braswell, the Government could not introduce into evidence the fact that Stegman produced the documents in response to a subpoena, and thus could not attribute the documents to Stegman as an individual. Contrary to Stegman’s assertions, however, the Tenth Circuit found no violation of Braswell.

3. The Alleged Destruction of Exculpatory Evidence

Stegman also argued that the district court erred in denying her motion to dismiss the indictment due to destruction of exculpatory evidence.

After Stegman’s audit was referred to the IRS’s criminal investigation division in 2009, the IRS’s civil division forwarded to the criminal division a referral package of documents that included the file from an earlier audit that the IRS had conducted for the 2000 and 2001 tax season. The file was ultimately destroyed at the National Archives and Record Administration facility without the IRS’s knowledge.

Stegman moved to dismiss the indictment due to destruction of exculpatory evidence, namely the old civil audit file relating to her tax returns for 2000 and 2001. Stegman argued that these returns contained positions that were similar, if not identical, to the positions the government claimed were criminal in this case, and that the IRS found the 2000 and 2001 tax returns were accurate and did not assess any additional tax.

Where, as here, a defendant made the necessary request, but the evidence was no longer available at that time, the failure to preserve the evidence violates due process if the evidence was exculpatory and its exculpatory value was apparent before its loss. If, however, the evidence was not apparently exculpatory but merely potentially useful, the failure to preserve the evidence does not violate due process unless the criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the exculpatory value of the civil audit file was not apparent, as Stegman failed to challenge the district court’s finding that many of the documents could be obtained from other sources. Further, Stegman failed to establish that she relied in good faith on the IRS’s determination that her tax positions in 2000 and 2001 were valid. Lastly, Stegman failed to produce any evidence that the IRS itself played a role in the file’s destruction or any authority supporting a per se bad faith rule.

4. The Admission of Testimonial Statements from Don Lake

In her fourth issue on appeal, Stegman argued that the district court erred by allowing the government to introduce testimonial statements from her now-deceased personal tax preparer, Don Lake, in violation of the Confrontation Clause.

In her appeal, Stegman focused on the district court’s admission of Exhibit 85, a fax cover sheet and faxed records that Lake sent to an IRS Revenue Agent during the course of the IRS’s investigation. Mrs. Lake identified Don Lake’s handwriting on the fax cover sheet and on some of the accompanying records. Stegman objected to Exhibit 85, arguing that the language on the fax cover sheet violated her confrontation rights.

The Tenth Circuit remarked that Stegman made no attempt to challenge the district court’s finding that the papers contained in Exhibit 85 were actually her own financial documents rather than Lake’s work papers. She also failed to make a showing that the documents were testimonial in nature, which is a requirement for a challenge under the Confrontation Clause. As for the fax cover sheet that contained Lake’s handwriting, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that it was also not testimonial in nature.

5. Stegman’s Advisory Sentencing Range

Finally, Stegman argued that the district court erred by miscalculating her advisory sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines. More specifically, Stegman asserted that the district court improperly calculated the intended tax loss and improperly applied the sophisticated means and obstruction of justice enhancements in calculating her advisory Guidelines sentencing range.

The Sentencing Guidelines apply to tax-related crimes, such as those of which Stegman was convicted. It directs a district court to apply a base offense level from the Tax Table corresponding to the tax loss. If the offense involved both individual and corporate tax returns, the tax loss is the aggregate tax loss from the offenses added together. The district court in this case found that the corporate tax loss and the individual tax loss were inextricably intertwined, and Tenth Circuit agreed.

One section of the Sentencing Guidelines states that if a tax-related offense involved sophisticated means, the base offense increases. “Sophisticated means” includes especially complex or especially intricate offense conduct pertaining to the execution or concealment of an offense, and includes conduct such as hiding assets or transactions through the use of fictitious entities, corporate shells, or offshore financial accounts. The district court in this case concluded that the “sophisticated means” enhancement applied to Stegman, and the Tenth Circuit found no error.

The Sentencing Guidelines further direct a district court to increase a defendant’s offense level if the defendant willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of the instant offense of conviction and the obstructive conduct related to (A) the defendant’s offense of conviction and any relevant conduct, or (B) a closely related offense. The district court in this case found that Stegman obstructed the IRS’s investigation in three ways: directing employees to shred receipts that documented cash that she received from her business, altering Midwest ledger entries to change the characterization of the way certain expenses were entered so that they appeared to be legitimate business expenses, and directing a witness, Clark, to testify that she did not remember her business relationship with Midwest.

Stegman argued that any attempt she made to tamper with Clark’s testimony was unsuccessful because Clark told investigators that she couldn’t recall what happened when she was a client of Midwest. Notably, the district court found that even if Stegman’s attempt to influence Clark’s testimony was unsuccessful, it nevertheless was an attempt to obstruct justice. The Tenth Circuit, therefore, concluded that the district court did not err in applying the obstruction of justice enhancement.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the judgment of the district court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: County Treasurer Must Exercise Due Diligence When Notice Returned Undelivered

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wells Fargo Bank Financial Colorado, Inc. v. Olivas on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

TaxationSale of Tax LiensTax DeedNoticeDiligent Inquiry.

Buyers signed a deed of trust with Wells Fargo Financial Colorado, Inc. (WFFC) to secure a mortgage and an open-end deed of trust to Wells Fargo Financial Bank (WFFB) to secure a line of credit. Beginning in 2008, buyers failed to pay both the monthly mortgage installments to WFFC and the property taxes on their house. WFFC did not pay the taxes after September 2009, and Housman paid the 2009 taxes on October 20, 2010, when the Treasurer, Olivas, sold a tax lien on the house by public auction. Housman also paid taxes on the property for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2013, Housman applied for a tax deed. In early January 2014, the Treasurer took steps pursuant to C.R.S. § 39-11-128 to notify all parties with an interest in the property of an impending issuance of a tax deed and a right to redeem. The notice to WFFC was returned as undeliverable as addressed. The notice to WFFB was not returned to the Treasurer. Believing that he had provided the required notice because one Wells Fargo entity had received the notice, the Treasurer issued Housman a tax deed on May 28, 2014. Housman sold the property to Moran a few weeks later, and Housman continued to hold a deed of trust on the property. In May 2015, WFFC filed a complaint for declaratory relief seeking to void the tax deed to Housman, the special warranty deed from Housman to Moran, and the deed of trust held by Housman. WFFC moved for summary judgment, and Housman and Moran cross-moved for summary judgment asserting, among other things, that WFFC’s complaint should be barred by laches. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, concluding that Housman’s tax deed was valid.

On appeal, WFFC contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants. A reasonably diligent treasurer should know that secured parties on different deeds of trust that secure different loan amounts, with different names and addresses, may not be so closely affiliated that notice to one may be assumed to effect notice to the other. The Treasurer failed, as a matter of law, to perform his statutory duty to exercise reasonable diligence in seeking an alternative address for WFFC. When notice is defective because it was given without the diligent inquiry required by law, the tax deed is voidable.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings on the affirmative defense of laches. If the court concludes that laches does not bar WFFC’s claims, it shall address the request for declaratory relief. If recovery of the land conveyed by the tax deed is effected by this suit, the court shall consider whether C.R.S. § 39-12-101 applies.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Taxpayer Entitled to File Statutory Claim for Relief After Expiration of Protest Period

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in OXY USA, Inc. v. Mesa County Board of Commissioners on Monday, November 13, 2017.

Tax Law—Taxpayer Error—Overvaluation

The supreme court holds that section 39-10-114(1)(a)(I)(A), C.R.S. (2017), allows abatement and refund for illegally or erroneously levied taxes based on overvaluation caused by taxpayer error. This result follows from the statute’s plain text that allows abatement for “overvaluation” without making a distinction between government- and taxpayer-caused overvaluations. The court rejects the court of appeals’ holding that Coquina Oil Corp. v. Larimer County Board of Equalization, 770 P.2d 1196 (Colo. 1989), and Boulder County Board of Commissioners v. HealthSouth Corp., 246 P.3d 948 (Colo. 2011), require a different result. Coquina was superseded by the 1991 legislative amendment that added “overvaluation” as a ground for abatement, and HealthSouth’s holding was limited to intentional taxpayer overvaluations. The supreme court reverses the judgment of the court of appeals and remands for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Corporation with No Property or Payroll of Its Own Need Not Be Included on Tax Return

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Agilent Technologies, Inc. v. Colorado Department of Revenue on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Holding CompanyPropertyCorporate Income Tax ReturnsCombined Returns.

Agilent Technologies, Inc. (Agilent) is incorporated in Delaware, but during the years at issue (tax years 2000 to 2007), it maintained research and development and manufacturing sites in Colorado. Agilent timely filed corporate income tax returns for these years. Agilent Technologies World Trade, Inc. (WT) is a subsidiary of Agilent and is incorporated in Delaware. It was formed as a holding company to own foreign entities operating solely outside the United States. As a holding company, WT does not own or rent property, has no payroll, and does not advertise or sell products or services of its own.

For federal tax purposes, WT and the foreign entities elected to be taxed as a single corporation. Agilent did not include WT in its corporate tax returns for the years at issue. The Department of Revenue (Department) issued notices of corporate income tax deficiency requiring that Agilent include WT in its Colorado combined returns for the years at issue and assessed tax, interest, and penalties. Agilent contested the Department’s adjustments, and the director upheld the notices. Agilent sought review in the district court. The district court concluded that the Department was prohibited from requiring Agilent to include WT in its Colorado combined corporate income tax returns and entered summary judgment for Agilent.

On appeal, the Department contended that the district court erred when it held that WT was not an includible C corporation under C.R.S. § 39-22- 303(12)(c). Conversely, Agilent argued that C.R.S. § 39-22-303(8) required exclusion of WT from its combined return. C.R.S. § 39-22-303(12)(c) requires inclusion of a corporation in a combined report if “more than twenty percent of the C corporation’s property and payroll” is assigned to locations inside the United States. Because WT had no property factors, although it wasn’t prohibited from including WT, Agilent was not required to include WT in its Colorado combined tax return.

The Department also contended that the district court erred when it ruled that, as a matter of law, C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) could not be applied as an alternative basis for including WT in Agilent’s tax return. It also contended that the economic substance doctrine should be applied to permit taxation of WT even in the absence of specific statutory authorization. C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) authorizes the Department to allocate income and deductions among corporations that are owned or controlled by the same interests on a fair and impartial basis to clearly reflect income and avoid abuse. However, C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) cannot be applied to allocate income among affiliated corporations that were not otherwise includible under C.R.S. § 39-22-303(8) to (12). Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) did not provide a basis for including WT in Agilent’s tax return. Further, it was not alleged that WT lacks a business purpose apart from reducing tax liability. Therefore, the economic substance doctrine does not provide an independent basis in this case for including WT in Agilent’s combined return.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Hunting and Fishing Club, Not Individual Members, is True Landowner and Bears Tax Burden

The Colorado Court of Appeals issue its opinion in HDH Partnership v. Hinsdale County Board of Equalization on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Taxation of Hunting and Fishing Memberships—County Assessment—Real Property Taxes.

Owners of fishing and hunting memberships (petitioners) were taxed on the parcels of real estate allocated to them in their membership agreements. The parcels are part of a larger tract of land used as a hunting and fishing club (club). Membership in the club is granted to those who hold a deed to one of the parcels that collectively comprise the club grounds. Members cannot make improvements on their parcels or exclude other club members. The club retains control over the grounds and grants all members equal access, regardless of the parcel to which they hold title. A member’s right to access the grounds can be revoked if the member owes money or violates club rules.

Petitioners initiated this action after they disagreed with the county’s assessment of their parcels. The Hinsdale County Board of Equalization (BOE) affirmed the assessor’s valuation. Petitioners appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA), which affirmed the BOE’s decision.

On appeal, petitioners argued that the law permits the court to look beyond the title to the substance of the parties’ rights when determining ownership. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that the club was the true property owner because it enjoyed the most significant incidents of ownership. The members effectively had a license to use club grounds, even though they held bare legal title to the parcels. Therefore it was the club, and not the members, that had to bear the real property tax burden. Further, the BAA erred in affirming the assessor’s valuation because it was based on the personal property value of petitioners’ licenses to use club grounds rather than the value of the parcels as real property.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Claim Arose Prior to Filing Bankruptcy Petition and Therefore was Dischargeable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hardegger v. Clark on Monday, October 2, 2017.

Contribution—Bankruptcy Discharge—Tax Withholding Liability—26 U.S.C. § 6672(d).

This case required the supreme court to determine when the right of contribution provided in 26 U.S.C. § 6672(d) (2012) gives rise to a “claim” under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Applying the “conduct test,” under which a claim arises for bankruptcy purposes at the time the debtor committed the conduct on which the claim is based, the court concluded that petitioner’s claim for contribution arose when the parties’ jointly owned company incurred federal tax withholding liability, rendering the parties potentially responsible for that debt. Because this conduct occurred before respondents filed their bankruptcy petition, the court concluded that petitioner’s claim constituted a pre-petition debt that was subject to discharge. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Meal Plans Provided Wholesale to College and Therefore Improperly Taxed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sodexo America, LLC v. City of Golden on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Tax—Meal Plans—Students—Wholesale—Contract.

Sodexo America, LLC (Sodexo) provides food services and food to the Colorado School of Mines (Mines) pursuant to a contract with Mines. Mines, in turn, contracts with its students to provide them food (the food obtained, prepared, and served by Sodexo) through various meal plans. The City of Golden (City) taxes Sodexo for students’ use of the meal plans. Sodexo collects and remits sales tax on campus food purchased with cash, check, or credit card. But the City also assesses Sodexo for sales tax on transactions whereby students swipe meal cards in exchange for meal plan meals, which taxation Sodexo challenged. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City on Sodexo’s challenges to the City’s assessment and denial of refunds.

On appeal, Sodexo contended that the City can’t tax it for meals purchased by Mines’ students under the students’ contracts with Mines. The Golden Municipal Code states that the City may levy sales tax on the purchase price of food, but exempts from taxation wholesale sales. Under the relevant contract and pursuant to the plain language of the Code, no sales occur between Sodexo and Mines’ students with meal plans; instead, Sodexo sells meal plan meals to Mines at wholesale. Because the Code expressly exempts wholesale sales from taxation, the City’s assessment is invalid.

The judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for entry of judgment in Sodexo’s favor and for any other proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Public Utilities Commission has Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Claims for Enforcement of Tariffs

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Development Recovery Co., LLC v. Public Service Co. of Colorado on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Public Utility—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Enforcement of Tariffs—Common Law Claims.

The Public Service Company of Colorado, d/b/a Xcel Energy Co. (Xcel), is a utility company regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Development Recovery Company, LLC (DRC) was the assignee of claims from real estate developers who entered into extension agreements (agreements) with Xcel for the construction of distribution facilities to provide gas or electric service for homes in new developments. The agreements specified that they were governed by the PUC’s rules and regulations and referred several times to Xcel’s extension policies. The extension policies on file with the PUC are referred to as tariffs and provide that extension contracts are based on the estimate of the cost to construct and install the necessary facilities to provide the requested service. The tariffs explain in detail how construction costs and payments are to be handled.

DRC filed a complaint against Xcel alleging various common law claims and violation of C.R.S. § 40-7-102, related to an unspecified number of agreements between developers and Xcel over the course of 18 years. Xcel moved to dismiss, arguing that this matter was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the PUC or, alternatively, if the PUC did not have exclusive jurisdiction, the court should nevertheless refer the matter to the PUC under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. The district court agreed with Xcel on both grounds and dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, DRC argued that the district court has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over DRC’s common law claims, asserting that the trial court erred in concluding that the substance of its claims is merely the enforcement of tariffs. The court of appeals noted that the PUC has exclusive jurisdiction in its constituted field, including enforcement of tariffs. The court concluded that all of DRC’s claims substantively involved enforcement of the tariffs (essentially, how costs were to be calculated and paid). Further, even if DRC has a cause of action under C.R.S. § 40-7-102, exhaustion of administrative remedies before the PUC is required.

DRC also asserted that the district court must have jurisdiction because only it can award the relief sought. DRC cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on the district court simply by requesting relief in the form of damages. Further, the PUC has authority to order reparations where excessive charges have been collected by a public utility for a product or service, which is a potential remedy in this case.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Public Utilities Commission Properly Imposed Tariff After Billing Error

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Carestream Health, Inc. v. Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Public Utilities—Tariffs—Standing—Injury-in-Fact.

In this appeal, the supreme court considered two issues from the district court’s review of a decision of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Both issues pertain to a billing error that led Public Service Company of Colorado to undercharge Carestream Health, Inc. for gas it received over the course of a three-year period. The first issue is whether the Commission properly interpreted Public Service’s tariff, specifically the requirement to “exercise all reasonable means” to prevent billing errors. The court concluded that determining what means are “reasonable,” as that term is used in the tariff, necessarily requires considering what errors are foreseeable. The court therefore held that the Commission properly interpreted the tariff and acted pursuant to its authority. The second issue is whether Carestream had standing to challenge Public Service’s use of its tariff to recover a portion of the undercharge from its general customer base. Because Carestream suffered no injury from that action, it lacks standing to challenge it. The court accordingly affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: County Assessor Authorized to Retroactively Assess Property Taxes on Oil and Gas Leaseholds

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Kinder Morgan CO2 Co., L.P. v. Montezuma County Board of Commissioners on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Oil and Gas—Property Taxation—Statutory Construction.

The supreme court reviewed the court of appeals’ conclusion that the Montezuma County Assessor had statutory authority to retroactively assess property taxes on oil and gas leaseholds operated by Kinder Morgan, after the assessor determined that Kinder Morgan had underreported the wellhead selling price of CO2 gas produced at the leaseholds. The court considered whether this assessment was authorized under the statute permitting retroactive property tax assessments when, pursuant to C.R.S. § 39-5-125(1), “taxable property has been omitted from the assessment roll.” Given Colorado’s self-reporting scheme for property taxation of oil and gas leaseholds and the legislature’s amendments to that scheme—which describe the “underreporting of the selling price or the quantity of oil and gas sold [from a leasehold]” as a form of omitted property, C.R.S. §§ 29-1-301(1) and 39-10-107(1)—the court concluded that the assessor had statutory authority to issue the assessment in this case. The court further concluded that the Board of Assessment Appeals did not err in determining that Kinder Morgan had underreported the wellhead selling price of CO2. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Bills Closing Torrens Title, Allowing Electronic Preservation of Plats by Clerk & Recorder, Adopting Revised Uniform Notorial Acts Law, and More Signed

Although the legislative session is over, the governor continues to sign bills. This week, he signed one bill on Monday, May 15; four bills on Wednesday, May 17; and 13 bills on Thursday, May 18. To date, he has signed 231 bills and vetoed one bill this legislative session. The bills signed this week are summarized here.

Monday, May 15

  • HB 17-1204“Concerning Juvenile Delinquency Record Expungement, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Rep. Pete Lee and Sen. John Cooke. The bill restricts access to juvenile delinquency records by making certain records public only after a court orders that a child be charged as an adult, consistent with recent changes to the direct file statute, and by eliminating the requirement that the prosecuting attorney notify the school principal of minor offenses.

Wednesday, May 17

  • HB 17-1248“Concerning the Funding of Colorado Water Conservation Board Projects, and, in Connection Therewith, Making Appropriations,” by Rep. Jeni Arndt and Sens. John Cooke & Jerry Sonnenberg. The bill makes certain appropriations from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) construction fund to the CWCB or the Division of Water Resources.
  • HB 17-1301“Concerning Protecting Colorado Citizens who are Engaged in an Act that is Protected by the Colorado Constitution from Outside Agencies,” by Rep. Steve Lebsock and Sen. Tim Neville. The bill prohibits a state agency from aiding or assisting a federal agency or agency of another state in arresting a Colorado citizen for committing an act that is a Colorado constitutional right; or violating a Colorado citizen’s Colorado constitutional right.
  • SB 17-129“Concerning the Electronic Preservation of a Plat Recorded by a County Clerk and Recorder,” by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Reps. Jon Becker & Jeni Arndt. The bill permits a county clerk and recorder to preserve an original plat in an electronic format. If an electronic filing system is established, then the board of county commissioners is authorized to provide additional funding and space suitable for a county surveyor or any other appropriate local government official to store original mylar, paper, or polyester sheets of subdivision plats and land survey plats.
  • SB 17-140“Concerning the Torrens Title Registration System,” by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Reps. Jon Becker & Jeni Arndt. The bill closes the Torrens title registration system to new applications to register land title in this state, effective January 1, 2018.

Thursday, May 18

  • HB 17-1162“Concerning Action that can be Taken Against an Individual Based on the Individual’s Failure to Pay for a Traffic Violation, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Rep. Matt Gray and Sen. Bob Gardner. The bill decreases the penalty for driving under restraint to a class A traffic infraction if the basis of the restraint is an outstanding judgment.
  • HB 17-1201“Concerning Authorization for Granting a High School Diploma Endorsement in the Combined Disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” by Rep. James Coleman and Sens. Kevin Priola & Rachel Zenzinger. The bill authorizes a school district, board of cooperative services, district charter high school, or institute charter high school to grant a high school diploma endorsement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to students who demonstrate mastery in STEM. To obtain the endorsement, a student must complete the high school graduation requirements at a high level of proficiency, successfully complete 4 STEM courses selected by the local education provider in addition to the high school graduation requirements in these subjects, achieve a minimum score specified in the bill on one of several specified mathematics assessments, and successfully complete a final capstone project.
  • HB 17-1211“Concerning Professional Development for Educators Regarding Disciplinary Strategies for Young Students,” by Rep. James Coleman and Sen. Kevin Priola. The bill creates the discipline strategies pilot program to provide money to school districts, boards of cooperative services, and charter schools for professional development for educators in the use of culturally responsive methods of student discipline for students enrolled in preschool through third grade and developmentally appropriate responses to the behavioral issues of students enrolled in preschool through third grade.
  • HB 17-1214“Concerning Efforts to Encourage Employee Ownership of the State’s Existing Small Businesses,” by Rep. James Coleman and Sen. Jack Tate. The bill requires the Colorado Office of Economic Development to engage the services of a local nonprofit organization that supports and promotes the employee-owned business model to educate the staff at the office on the forms and merits of employee ownership in order for the office to promote employee ownership as part of its small business assistance center.
  • HB 17-1227“Concerning an Extension of Demand-Side Management Goals for Investor-Owned Utilities as Set by the Public Utilities Commission,” by Reps. Faith Winter & Polly Lawrence and Sens. Stephen Fenberg & Kevin Priola. The bill extends programs establishing electricity goals for investor-owned utilities until 2028.
  • HB 17-1246“Concerning Implementation of the STEMI Task Force Recommendations Relating to Reporting Confirmed Heart Attack Incidents in the State,” by Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp and Sens. Leroy Garcia & Jack Tate. The bill implements recommendations of the STEMI task force regarding hospital reporting of heart attacks.
  • HB 17-1266“Concerning Allowing Persons who were Convicted of Misdemeanors for Marijuana-Related Behaviors that are No Longer Illegal to Petition for the Sealing of Criminal Records Relating to Such Convictions,” by Reps. Edie Hooten & Jovan Melton and Sens. Vicki Marble & Stephen Fenberg. The bill allows persons who were convicted of misdemeanors for the use or possession of marijuana to petition for the sealing of criminal records relating to such convictions if their behavior would not have been a criminal offense if the behavior had occurred on or after December 10, 2012.
  • HB 17-1354“Concerning the Collection of Delinquent Taxes on Certain Mobile Homes,” by Rep. KC Becker and Sens. Kevin Priola & John Kefalas. The bill makes the process to enforce the collection of delinquent taxes on mobile or manufactured homes that are not affixed to the ground permissive, and therefore gives the county treasurer more flexibility to enter into partial payment agreements with the owners of such mobile or manufactured homes. The bill authorizes the county treasurer to declare tax liens on mobile or manufactured homes that are not affixed to the ground as county-held to address title deficiencies in conjunction with the collection of taxes.
  • SB 17-132“Concerning Enactment of the ‘Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts’ as Amended,” by Sen. Bob Gardner and Reps. Jovan Melton & Cole Wist. The bill enacts the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts, and creates a working group to study and make recommendations by December 1, 2017, regarding electronic remote notarization. The Secretary of State must promulgate rules regarding electronic remote notarization, after which notaries may perform a notarial act by electronic remote notarization in compliance with the rules.
  • SB 17-193“Concerning the Establishment of the ‘Center for Research into Substance Use Disorder Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Support Strategies’ at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Kevin Lundberg & Cheri Jahn and Reps. Bob Rankin & Brittany Pettersen. The bill establishes the Center for Research into Substance Use Disorder Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Support Strategies at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
  • SB 17-207“Concerning Strengthening Colorado’s Statewide Response to Behavioral Health Crises, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. John Cooke & Daniel Kagan and Reps. Lang Sias & Joseph Salazar. The bill clarifies the intent of the General Assembly for establishing a coordinated behavioral health crisis response system. The crisis system is intended to be a comprehensive, appropriate, and preferred response to behavioral health crises in Colorado. By clarifying the role of the crisis system and making necessary enhancements, the bill puts systems in place to help Colorado end the use of jails and correctional facilities as placement options for individuals placed on emergency mental health holds if they have not also been charged with a crime and enhances the ability of emergency departments to serve individuals who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
  • SB 17-297“Concerning Revising Higher Education Performance Requirements,” by Sen. Kent Lambert and Rep. Millie Hamner. The bill repeals a performance-based funding plan for institutions of higher education that was included in the master plan for Colorado postsecondary education. The performance-based funding plan was not implemented.
  • SB 17-305“Concerning Modifications to Select Statutory Provisions Affecting Primary Elections Enacted by Voters at the 2016 Statewide General Election to Facilitate the Effective Implementation of the State’s Election Laws, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Stephen Fenberg & Kevin Lundberg and Reps. Patrick Neville & Mike Foote. At the 2016 general election, the voters of the state approved 2 initiated measures affecting primary elections: Proposition 107, which restored a presidential primary election, and Proposition 108, which allows participation by unaffiliated voters in primary elections. The bill makes several modifications to some of the statutory provisions that were affected by Propositions 107 and 108 for the purpose of facilitating the effective implementation of the state’s election laws.

For a complete list of the governor’s 2017 legislative actions, click here.