Zissi v. State Tax Com'n of Utah

Decision Date27 October 1992
Docket NumberNo. 890317,890317
Citation842 P.2d 848
PartiesLarry J. ZISSI, Petitioner, v. STATE TAX COMMISSION OF UTAH, Respondent.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

David J. Bird, Salt Lake City, for Zissi.

R. Paul Van Dam, Leon A. Dever, Salt Lake City, for Tax Com'n.


Petitioner Larry J. Zissi seeks a writ of review of a decision of the State Tax Commission. The Commission assessed $44,000 in penalties and taxes against Zissi, finding that he had failed to pay the taxes that Utah's Illegal Drug Stamp Tax Act ("the Stamp Act") imposes on the purchase, acquisition, transportation, or importation of controlled substances. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 59-19-101 to -107. Before this court, Zissi challenges the Commission's fact-finding and its construction of the Stamp Act, the constitutionality of the Stamp Act, and the constitutionality of the roadblock at which sheriff's deputies found the controlled substances giving rise to the taxes and penalties. Zissi argues that because the roadblock stop amounted to an unconstitutional seizure, the exclusionary rule should have prevented the Commission from admitting in evidence the approximately 550 amphetamine tablets the deputies had seized from his truck.

We hold as follows: first, that Zissi has not shown that the Commission's fact-finding was against the substantial weight of the evidence; second, that the Commission properly construed the Stamp Act; third, that the Stamp Act survives Zissi's constitutional challenges; fourth, that the roadblock stop and subsequent search of Zissi's truck violated the Utah Constitution; and fifth, that the exclusionary rule barred the admission of the amphetamine tablets at the Commission hearing. Because the Commission should not have admitted the illegally seized amphetamine tablets in evidence, we reverse its decision.

We first state the facts. Because a party appealing from an order of an administrative agency bears the burden of demonstrating that the agency's factual determinations are not supported by substantial evidence, see id. § 63-46b-16(4)(g), we state the facts and all legitimate inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the agency's findings. Cf. First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. County Bd. of Equalization of Salt Lake County, 799 P.2d 1163, 1165 (Utah 1990). We state the facts in this case accordingly.

On June 4, 1988, Zissi's pickup truck was stopped at a roadblock set up by the Utah County Sheriff on State Road 73 outside Fairfield, Utah. While Zissi was at the roadblock, one of the officers detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from the truck. The officers directed Zissi to pull over to the side of the road. They then inquired whether he had any marijuana in his vehicle. After initially denying that he did, Zissi produced a small plastic bag of marijuana and a marijuana cigarette he had been smoking. The officers then searched his truck and found a shaving bag and a briefcase behind the seat. The shaving bag contained approximately 550 amphetamine tablets, and the briefcase contained $24,440. Zissi pleaded no contest to criminal charges brought against him as a result of the roadblock and subsequent search.

After the Utah County Sheriff's office advised the Commission of the arrest, the Commission began proceedings against Zissi for taxes and penalties due under the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act taxes controlled substances and requires dealers to affix official stamps on the controlled substances as evidence of taxes paid. 1 See Utah Code Ann. § 59-19-104(2). Zissi's amphetamines did not bear the official stamp. At a hearing before the Commission, Zissi argued that the search of his truck was unconstitutional and that the evidence of his amphetamines should be suppressed. Stating that it did not have the authority to determine the constitutionality of the search, the Commission admitted the amphetamines in evidence and assessed a tax of $22,000 on the drugs and a penalty of $22,000 for Zissi's failure to pay the drug taxes and affix the official stamps to the amphetamines.

Before discussing Zissi's challenges to the Commission's ruling, we note the appropriate standard of review. The Utah Administrative Procedures Act ("UAPA"), id. §§ 63-46b-1 through -22, governs our review of Commission decisions. See id. § 63-46b-1(1); Savage Indus., Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm'n, 811 P.2d 664, 668-69 (Utah 1991). Zissi challenges one of the Commission's factual determinations. The UAPA requires us to uphold an agency's factual findings if such findings are supported by substantial evidence based upon the record as a whole. See Utah Code Ann. § 63-46b-16(4)(g). Zissi's remaining claims raise issues of law, which we review for correctness under the UAPA. 2 See id. § 63-46b-16(4)(d); Savage Indus., Inc., 811 P.2d at 669-70. We now turn to the merits.

We begin with Zissi's argument that the Commission erred in making a factual finding that amphetamine tablets are drugs that are sold by the pill and not by weight. This finding is significant because the Stamp Act prescribes different tax rates for drugs sold by weight and drugs sold by "dosage unit." 3 Utah Code Ann. § 59-19-103.

In finding that the drugs in Zissi's possession are sold by the pill and not by weight, the Commission relied on the following evidence. The Commission heard testimony by Detective Kendra Hurlin of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department that amphetamines in pill form are sold by the pill. Loni Deland, a defense witness and a former narcotics agent for the State of Utah, testified that amphetamines generally are sold as a powder, by weight. However, Deland also testified that he had not seen amphetamines in pill form sold by weight. After reviewing this testimony, we cannot say that the Commission's finding that amphetamine tablets are sold by the pill was contrary to the substantial weight of the evidence, which we have defined as that quantum of relevant evidence that would tend to convince a reasonable person of a conclusion. First Nat'l Bank of Boston, 799 P.2d at 1165; Grace Drilling Co. v. Board of Review, 776 P.2d 63, 68 (Utah Ct.App.1989). Consequently, we affirm the Commission's factual conclusion.

We next examine Zissi's argument that the Commission misconstrued the meaning of the term "dosage unit," as used in the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act itself does not define this term. 4 The Commission construed it to mean one tablet or pill, basing its determination on expert testimony by J. Craig Johnson, director of Pharmacy Services at LDS Hospital. Johnson testified that "dosage unit" has a distinct meaning in medical circles, a meaning that differs from the meaning of the term "dosage." He said that "dosage unit" means the amount of a medicine or prescription that is sold as a unit and relates to how the medicine is packaged. This differs from the dosage a patient takes, which may be one dosage unit or more than one dosage unit, depending on the strength of the patient's prescription.

Zissi argues that because the actual dosage taken by users of amphetamines is generally greater than one pill the Commission's determination that a dosage unit equals one pill is erroneous. Essentially, Zissi would have this court equate "dosage" with "dosage unit." This argument ignores the word "unit" in the term. A general rule of statutory construction is that a statute should be construed as a comprehensive whole. See Clover v. Snowbird Ski Resort, 808 P.2d 1037, 1045 (Utah 1991); Peay v. Board of Ed. of Provo City School Dist., 14 Utah 2d 63, 66, 377 P.2d 490, 492 (Utah 1962). In construing legislative enactments, we assume that the legislature used each term in the statute advisedly and, thus, that we should read the statutory words literally and in accordance with their usually accepted meanings. See Pate v. Marathon Steel Co., 777 P.2d 428, 430 (Utah 1989); Hector, Inc. v. United Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 741 P.2d 542, 546 (Utah 1987); Grant v. Utah State Land Bd., 26 Utah 2d 100, 102, 485 P.2d 1035, 1036 (1971).

While Zissi correctly points out that the term "dosage" is generally understood to be the amount of drug a person would take, he does not address the meaning of the word "unit" in the term "dosage unit." "Unit," as defined by Webster's Dictionary, means

the first natural number: a number that is the least whole number and is expressed by the numeral 1: a single thing (as a magnitude or number) that constitutes an undivided whole ...: a determinate quantity (as of length, time, heat, value or housing) adopted as a standard of measurement for other quantities of the same kind ...: a single thing or person or group that is a constituent and isolable member of some more inclusive whole: a member of an aggregate that is the least part to have clearly definable separate existence and that normally forms a basic element of organization within the aggregate....

Webster's Third New International Dictionary 2500 (1961) (emphasis added).

When read in conjunction with "dosage," it is apparent that the word "unit" in "dosage unit" relates to a single item or measurement used to determine the patient's actual dosage. The Commission's construction of the term "dosage unit" takes this definition of unit into account in determining that a dosage unit is one pill. The language of the statute and the evidence that "dosage unit" has a distinct meaning in the medical community amply support the Commission's definition of "dosage unit" as a unit of the drug. In this case, that unit is one pill. We therefore affirm the Commission's interpretation of "dosage unit."

Having rejected Zissi's challenges to the Commission's fact-finding and statutory construction, we next turn to his attacks on the constitutionality of the Stamp Act. First, Zissi argues that the Stamp Act violates Fourteenth Amendment due process guarantees because it is unconstitutionally vague on its face. Specifically, he argues that the term "dosage unit" in the statute is vague and...

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