Solvay Chems., Inc. v. Wyo. Dep't of Revenue

Decision Date30 September 2022
Docket NumberS-22-0018
Citation517 P.3d 1146
Parties SOLVAY CHEMICALS, INC., Appellant (Petitioner), v. WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Appellee (Respondent).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

517 P.3d 1146

SOLVAY CHEMICALS, INC., Appellant (Petitioner),


Supreme Court of Wyoming.

September 30, 2022

Representing Appellant: Walter F. Eggers, III and Kasey J. Schlueter, Holland & Hart LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Ms. Schlueter.

Representing Appellee: Bridget Hill, Wyoming Attorney General; Brandi Monger, Deputy Attorney General; Karl D. Anderson, Supervising Attorney General; Patrick Miller, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Anderson.


GRAY, Justice.

¶1] Solvay Chemicals, Inc. (Solvay) appeals the Wyoming Department of Revenue's (Department) decision disallowing a deduction of bagging costs from the taxable value

[517 P.3d 1148

of its bagged soda ash. The State Board of Equalization (Board) and the district court affirmed the Department's decision, holding that the statute limited Solvay's processing deductions to the industry factor, a formulaic deduction, set out in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-14-303(b)(ii). Solvay contends the Department's interpretation of the statute is erroneous and contrary to the plain language of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-14-303(b)(iv). We affirm the Board's decision.


¶2] Did the State Board of Equalization misinterpret and misapply Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-14-303(b) when it determined the cost of bagging soda ash is not a separately deductible expense?


[¶3] The parties have stipulated to the relevant facts. Solvay mines trona from an underground mine in Sweetwater County. Much of the trona ore is processed into soda ash at a plant adjacent to the mine. Solvay sells soda ash in two forms. The majority is sold in bulk while a minor portion is bagged and sold in smaller quantities. Solvay sells bagged soda ash for a higher price than the bulk product due to the costs of bagging.

[¶4] Wyoming's trona tax statute provides an industry-wide standard deduction when calculating the taxable value of trona processed into soda ash. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-14-303(b). This deduction or "industry factor" test was adopted in 1989 "to standardize the deductions for all trona companies and simplify what had been complicated calculations [of processing costs associated with converting trona to soda ash] by the producers, the [Department of Audit], and the [Department of Revenue]." Solvay Chemicals, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue , 2018 WY 124, ¶ 7, 430 P.3d 295, 298 (Wyo. 2018) ( Solvay I ); 1989 Wyo. Sess. Laws 284–85. Prior to 2003, the statute required the industry factor to be calculated every two years. 1998 Wyo. Sess. Laws 128–29. In 2003, the legislature adopted a permanent industry factor of 32.5%. 2003 Wyo. Sess. Laws 42.

[¶5] In 2013–2015, Solvay applied the industry factor to its soda ash production and in addition deducted its soda ash bagging costs. The Department determined Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-14-303(b) did not entitle Solvay to a separate deduction for bagging costs because these costs were included in the "industry factor." Solvay appealed the decision to the Board.1

[¶6] The Board concluded § 39-14-303(b) was ambiguous. After reviewing the history of the statute and the adoption of a standardized deduction for processing trona into soda ash, it issued its order affirming the Department's decision. The Board determined that the industry factor was intended to include all costs related to the sale of soda ash prior to shipment and no additional deduction could be taken for those costs, including the expense of bagging the product. Solvay appealed to the district court. The district court determined the statute was unambiguous but affirmed the Board's decision.


[¶7] Judicial review of administrative decisions is governed by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(c). We will uphold the Board's findings of fact if they are supported by

[517 P.3d 1149

substantial evidence in the record. Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue , 2007 WY 79, ¶ 9, 158 P.3d 131, 134 (Wyo. 2007). Statutory interpretation is a question of law subject to de novo review. Camacho v. State ex rel. Dep't of Workforce Servs., Workers’ Comp. Div. , 2019 WY 92, ¶ 17, 448 P.3d 834, 840–41 (Wyo. 2019) (quoting State, ex. rel., Wyoming Workers’ Safety & Comp. Div. v. Smith , 2013 WY 26, ¶ 9, 296 P.3d 939, 941–42 (Wyo. 2013) ). "We review an agency's conclusions of law de novo and affirm when they are in accordance with the law." Delcon Partners LLC v. Wyoming Dep't of Revenue , 2019 WY 106, ¶ 7, 450 P.3d 682, 684 (Wyo. 2019) (quoting Wyodak Res. Dev. Corp. v. Wyoming Dep't of Revenue , 2017 WY 6, ¶ 15, 387 P.3d 725, 730 (Wyo. 2017) ). "We do not afford any deference to an agency's determination on a question of law and will correct any errors made in interpreting or applying the law." Id. (citing Camacho , ¶ 17, 448 P.3d at 840–41 ).

[¶8] Our goal in interpreting statutes "is to give effect to the intent of the legislature, and we ‘attempt to determine the legislature's intent based primarily on the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used in the statute.’ " Fugle v. Sublette Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. 9 , 2015 WY 98, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d 732, 734 (Wyo. 2015) (quoting Stroth v. N. Lincoln Cnty. Hosp. Dist. , 2014 WY 81, ¶ 7, 327 P.3d 121, 125 (Wyo. 2014) ). "The paramount consideration is to determine the legislature's intent, which must be ascertained initially and primarily from the words used in the statute." RME Petroleum Co. v. Wyoming...

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