Robinson & Muenster Assocs. v. Dept. of Rev., No. 20730.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtAMUNDSON, Justice.
Citation1999 SD 132,601 N.W.2d 610
Decision Date06 October 1999
Docket NumberNo. 20730.
PartiesROBINSON & MUENSTER ASSOCIATES, INC., Appellee, v. SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Appellant.

601 N.W.2d 610
1999 SD 132

ROBINSON & MUENSTER ASSOCIATES, INC., Appellee,
v.
SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Appellant

No. 20730.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Considered on Briefs June 1, 1999.

Decided October 6, 1999.


601 N.W.2d 611
Lee A. Magnuson of Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, Sioux Falls, for appellee

Harvey M. Crow, Jr., Rapid City, for appellant.

AMUNDSON, Justice.

[¶ 1.] South Dakota Department of Revenue (Department) appeals from the circuit court's determination that transactions between Robinson & Muenster Associates, Inc., (Robinson) and its suppliers were not taxable under South Dakota's Use Tax. We affirm.

FACTS

[¶ 2.] Robinson is a research, fundraising, and grass roots telecommunications1 business located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For purposes of conducting its business, Robinson purchases telematching services2 along with samples and lists of telephone numbers for demographically identified groups or areas (collectively samples) from out-of-state providers. The research by Robinson is done both for enduse clients and for other research firms.

[¶ 3.] When Robinson contracts with a customer, the customer outlines the type of service requested. The samples are then ordered, tailored to the customer's needs by what Robinson deems appropriate to achieve the requested information. Robinson obtains these samples under agreements whereby Robinson uses the sample to conduct the research or polling for its customers and then transfers this sample along with the final results to the contracting customer. Some of Robinson's customers provide their own samples. Some samples are purchased by Robinson and delivered to Robinson's customers without any further function provided by Robinson. Robinson is reimbursed by the customer for obtaining the samples. Robinson does not receive any profit for providing these samples. The costs for the samples and analysis services are separately itemized and Robinson charges sales tax for the entire report, including samples, for sales made to resident customers within South Dakota. Robinson does not pay a sales tax on its purchase of the samples.

[¶ 4.] At no time does Robinson have title to the samples. The samples are obtained under agreements whereby title

601 N.W.2d 612
remains in the firms from whom Robinson purchases the right to use the information

[¶ 5.] Once the results are submitted to Robinson's customers, Robinson destroys its electronic copy of the information. The information is not usable for another of Robinson's customers.

[¶ 6.] Department conducted a sales and use tax audit of Robinson for the period of January 1993 through January 1996. As a result of the audit, use taxes were assessed on these samples purchased by Robinson from an out-of-state provider. Robinson was assessed for South Dakota and city use tax of $21,999.54, plus interest of $5921.68, for a total assessment of $27,921.22. Robinson appealed the assessment. The hearing examiner determined that these samples were subject to a use tax and upheld the assessment. Robinson appealed to circuit court raising the issue whether Robinson used the samples in the regular course of its business or whether it sold the samples to its customers. The circuit court reversed, determining Robinson was not subject to the use tax because there was no "ownership" of the samples as provided by statute. Department appeals. We conclude the following issue to be determinative on appeal:

[¶ 7.] Whether the samples purchased from out-of-state providers for Robinson's customers were sold in the regular course of business and, thus, not subject to the South Dakota use tax.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The question of whether statute imposes a tax under a given factual situation is a question of law. Statutes which impose taxes are to be construed liberally in favor of the taxpayer and strictly against the taxing body. Statutes exempting property from taxation should be strictly construed in favor of the taxing power. The words in such statutes should be given a reasonable, natural, and practical meaning to effectuate the purpose of the statute.

Matter of Sales & Use Tax Refund Request of Media One, Inc., 1997 SD 17, ¶ 9, 559 N.W.2d 875, 877; National Food Corp. v. Aurora Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 537 N.W.2d 564, 566 (S.D.1995); Thermoset Plastics, Inc. v. Department of Revenue, 473 N.W.2d 136, 138-39 (S.D.1991). "`Whether a statute imposes a tax under a given factual situation is a question of law and thus no deference is given to any conclusion reached by [the] Department [of Revenue] or the circuit court.'" Department of Revenue v. Sanborn Tel. Coop., 455 N.W.2d 223, 225 (S.D.1990) (alterations in original) (quoting Midcontinent Broad. Co. v. Revenue Dep't, 424 N.W.2d 153, 154 (S.D.1988)).

DECISION

[¶ 8.] Whether the samples purchased from out-of-state providers for Robinson's customers were sold in the regular course of business and, thus, not subject to the South Dakota use tax.

[¶ 9.] According to the Department, Robinson is a provider of research services and failed to pay the required use tax on certain samples used in providing research services to its customers. Robinson argues, on the other hand, that these samples are sold as part of the report sold to its customers in the regular course of business and, therefore, are exempt from the use tax. The issue before this Court is whether the samples purchased by Robinson were purchased for resale, i.e., sold in the regular course of business.

[¶ 10.] SDCL 10-46-2 provides a tax on tangible personal property purchased for use in the state:

An excise tax is hereby imposed on the privilege of the use, storage, and consumption in this state of tangible personal property purchased on or after July 1, 1939, for use in this state at the same rate of percent of the purchase price of said property as is imposed by

601 N.W.2d 613
§§ 10-45-2 and 10-45-3 or amendment which may hereafter be made thereto

[¶ 11.] A "Use" is defined as including "the exercise of right or power over tangible personal property incidental to the ownership of that property, except that it does not include the sale of that property in the regular course of business." SDCL 10-46-1(12) (emphasis added). "We understand this to mean that use tax, consistent with its complementary relationship to sales tax, generally applies to retail transactions and not to transactions where items are purchased for resale." Sioux Falls Newspapers, Inc. v. Secretary of Revenue, 423 N.W.2d 806, 810 (S.D.1988); see also Sanborn Tel. Coop., 455 N.W.2d at 225.

[¶ 12.] To assist in making this determination of whether the samples were sold in the regular course of business, a court examines the essence of the transaction between Robinson and its customers. Questar Data Sys., Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 549 N.W.2d 925, 928 (Minn. 1996) (citations omitted). A review of this record discloses the Department's auditor made no investigation regarding the essence of the transaction, and merely examined bare invoices. Further, a review of the auditor's testimony reveals he had no idea as to the taxpayer's business. Nevertheless, we must consider whether the sample was an inextricable part of the finished product. Sioux Falls Newspapers, 423 N.W.2d at 811 (holding that syndicated columns are an "inextricable part of the definition of a newspaper," composing the very essence of a newspaper and, thus, were not subject to use tax); c.f. Thermoset Plastics, 473 N.W.2d at 139-40 (holding poly pails were not "essential ingredient" of finished product, therefore, not entitled to exemption under SDCL 10-46-9). In determining whether material was part of a final product under SDCL 10-46-9, this Court stated in Thermoset Plastics:

[T]he rule evolves that material which only accidentally or incidentally becomes incorporated into a finished product, and which is not an essential ingredient of the finished product, is subject to use tax. This rationale is grounded upon the recognition that such material is not an ingredient or component part of tangible personal property either manufactured, fabricated or compounded for ultimate sale at retail.

473 N.W.2d at 140. Therefore, in the present case, if the sample is an ingredient essential to and incorporated within the final product, the samples are not subject to the use tax.

[¶ 13.] In Questar Data Systems, 549 N.W.2d at 927, the Supreme Court of Minnesota addressed similar facts involving the issue of whether printed materials used in conducting surveys were sold in the regular course of business and, therefore, not subject to the use tax. Questar, a Minnesota corporation, was also a surveybased research firm, providing a number of "consulting and data processing services to its customers, including data tabulation and analysis, development and design of printed materials, and preparation of reports." Questar, 549 N.W.2d at 927. Questar purchased and transferred printed materials in providing research services. Id. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that, since Questar did not exercise any right or power of ownership...

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16 practice notes
  • Trouten v. Heritage Mut. Ins. Co., No. 21590.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 15, 2001
    ...another which is termed the principal; something incidental to the main purpose.'" Robinson & Muenster Assocs. v. Dept. of Rev., 1999 SD 132, ¶ 31, 601 N.W.2d 610, 617 (Sabers, J., dissenting) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 762 (6th ed 1990)). Injured persons certainly are more th......
  • Sioux Falls Shopping News v. Dept. of Rev., No. 24616.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • April 23, 2008
    ...2002 SD 134, ¶ 6, 653 N.W.2d 757, 759 (citations omitted) (quoting Robinson & Muenster Associates, Inc. v. South Dakota Dept. of Rev., 1999 SD 132, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 610, ANALYSIS AND DECISION ISSUE ONE [¶ 8.] Whether the circuit court applied the correct standard of review in affirming D......
  • N. Border Pipeline Co. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, Nos. 27152
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 5, 2015
    ...2002 S.D. 134, ¶ 6, 653 N.W.2d 757, 759 (quoting Robinson & Muenster Assocs., Inc. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, 1999 S.D. 132, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 610, 612 ). The Department bears the burden of proving the imposition of a tax. Sioux Valley Hosp. Ass'n v. State, 519 N.W.2d 334, 335 (S.D.1994). ......
  • N. Border Pipeline Co. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, #27152
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 5, 2015
    ...2002 S.D. 134, ¶ 6, 653 N.W. 2d 757, 759 (quoting Robinson & Muenster Assocs., Inc. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, 1999 S.D. 132, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 610, 612). The Department bears the burden of proving the imposition of a tax. Sioux Valley Hosp. Ass'n v. State, 519 N.W.2d 334, 335 (S.D. 1994).......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Trouten v. Heritage Mut. Ins. Co., No. 21590.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 15, 2001
    ...another which is termed the principal; something incidental to the main purpose.'" Robinson & Muenster Assocs. v. Dept. of Rev., 1999 SD 132, ¶ 31, 601 N.W.2d 610, 617 (Sabers, J., dissenting) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 762 (6th ed 1990)). Injured persons certainly are more th......
  • Sioux Falls Shopping News v. Dept. of Rev., No. 24616.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • April 23, 2008
    ...2002 SD 134, ¶ 6, 653 N.W.2d 757, 759 (citations omitted) (quoting Robinson & Muenster Associates, Inc. v. South Dakota Dept. of Rev., 1999 SD 132, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 610, ANALYSIS AND DECISION ISSUE ONE [¶ 8.] Whether the circuit court applied the correct standard of review in affirming D......
  • N. Border Pipeline Co. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, Nos. 27152
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 5, 2015
    ...2002 S.D. 134, ¶ 6, 653 N.W.2d 757, 759 (quoting Robinson & Muenster Assocs., Inc. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, 1999 S.D. 132, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 610, 612 ). The Department bears the burden of proving the imposition of a tax. Sioux Valley Hosp. Ass'n v. State, 519 N.W.2d 334, 335 (S.D.1994). ......
  • N. Border Pipeline Co. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, #27152
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 5, 2015
    ...2002 S.D. 134, ¶ 6, 653 N.W. 2d 757, 759 (quoting Robinson & Muenster Assocs., Inc. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, 1999 S.D. 132, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 610, 612). The Department bears the burden of proving the imposition of a tax. Sioux Valley Hosp. Ass'n v. State, 519 N.W.2d 334, 335 (S.D. 1994).......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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