Bogner v. State Dept. of Revenue and Taxation, State Tax Com'n

Decision Date31 December 1984
Docket NumberNo. 15300,15300
Citation107 Idaho 854,693 P.2d 1056
PartiesRosmarie BOGNER, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. STATE of Idaho DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE AND TAXATION, STATE TAX COMMISSION, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Jim Jones, Atty. Gen., William A. Von Tagen, argued, Deputy Atty. Gen., and Lynn E. Thomas, Sol. Gen., Boise, for defendant-appellant.

Douglas James Aanestad, of Hogue, Speck, & Aanestad, Ketchum, for plaintiff-respondent.

BISTLINE, Justice.

HISTORY

The plaintiff-respondent, Rosmarie Bogner, is a West German citizen and has been a resident of Idaho since 1981. Her principal source of income is derived from a family business in West Germany. As a German citizen residing in Idaho, plaintiff is taxed on her German income by three governmental entities: West Germany, the United States, and Idaho.

In 1982, plaintiff filed a 1981 income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. On this return, she claimed a credit for taxes paid to West Germany pursuant to Internal Revenue Code § 901. At about the same time, plaintiff filed her Idaho state income tax return. On this return, she claimed a deduction for foreign taxes paid pursuant to her interpretation of I.C. § 63-3022 and Internal Revenue Code § 164.

An auditor for the State Tax Commission subsequently disallowed the claimed foreign tax deduction. According to the auditor, once plaintiff chose to take the federal tax credit, she could no longer take a foreign tax deduction under Idaho law. Plaintiff protested the auditor's findings and asked for a redetermination by the State Tax Commission. The Commission reviewed the case, considered plaintiff's arguments, and affirmed the auditor's position. Plaintiff then paid the tax and took her case to the district court. In a memorandum opinion dated October 13, 1983, the district court, Judge Kramer, entered a judgment reversing the State Tax Commission. Thereafter, the district court, Judge Phillip N. Becker, in a ruling that the Tax Commission had pursued this case frivolously, unreasonably and without foundation, ordered that the Tax Commission pay plaintiff's attorney's fees and related costs and expenses. The Tax Commission's appeal to this Court challenges both the judgment and order.

I.

The first issue deals with whether plaintiff can take a federal tax credit for foreign income taxes paid while at the same time take a state tax deduction for those taxes paid. We hold that she was entitled to do so.

In 1981, I.C. § 63-3022 stated:

The term "taxable income" means "taxable income" as defined in Section 63 of the Internal Revenue Code, adjusted as follows:

....

(1) In the case of natural persons, there shall be allowed as deductions from gross income either of the following at the option of the taxpayer: (1) the standard deduction as defined by section 63 Internal Revenue Code, or (2) itemized deductions as defined in sections 163, 164 ... Internal Revenue Code. (Emphasis added.) 1

Section 164 of the Internal Revenue Code specifically defines foreign income taxes as an allowable deduction. 2 Idaho Income Tax Regulation 22(f) interprets § 63-3022(1 ) in the following manner:

Subsection (1) of Section 63-3022 of the Code authorizes individual taxpayers to itemize deductions on their Idaho income tax return as they may elect, without regard to whether or not they itemize on their federal returns. (Emphasis added.)

Thus, it is clear that an Idaho resident on his or her state income tax form can deduct from taxable income itemized deductions as defined by various sections of the Internal Revenue Code, including § 164, regardless of whether they choose to do so on their federal returns. This is exactly what plaintiff has done. Accordingly, the district court did not err in holding that the Tax Commission's denial of her deduction was improper.

The Tax Commission argues that plaintiff cannot take a state tax deduction for her foreign taxes paid because instead of taking a federal tax deduction she took a federal tax credit. Such a proposition, however, flies in the face of the wording of the applicable statutes and regulations.

I.C. § 63-3022(1 ) allows a state taxpayer to deduct expenses that are defined as itemized deductions by federal law. The section does not require the taxpayer to have actually taken the deduction. Idaho Income Tax Regulation 22(f) clearly indicates this. The Tax Commission's interpretation of § 63-3022(l ) is nothing more than an attempt at rewriting the statute. Neither the Tax Commission nor the courts have such authority. See C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 169 and cites therein. The Tax Commission's function is to enforce the law as written. And as written, it is clear that plaintiff was within the law in doing what she did.

The Tax Commission argues, however, that plaintiff ought not get a state tax deduction, because by taking the federal tax credit § 275(a) of the Internal Revenue Code precludes her from also taking a federal tax deduction. 3 This argument is not convincing. Section 275(a)'s purpose is, for federal purposes, to prevent a federal taxpayer who has paid foreign taxes from gaining a double benefit by taking both a federal tax credit and deduction for the same expense. Section 275(a) says nothing about denying the taxpayer his or her choice of options at the state level; the fact that § 275(a) requires a federal taxpayer to elect between one of two federal alternatives does not mean that the taxpayer must use that same option for his or her state income tax return.

The incorrectness of the Tax Commission's position is further highlighted by the fact that Idaho state tax law has no provision for tax credits. Thus, following the Tax Commission's line of reasoning, a state taxpayer could only get a deduction for foreign taxes paid if he or she also took a federal tax deduction instead of a federal tax credit. We find no support for this reasoning in the cases relied upon by the Tax Commission which are from other jurisdictions: Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Lecksos, 84 Ill.2d 102, 49 Ill.Dec. 329, 417 N.E.2d 1343 (1981); Albany International v. Halperin, 388 A.2d 902 (Me.1978); Pennsylvania v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 478 A.2d 491, 386 A.2d 491 (Pa.1978). Each case is inapposite to the issue with which we are dealing. In all three states, the state tax law defines a taxpayer's taxable income to be that which is properly reported for federal income tax purposes. See Ill.Rev.Stat. 1977 ch. 120 p 2-203(e)(1); Me.Rev.State.Ann.Tit. 36 § 5102(8); 72 Penn.Stat. § 3420(b)(2)(c). These states are far different from Idaho's, which defines taxable income by starting with "gross income" for federal purposes and then making numerous adjustments as set forth in I.C. § 63-3022. Thus, Idaho "taxable income" is nearly always different from federal "taxable income" because of adjustments unique to Idaho.

On the contrary, Rhode Island's tax laws are very similar to Idaho's. G.L. 1956 (1980 Reenactment) § 44-11-11(a)(3) provides that a taxpayer may reduce his or her gross income as reported on federal income tax return by "all items deductible under the federal income tax law applicable to the taxable year." Thus, Rhode Island, like Idaho, determines taxable income by making statutory adjustments to federal gross income. It is not surprising, then, that in a case considering the exact issue before us, the Rhode Island Supreme Court decided as we do that the state taxpayer can take a deduction for foreign taxes paid even when taking a federal tax credit for federal purposes. George, Inc. v. Norberg, 444 A.2d 868 (R.I.1982).

II.

The second issue is whether the trial court properly awarded attorney's fees to plaintiff. I.C. § 12-121 states that in any civil action a judge may award reasonable attorney's fees with the proviso that this section shall not alter on appeal any statute which otherwise provides for the award of attorney's fees.

I.C. § 63-3049 4 is the section which governs the judicial review of State Tax Commission decisions. The Tax Commission argues that because § 63-3049 is silent as to attorney's fees and costs, a judge is precluded from making such awards. In other words, silence in the statute is said to constitute a denial of such fees. We know of no authority and can think of no logical reason to support such a proposition. An appeal to district court is for certain a civil action, and hence within the purview of I.C. § 12-121.

A judge's discretion to award attorney's fees under § 12-121 is in turn modified by I.R.C.P. 54(e)(1), which states that a judge may only award such fees when the case was "brought, pursued or defended frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation; ...." Rule 54(e)(2) states that whenever a court awards attorney's fees pursuant to § 12-121, it shall make written findings as to the basis and reasons for making such a reward. Here the court stated the following in awarding the fees:

The Defendant has pursued this action frivolously, unreasonably and without foundation in that it has misread and misinterpreted Idaho Code Sections 63-3002 and 63-3022 and the related regulations, and has been unprepared and dilatory in discussing the issues at an informal hearing with Plaintiff and at other times while Plaintiff was pursuing her administrative remedies.

While we find no evidence in the record that the Tax Commission was dilatory and unprepared, we do agree with the district court, however, that the Tax Commission has defended this case without foundation and unreasonably in misreading and misinterpreting I.C. §§ 63-3002 and 63-3022 to its advantage. These statutes are clear and unambiguous.

The Tax Commission also argues that the trial court incorrectly awarded plaintiff attorney's fees for costs incurred for legal representation at the administrative remedy stage, and hence prior to the actual filing of her complaint. For the reasons stated below we hold that she is so entitled.

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