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Tax court orders USUT refund

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The Indiana Department of State Revenue erred in concluding that a natural gas-fired power plant in Terre Haute was subject to the Utility Services Use Tax, ruled the Indiana Tax Court Wednesday.

The tax court released two opinions with the same cause number, Mirant Sugar Creek, LLC v. Indiana Department of State Revenue, No. 71T10-0803-TA-18, in which the court addressed three issues: the department’s motion to strike in its entirety the affidavit of Mirant Sugar Creek’s senior tax analyst and e-mails between her and the tax analyst with the State Revenue department; if Mirant obtained a ruling from the department in those e-mails providing the company wasn’t subject to the USUT; and whether Mirant’s purchases of natural gas in July 2006 were subject to the USUT.

Mirant purchases natural gas from an out-of-state vendor, which it uses to produce electricity that it sells to an out-of-state customer who resells the electricity to its customers.

In August 2006, the department and Mirant exchanged e-mails about whether the company was subject to the USUT. Mirant paid the tax in July 2006, but didn’t pay it any more because it believed it shouldn’t be subject to it. It filed a claim for a refund, which the department denied.

In a not-for-publication opinion, Tax Judge Thomas Fisher denied the department’s motion to strike the affidavit and e-mails. In the for publication opinion, Judge Fisher determined that the department didn’t rule that Mirant did not have to pay the USUT. The e-mails exchanged indicate that Mirant sought a generic opinion as to whether a generator’s natural gas purchases were subject to the tax. There is also no indication that the e-mails between the parties were published in the Indiana Register. When the department is to be bound by the ruling it issues, it must be published in the register.

Although Judge Fisher denied Mirant’s cross-motion for summary judgment on that issue, he ruled in favor of the company that its natural gas purchases in July 2006 weren’t subject to the USUT. The judge examined the part of the relevant statute that says the retail consumption of utility services in Indiana is exempt from the USUT if the “gross receipts from the transaction aren’t taxable under Indiana Code 6-2.3-3 and the utility services are consumed for the purposes for which the gross receipts were excluded from taxation.”

In 2006, the statute provided that gross receipts don’t include a wholesale sale to another generator or reseller of utility services; the statute was amended in 2008 to provide a sale of utility services is a wholesale sale if the utility services are natural gas and the buyer consumes the natural gas in the direct production of electricity to be sold by the buyer.

“The General Assembly’s 2008 amendment of the statute clarifies what transactions are to be considered wholesale sales with respect to the purchase of utility services for consumption,” he wrote. “It is for this reason, that the Court finds the General Assembly, through its 2008 amendment of the statute, simply clarified its original intent.”

Mirant was generating and selling electricity to others, and purchased natural gas in order to generate electricity to sell to another entity. As such, Mirant’s purchases of natural gas weren’t subject to the USUT pursuant to I.C. sections 6-2.3-3-5 and 6-2.3-5.5-4(2).

Judge Fisher ordered the department to refund the USUT taxes Mirant paid for July 2006.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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