Acheson v. Johnson

Decision Date20 February 1952
Citation86 A.2d 628,147 Me. 275
PartiesACHESON et al. v. JOHNSON, State Tax Assessor.
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Sanford L. Fogg, Augusta, for appellants.

Boyd L. Bailey, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

Before MURCHIE, C. J., and THAXTER, FELLOWS, MERRILL, NULTY and WILLIAMSON, JJ.

FELLOWS, Justice.

This is an appeal by James M. Acheson and Mary L. Acheson doing business as Capital City Hotel Co. (Augusta House) from the decision of Ernest H. Johnson, State Tax Assessor declining to abate taxes under the Sales and Use Tax Law. The case comes to the Law Court from the Superior Court for Kennebec County on report with agreed statement of facts.

The agreed facts are: James M. Acheson and Mary L. Acheson, doing business as Capital City Hotel Co., on July 1, 1951, and ever since, have operated the Augusta House, a year-round hotel open to the public, in Augusta, Maine. Neither of the appellants makes his home in the hotel. During the month of July, 1951, they purchased from Purinton Bros. Co. fuel dealers in Augusta, 16.82 tons of coal, for use in the hotel, at a price of $15.15 a ton, the total bill for the same being in the amount of $254.82. The Achesons furnished Purinton Bros. Co. a certificate stating that the coal was to be used for cooking or heating for domestic purposes and that its purchase was exempt from the sales and use tax. Such exemption certificates are authorized by the State Tax Assessor for use in certain cases and when taken in good faith relieve the sellor from the duty of collecting a sales tax. The Achesons paid for the coal so purchased but neither they nor any one else has paid to Purinton Bros. Co. or to the State of Maine, any sales or use tax, or any part thereof, on the purchase of coal.

The coal was delivered to the Augusta House and was there used to heat the entire hotel building, including the lobby, dining room, halls, cocktail lounge, kitchen, lavatories, banquet rooms, bedrooms, suites and service rooms. A very small percentage of the coal was used for cooking in the hotel, most of the cooking there being done by electricity, with the exception of steam pressure cookers and coffee makers run by steam from the boilers. The heating and cooking is done for employees, as well as guests of the hotel whether there for one meal, one day, or longer. Some guests live in the hotel the year round, while others are there for but one mean or longer.

Pursuant to claimed authority granted by Section 20 of the Sales and Use Tax Law, Laws 1951, c. 250, § 20, Ernest H. Johnson, in his capacity of State Tax Assessor, on July 27, 1951 made the following ruling: 'Fuel consumed in heating those portions of any hotel which are customarily occupied for a period of four (4) months or longer by individuals will be considered as used for domestic purposes. Fuel consumed in heating other portions of hotels, including rooms normally occupied by persons remaining for less than four (4) months at a time, will not be considered as used for domestic purposes. That portion of the fuel, other than gas and electricity, purchased by a hotel and used for domestic purposes, as noted above, would not be subject to the sales tax.'

Pursuant to said ruling of July 27, 1951, the State Tax Assessor has determined that 15% of the amount of the coal used in July 1951, was exempt from the sales or use tax, as having been used for, or intended for, heating for domestic purposes, and that the remaining 85% was subject to use tax at the rate of 2%, in a total amount of $4.33. On August 28, 1951, the State Tax Assessor assessed a use tax against the appellants in the sum of $4.33, served them with notice thereof and made demand upon them for payment.

The above percentages were arrived at from figures furnished to the State Tax Assessor by the Augusta House, based on the calendar year 1950 which was used as the base period. The correctness of the percentages arrived at by applying the State Tax Assessor's ruling to the figures is not in dispute. But the appellants contend that the ruling itself, and the tax assessed pursuant thereto, is erroneous, unreasonable and not consistent with Section 10, sub-section VII-A of Chapter 250, P.L. 1951, in that coal, oil, wood and other fuels (except gas and electricity) used for cooking or heating for domestic purposes within the meaning of said sub-section VII-A, a includes all such fuel used for such purposes in a hotel and that the exemption is not limited to rooms actually occupied by guests, nor to such rooms only as are occupied by guests who remain for four consecutive months or longer but that it includes fuel used to heat other portions of the hotel maintained for the comfort and convenience of the guests, as well as used for cooking in the hotel.

The State Tax Assessor contends, on the other hand, that the term 'domestic purposes,' as used in said sub-section VII-A, is to be construed narrowly and limits time application of said sub-section to fuel used to heat the 'domus,' or living quarters of employees, or such space as is specifically billed to guests making their home in the hotel for four consecutive months or longer.

On August 29, 1951, the said James M. Acheson and Mary L. Acheson, pursuant to Section 29 of said Chapter 250, P.L. 1951, filed a petition with the State Tax Assessor for a reconsideration of his assessment of August 28, 1951, requesting that said tax, assessed as aforesaid, be abated. Said petition did not request oral hearing.

On August 29, 1951, the State Tax Assessor considered said petition for consideration and abatement of tax and rendered his decision thereon, refusing to abate said tax, and on that same day he notified petitioners of his decision on said petition.

On August 30, 1951, the said James M. Acheson and Mary L. Acheson, pursuant to Section 30 of said Sales and Use Tax Law, appealed to the Kennebec Superior Court, October Term, 1951, said appeal having been served on the State Tax Assessor and entered in Court on that same day, to wit, August 30, 1951.

The sole issue on said appeal is whether the exemption contained in Section 10, sub-section VII-A of Chapter 250, P.L. 1951 is limited, as it applies to hotels, to that portion of the fuel used for heating the living quarters of guests who occupy such quarters for four consecutive months or longer, as the State Tax Assessor has ruled, or whether said exemption applies also to fuel used for heating the rooms of all guests, irrespective of the length of their stay in the hotel, as well as other portions of the hotel maintained for the comfort and convenience of its guests and to fuel used for cooking in the hotel for guests and employees, all as contended for by appellants.

By agreement of counsel, the Legislative Record of 1951 was incorporated into the agreed statement by reference.

Section 3, Chapter 250, P.L. 1951, relating to the sales tax, provides in part: 'A tax is hereby imposed at the rate of 2% on the value of all tangible personal property, sold at retail in this state * * * measured by the sale price * * *.'

Section 4, Chapter 250, P.L. 1951, relating to the use tax, provides in part: 'A tax is hereby imposed on the storage, use or other consumption in this state of tangible personal property, purchased at retail sale * * * at the rate of 2f the sale price. Every person so storing, using or otherwise consuming is liable for the tax until he has paid the same or has taken a receipt from his seller * * * showing that the sellor has collected the sales or use tax * * *.'

The appellants paid no sales tax under Section 3. They, therefore, owe a use tax under Section 4, unless the sale is exempt. But appellants claim that the sale is exempt, under Section 10, VII-A:

'Exemptions. No tax on sales, storage or use shall be collected upon or in connection with:

'VII-A Coal, oil and wood. Coal, oil, wood and all other fuels, except gas and electricity, used for cooking or heating for domestic purposes.'

Thus, if the heating of rooms used in a hotel by or for its guests, including sleeping rooms, kitchen, public dining rooms, lobby, cocktail bar, etc. is the use of fuel 'for domestic purposes,' the assessment is in error. If the fuel used for cooking in the hotel kitchen, whether for transient or non-transient guests, is for 'domestic purposes,' the assessment is in error. But if the space in question is not 'domestic' and if cooking meals for the general public, including permanent residents in the hotel, is likewise not 'domestic', the assessment is correct.

The fundamental rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and carry out the legislative intent. The language of the statute is "the vehicle best calculated to express the intention" but the Court will 'Look at the object in view'. Lipman v. Thomas, 143 Me. 270, 273, 61 A.2d 130, 132. 'Some flexibility is essential in the proper interpretation of statutes.' In re McLay, 133 Me. 175, 177, 175 A. 348, 349. When words used in a statute have more than one recognized meaning, the sense in which they are used by the legislature may be ascertained by a consideration of the subject matter and the object to be accomplished. 'It is the spirit of the law which controls.' State v. Howard, 72 Me. 459; Tarr v. Davis, 133 Me. 243, 248, 176 A. 407; Beck v. Corinna Trust Co., 139 Me. 350, 31 A.2d 165. Intent is sought from the language used, without supplying language or doing violence to it. Dictionary definitions are not controlling. Donnell v. Joy, 85 Me. 118, 26 A. 1017; Lyon v. Lyon, 88 Me. 395, 399, 34 A. 180; State v. Standard Oil Co., 131 Me. 63, 64, 159 A. 116. The legislature determines what property is taxed and what is free from tax. Greaves v. Houlton Water Co., 143 Me. 207, 59 A.2d 217. Whether the taxation, or exemption, is wise or unwise, is not for the court but for the legislature. Whiting v. Inhabitants of Lubec, 121 Me. 121, 115 A. 896. The purpose of the legislature, if discernible...

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11 cases
  • Vanasse v. Labrecque
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1977
    ...in order to ascertain legislative intent which must control. In Re McLay, 133 Me. 175, 177, 175 A. 348 (1934); Acheson v. Johnson, 147 Me. 275, 280, 86 A.2d 628 (1952). Words which have acquired a meaning through judicial definition are construed in accordance therewith. Hathorn v. Robinson......
  • Anderson v. Neal
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    • Maine Supreme Court
    • April 30, 1981
    ...words which have acquired a meaning through judicial definition are to be construed in accordance therewith. See Acheson v. Johnson, 147 Me. 275, 86 A.2d 628 (1952). The Legislature must be considered as having entertained a consistent design and policy when it started the running of the se......
  • Hutchins v. Libby
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • December 30, 1953
    ...It is fundamental that in construing a statute the intention of the legislature should be ascertained and carried out. Acheson v. Johnson, 147 Me. 275, 86 A.2d 628. The history of a statute may help to indicate intent. Cushing v. Inhabitants of Town of Bluehill, 148 Me. 243, 92 A.2d 330; In......
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    ...statutory language, must prevail irrespective of any rule of interpretation calling for strict construction. Acheson et al. v. Johnson, 1952, 147 Me. 275 at page 281, 86 A.2d 628. It is only when the purpose is not clearly expressed that we have the right to use the usual outside aids or ru......
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