Appellate court nixes Sprint’s suit against SLO County

July 20, 2015

By STEW JENKINSSprint_Store

A California Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that Sprint Telephone companies cannot sue for reimbursement of $9 million in taxes on property that had been over assessed in 50 California counties including San Luis Obispo County, because Sprint failed to check a box on a State Board of Equalization assessment appeals form asking for the refund.

In 2008, the Board of Equalization staff assessed Sprint’s property assets in the 51 counties at $2.5 billion. Two months later, Sprint appealed the agency’s staff assessment to the elected Board of Equalization, alleging that Sprint’s property assets were worth $1.3 billion, using a Board of Equalization form which included a printed portion that said, “This is a request for refund according to the Revenue and Taxation Code section 5148(f)” which was followed by two boxes, one for marking “Yes” and one for marking “No.”

However, the Sprint representative that filled out the form failed to check either box. No other statement on the Board of Equalization form, or in a letter from Sprint transmitting it to the Board, mentioned any request for a refund.

In December 2008, the Board of Equalization ruled on Sprint’s Appeal, granting a reduction in the property tax assessment to $2 billion which would have reduced the tax liability by million of dollars if the yes box had been checked.

The reduced assessment was applied to the amount of taxes due for 2009, but not retroactively to taxes paid for 2008.

The appellate court judges grappled with the complexity created by a 1987 amendment to Revenue and Taxation Code that simplified assessment appeals for companies like Sprint. Presiding Justice Humes explained that infrastructure businesses like pipelines, railways, telephone companies, gas companies, and electric companies are treated differently than most property owners by those amendments.

Another complexity the court noted results from each individual county collecting the tax assessed by the State Board of Equalization on Sprint’s property in that county. Companies like Sprint were held to be able to simply file a form notice of assessment appeal with the California Board of Equalization without filing a claim in any county, or letting any county know that the taxes paid might be subject to a challenge and a subsequent refund.

According to the Court these large entities enjoy a four year statute of limitations within which to sue for a refund, when other tax payers have an obligation to file a claim in a county where they own property within six months, pay the tax and bring suit shortly after their assessment appeal is denied.

The Justices held that because Sprint’s notice of appeal sent to the Board of Equalization had never in any way stated that a property tax refund was requested, suit against San Luis Obispo and the other 50 counties for an alleged $9 Million refund was barred even though the assessment for 2008 had been lowered following Sprint’s successful appeal to the Board of Equalization.

Stewart Jenkins is an attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978.  Jenkins handles tax payer suits, municipal law, estate planning and family law.  Contact Jenkins at  (805) 541-5763.


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13 Comments

  1. Stunned says:

    Another hanging chad type of thing where the intent was certainly there but, there was that one tiny little detail. I hope they win on appeal. Stealing from anyone is wrong.

    (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
    • Kevin Rice says:

      “Appellate Court” is on appeal. It’s extremely unlikely the Supreme Court would hear a further appeal, if Sprint even bothers to try. Only 3% of cases are accepted.

      (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. achillesheal says:

    Another example of procedure being more important to government than correct results.

    (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
  3. laftch says:

    It don’t matter, Deep Pockets will pick up the slack.

    (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
    • achillesheal says:

      costs are always passed on to the end user. You and me. That’s who will pick up the slack.

      (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  4. shelworth says:

    “Ha-ha you didn’t jump through all the right hoops exactly right so you’re screwed”, gotta love our government. It’s not what’s right or just, it’s how you play the system.

    (12) 12 Total Votes - 12 up - 0 down
  5. Pelican1 says:

    Ah geez….they’ll have to file bankruptcy. What a shame.

    (-6) 14 Total Votes - 4 up - 10 down
  6. womanwhohasbeenthere says:

    Not a lawyer but it seems to me if you are filing an appeal, the reason is you believe the assessment is unjust and you paid too much in taxes. Why would you even bother to file an appeal if you didn’t want a refund? The very act of fling an appeal implies you want a refund. Or am I missing something? Losing all that money for not checking a box seems pretty outrageous.

    (23) 31 Total Votes - 27 up - 4 down
    • r0y says:

      Yeah. No fan of SPRINT, but jeeze, the bean-counter / form-fillers are getting out of hand.

      OMG! Like you totally didn’t check THIS box, too! WOW, that’ll be nine mil. kthnx. Where’s my tax-payer-funded raise (again)? Someone else should pay for my health, my retirement, my… everything! I have a hard job with all this paperwork!

      (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
  7. unlisted says:

    Wow, a $9 million screw up!

    The employee who forgot to check that box must be bummed.

    The moral of this story: Follow the instructions.

    (4) 20 Total Votes - 12 up - 8 down
    • SLO_Johnny says:

      I recall my first grade teacher taught us that it’s important to follow instructions. Most of figure that out a some point but apparently some never quite manage.

      (-1) 17 Total Votes - 8 up - 9 down
      • r0y says:

        I recall my government officials teaching me the importance of obfuscation via a bombardment of words, paragraphs, pages and rules to follow. They taught me that it can get so bad and underhanded that voters would actually have to pass bills in order to see what’s in them! Can you imagine?

        (7) 13 Total Votes - 10 up - 3 down

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