Scoville Service, Inc. v. Comptroller of Treasury

Citation269 Md. 390,306 A.2d 534
Decision Date05 July 1973
Docket NumberNo. 322,322
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Harold T. Grier, Silver Spring, for appellant.

Jon F. Oster, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Francis B. Burch, Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee.


LEVINE, Judge.

This appeal by Scoville Service, Inc. (Scoville) is from a decision of the Maryland Tax Court affirming the Comptroller's disallowance of claims for certain tax refunds covering the years 1967-70. Scoville, which operates a parking lot serving the Laurel Raceway, says it paid the taxes on gross receipts derived from parking automobiles under the erroneous assumption that they were taxable pursuant to Maryland Code (1957, 1969 Repl. Vol.) Art. 81, § 402, commonly known as the 'admissions' tax. 1 In our summary, we shall make extensive use of the 'Agreed Statement of Facts' that is contained in the joint record extract.

Scoville conducts the parking lot enterprise on land that it leases from Laurel Harness Racing Association (Laurel). The latter also owns the adjacent property on which it operates its racetrack. The track is enclosed by a fence and buildings, including a grandstand, and access is gained by a roadway running from U.S. Route 1 which encircles the enclosed track. Scoville leases the hard-surfaced parking area for the duration of the racing season, lasting forty-two days.

The outer perimeter of the parking area, except that part which extends to Route 1, is enclosed by fences or woods, principally the latter. There are no structures on the parking area. Signs stationed on Route 1 indicate the entrance to the track; the same entrance also leads to the parking area. Admission to the track itself is obtained at gates leading directly into the enclosed racetrack; and by paying to Laurel its admission fees. During the racing season, the parking area operated by Scoville is used exclusively by those attending the races.

A charge for admission is imposed by Laurel upon each racing patron who enters the enclosed track. Scoville collects a separate charge; it is apparently conceded that the sums collected by Scoville are charged uniformly on the basis of each automobile parking on its lot rather than upon the number of individual occupants in each car. The sums charged by Scoville afford no admission to the enclosed track; nor do they convey any other privilege to the automobile owner. Whether the receipts from parking automobiles are within the ambit of § 402 is the sole question presented by this case.

In deciding that the receipts from parking automobiles are taxable as 'admissions' under § 402, the tax court concluded 'The Court is likewise of the opinion that the parking lot is an ancillary use to the Raceway and that the parking of a car and the entrance to the Raceway is a continuous act, one supplementing the other.'

We think the tax court erred in its ruling, and that the Comptroller should have allowed the refund claims.

In brief, Scoville contends that charges for parking automobiles are not included in the statute providing for admissions and amusement taxes, even though the parking lot is owned by and located on the same tract of land as the racetrack. It argues with considerable force that the charge is for the 'privilege of parking the automobiles only,' and is not part of the price of admission to the track itself-the legitimate object of the statute. The Comptroller, on the other hand, insists that the parking fee is 'an initial charge for admission' within the meaning of § 402, and should be considered 'part of the gross receipts for admission to the race track.'

Whether the legislature, in enacting this statute, intended that it should apply to charges of this type must initially be determined by a careful examination of the statute itself, since the cardinal rule of construction of a statute is to ascertain and carry out the real legislative intention, Silberman v. Jacobs, 259 Md. 1, 267 A.2d 209 (1970); Atlantic, Gulf v. Dep't of Assess. & Taxation, 252 Md. 173, 249 A.2d 180 (1969); Equitable v. Insurance Comm'r, 251 Md. 143, 246 A.2d 604 (1968). While this Court has not had occasion to previously consider § 402 in a context such as this, we think its language is quite clear. 2 We should therefore be mindful of the well-established rule that it is necessary and proper to construe a statute only when it is ambiguous and of doubtful meaning, Hunt v. Montgomery County, 248 Md. 403, 237 A.2d 35 (1968); Falcone v. Palmer Ford, 242 Md. 487, 219 A.2d 808 (1966). And if there is no ambiguity or obscurity in the language of the statute, there is usually no need to look elsewhere to ascertain the intent of the legislature, Maryland Nat'l Bk. v. Comptroller, 264 Md. 536, 287 A.2d 291 (1972); Atlantic, Gulf v. Dep't of Assess. & Taxation, supra; Department v. Greyhound, 247 Md. 662, 234 A.2d 255 (1967); Md. Medical Service v. Carver, 238 Md. 466, 209 A.2d 582 (1965). As we said in Amalgamated Ins. v. Helms, 239 Md. 529, 212 A.2d 311 (1965):

'In other words, the courts, in the absence of ambiguity, should, as a general rule, confine themselves to a construction of a statute as written, and not attempt, under the guise of construction, to supply omissions or remedy possible defects in the statute, or to insert exceptions not made by the Legislature.' 239 Md. at 535-536, 212 A.2d at 316.

The pertinent part of § 402 provides that a tax will be paid on the gross receipts charged for:

'. . . (1) admission to any place, whether such admission be by single ticket, season ticket or subscription, (2) admission within an enclosure in addition to the initial charge for admission to such enclosure. . . .' (emphasis added).

Although the word 'admission' is not defined in the statute, the part quoted above clearly imports a tax on charges paid to enter the place itself. A term used in a statute, not there specifically defined, should be construed as having its ordinary and commonly-accepted meaning, Gaspin v. Browning, 265 Md. 552, 290 A.2d 507 (1972); Arundel Supply Corp. v. Cason, 265 Md. 371, 289 A.2d 585 (1972); Williams v. Loyola College, 257 Md. 316, 263 A.2d 5 (1970).

In Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, 1971, the word 'admission' is defined as:

'3a. an act of admitting: the fact of being admitted: permission or right to enter . . . 4: price of entrance: fee paid at or for entering.' (emphasis added).

While there is no case in Maryland interpreting this term, courts in other jurisdictions under statutes similar to the one here have held, either through judicial construction or by definitions in the statutes themselves, that 'admission,' as used in this context, means the charge for permission or right to enter a place, see Fritz v. Jarecki, 189 F.2d 445 (7th Cir. 1951); Grauer v. Director of Revenue, 193 Kan. 605, 396 P.2d 260 (1964); Beach v. Livingston, 248 S.C. 135, 149 S.E.2d 328 (1966); Department of Revenue v. Pelican Ship Corporation, 257 So.2d 56 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1972); see also dissent of Musmanno, J., in Fierro v. City of Williamsport, 384 Pa. 568, 120 A.2d 889 (1956). It logically follows that the legislature contemplated a tax on the 'price of entrance' to 'any place,' and not on a service provided for one's convenience prior to entering.

That one may park on the lot has nothing whatever to do with his entry into the racetrack. Patrons must, in any event, pay to enter the track, and automobile passengers (other than the driver), as well as those traveling by public transportation or living nearby, pay no paking charge. Similarly one is free to park in Scoville's lot and not enter the racetrack at all. The situation here is the converse of that presented in Whitehall Township v. Male, 77 Pa.D. & C. 133 (1950), where the imposition of an admission tax was upheld in the case of a 'drive-in' theater that collected a fee from each automobile as it entered, but made no further charges. The fee for parking...

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